After decades of turning out yellow-framed covers featuring Egyptian artifacts and other Mideast treasures, National Geographic magazine will for the first time soon start printing in Arabic.
The picture-packed science magazine lining countless bookshelves plans to issue its first Arabic edition next month, making its more than century-old publisher the latest Western media company to tap the growing Middle East media market.
“The stories in this magazine talk about all countries and all cultures,” said Mohamed al-Hammadi, editor-in-chief of the new edition, who expressed hope it would give Arab readers a deeper understanding of the planet and how others live.
“The readers here, they need this,” he said in an interview.With backing from the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, “National Geographic Al Arabiya” aims to reach readers across 15 countries from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.
It will contain translated articles from the 122-year-old U.S. edition and original pieces tailored to the region.
On Wednesday, the magazine named a panel of seven Arab experts who will serve as advisers and contributors. They include Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, female Saudi medical researcher Khawla al-Kuraya and Essam Heggy, a Libyan-born planetary specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The goal is to produce at least a fifth of the articles locally, al-Hammadi said. National Geographic, the journal of the Washington-based National Geographic
Society, already publishes in 29 languages besides English.
It joins a small number of Western magazines publishing in Arabic, including fashion titles Elle and Marie Claire. A few other magazines, including Esquire and Time Out, also publish Middle Eastern regional editions, but they are in English and mainly target foreign residents. Other international media companies are also expanding in the Arab world.
Viacom Inc. launched an Arabic version of MTV three years ago. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. conglomerate, which includes the Fox television channels and publisher HarperCollins, earlier this year agreed to take a $70 million stake in Arabic media giant Rotana Group. Its Sky News division has floated the idea of creating an Arabic-language competitor to news network Al-Jazeera.
National Geographic’s Arabic edition is being published in conjunction with the state-owned Abu Dhabi Media Co. The companies wouldn’t disclose financial terms of the deal, but Terry Adamson, National Geographic executive vice president, said he expects the Arabic magazine to be commercially viable.
In 2008, ADMC said its film arm and National Geographic planned to spend $100 million to produce 10 to 15 films over five years. It launched an Arabic-language version of the National Geographic Channel on cable last year.