Saudi woman becomes first newspaper editor

We officially heard the news a week ago, but last Sunday (Feb. 16) it was made public that our respected editor-in-chief, Khaled Almaeena, stepped down. Not fun news to hear, and what was even worse is that it was the second time we had to say goodbye to him, as one of my colleagues remarked.

Khaled Almaeena announcing his leave in the Saudi Gazette

Khaled Almaeena announcing his resignation from the Saudi Gazette

In 2011, I worked for Arab News, the other English-language newspaper in Saudi. Almaeena was our editor-in-chief until he was asked to leave in October that year.
The time that followed was tough. The board under which Arab News fell appointed a new editor-in-chief who came from Riyadh and was extremely conservative.
When Almaeena was asked to head the competitor, Saudi Gazette, he did so combining the SG team with his old team. In April last year I followed numerous ex-colleagues from Arab News to work for the Saudi Gazette as well, and I’ve seen three paper improving under his leadership.

Somayya Jabarti cutting the cake to celebrate her appointment as deputy editor-in-chief at Arab News

Somayya Jabarti cutting the cake to celebrate her appointment as deputy editor-in-chief at Arab News

The bad news was immediately followed by another announcement that cheered us all up: his successor would be Somayya Jabarti. The two had been working together for 13 years, and Jabarti had been the deputy editor-in-chief at Arab News since April 2011, when I joined the paper. I still remember the party my new colleagues threw for her, including a feminist “We Can Do It” cake and mugs with the writing “The best man for the job is a woman!”. She followed Almaeena to become the deputy editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette nearly one year later.

"We Can Do It" cake

“We Can Do It” cake

Party with all women at Arab News for Somayya's appointment

Party with all women employees at Arab News for Somayya’s appointment

Her appointment made headlines all over the world. A first for conservative Saudi Arabia: a female newspaper editor, wrote CNN. Saudi woman named first editor-in-chief of newspaper, reported the BBC. Saudi Arabia’s first female editor of national newspaper appointed, headed the Guardian.

Swiss newspaper reporting Jabarti's appointment

Swiss newspaper reporting Jabarti’s appointment

Dutch news website reporting Jabarti's appointment

Dutch news website reporting Jabarti’s appointment

While Jabarti is indeed the first woman in Saudi to head a daily newspaper, it is definitely not the leap forward many (Western) media want us to believe. As said, she was already deputy editor-in-chief, and there are several magazines in this country headed by women. And not only that. There are female CEOs, entrepreneurs, women in the  parliament (which was indeed a giant leap forward) and women heading universities.

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That is not to say that I am not very happy that Jabarti is now heading the paper I am working for. I am, but first and foremost because of her skills, vision and ability to do so. As Almaeena wrote in his farewell article in the Saudi Gazette, “It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity.”

I feel lucky to be working for the Saudi Gazette.

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