Mohamed Ali Eltaher




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The three newspapers Eltaher published during his lifetime acted as the voice of the Arab nationalist movement in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and the Maghreb countries. They also contained news from other countries of the Muslim world, or countries with substantial Muslim communities such as India and Indonesia, and even some African countries such as the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania since the 1960s.

Eltaher’s newspapers published pertinent news received from correspondents in these countries.  They also featured articles, op-ed pieces and analysis either written by him or by other contributors. The newspapers also carried public announcements, political manifestos, names of martyrs, names of donors to the various nationalist causes, names of persons participating in nationalist events, signatories of petitions calling for freedom and independence. There was also a sprinkle of humorous news about certain events or ironic situations. The newspapers also included black and white pictures of people and events, though, as mentioned in the biography section, there was hardly any publicity.

Readers will note irregularities in the number of pages between various issues. On average, each issue of the newspaper had four pages of eight columns each. Occasionally, some issues had six pages, depending on the occasion or the amount of material to be published.

Most of the Arabic language newspaper publishers in the Arab world, as well as elsewhere, sent him their newspapers free of charge. As a courtesy, he reciprocated by sending them his newspaper free of charge. Several of these publishers continued sending him their newspapers until he died, that is several decades after his own newspapers had ceased to be published.

Printing a newspaper before IT became even a dream!

The multi-phased production process of Eltaher’s newspapers from editing to distribution deserves to be told, as it reflects the amount of dedication, patience and organization Eltaher had. It comes as no surprise of course that he was particularly well-read. His readings did not just revolve around political matters, as he also enjoyed poetry and literature, especially French works, which he read in their Arabic translation. He also maintained a wide network of contacts at all levels of society both in Egypt, where he edited, printed and published his newspapers, as well as in many other countries.

Eltaher drafted articles, or edited those he received from correspondents, contributors, or gleaned from other sources. He then wrote the final version in long hand, normally using his favourite Parker blue-ink fountain pen. After having collated the material to be published in the current issue of the newspaper, he would take it to a print shop contracted to print his newspaper. For a short period he owned his own printing press, but eventually could not afford it, because the newspaper kept being banned by the authorities.

When the printer received the final version of the texts to be printed, he would do the typesetting using a typecasting machine called Linotype, which cast full lines of Arabic typeset from right to left, spelled normally, but upside down. The lines were then transferred and compiled manually in columns onto large steel trays called galleys, which were locked into a steel frame, known as a chase, the size of an eight-column newspaper. Once the type was locked down, it was inserted inside the printing press, called a rotary press. When started, the press allowed an ink drum to roll against the tray, and then the latter was pressed against the newsprint. Each of the other pages was typeset and printed later on following this same process. This trial run, or quick print, produced a proof (today it is called a ‘blue’), which was readied for Eltaher to proofread. Once the review was finished and the changes and corrections were made, the printer proceeded to print the final run of the newspaper, namely the number of copies agreed upon with Eltaher, which would tally in the few hundreds.

When the papers had been printed and folded, the printer would advise Eltaher. Meanwhile, Eltaher would have prepared the pre-printed address wrappers and affixed the proper amount of postage on each, depending on the destination of the paper. He would take the wrappers along with him to the print shop. After he had paid the printer for his work, Eltaher sat in the print shop, inserted each folded paper into a wrapper, piled them in cardboard boxes and loaded them into a taxicab (since he never owned a car) for the trip to the main post office on Ataba Square in downtown Cairo, where he deposited them in the appropriate mail slots. Aside from the printing process, he did everything else by himself! He had no helpers, assistants, or secretaries, because he could not afford to pay them!

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