The Middle East has a long and illustrious tradition of education, but that has not been in evidence in the region since at least the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Now, Salah Khalil, head of the London-based charity the Alexandria Trust, hopes to return some of that luster to the area by promoting higher education culture in the Arab region.
As part of the effort, Alexandria Trust is launching a new magazine devoted to covering the issues of higher education in the Middle East. Called Al Fanar – which means The Lighthouse in Arabic – the publication will get its official launch on March 3rd in Dubai.
Khalil hopes that the magazine will do more than just bring attention to the issue which has been – in his opinion – long overlooked because of other more pressing problems plaguing the region. The chief goal is to get other wealthy people from the area and from abroad to open their wallets and themselves become sponsors of efforts to bring education to those who need it most.
"Universities are really one of the fundamental building blocks of society, but in many Arab countries, they are weak building blocks," he said in an interview at the trust's office.
"We want Al Fanar to be a place where universities in the region can connect. We also want to nurture a generation of Arab journalists with a serious interest in writing about education," said Mr. Khalil, who graduated from the University of South Carolina before returning to Egypt to run his family's chemical business.
In his words, Khalil is looking for Middle East-equivalent of Bill and Melinda Gates. The former head of Microsoft and the one-time richest person in the world and his wife has now spent more than a decade putting their money behind efforts to improve health and education both in America and abroad.
To run Al Fanar, Khalil recruited David Wheeler, who has more than a quarter-century of experience in education media drawn from his time at The Chronicle of Higher Education which Al Fanar hopes to emulate.
Basing the Alexandria Foundation in London is one way of protecting Al Fanar from government pressure, he said. But editorial contributions will come from throughout the 22 member states represented in the Arab League, with a strong preference for on-the-ground reporting. Although the site will aggregate and summarize articles from both the English- and Arabic-language news media, most of the content will be original articles that will be published in both English and Arabic.
"It's important to underline that this is an Arab-founded, Arab-funded project," Mr. Wheeler said. "My boss is an Egyptian, not a well-meaning American."