THE BLOG
07/27/2015 04:11 am ET Updated Jul 26, 2016

Marhaba! Introducing HuffPost Arabi

LONDON -- Marhaba from London, where we're launching HuffPost Arabi, our 14th international edition, in partnership with Wadah Khanfar and Integral Media Strategies.

While all of our other editions around the world focus on one country, HuffPost Arabi will span the entire Arab World -- comprised of 377 million people living in 22 countries, stretching from Mauritania in the northwest corner of Africa to Oman on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula -- and the Arab diasporas everywhere from Brazil to Japan.

So much coverage of the Arab World is from the outside looking in, and the voices of the people most affected by what's happening are frequently unheard. Our original reporting by independent journalists will showcase the richness of the Arab world -- political debates and business news, but also arts and cultures, religions and traditions, food and human stories. And on launch day, we'll be featuring original videos on everything from getting and keeping a job to a highlights reel with the funniest ads shown during Ramadan.

I'm particularly excited about HuffPost Arabi's blog platform, where anyone with something to say -- from politicians and business leaders to activists and students -- can share their perspective (in text, video or image) on any subject from politics and religion to cooking, poetry, recipes and personal stories.

On launch day, our contributors include Queen Rania of Jordan on the importance of increasing the Arabic footprint online; Syrian screenwriter Hakam Al Baba on post-Arab Spring confusion; Ali al-Dhafiri, writer and TV personality from Saudi Arabia, on Iran's ever-changing relationship with the region; a young poet and activist in Egypt who ruminates on the country's past and its future; a young female entrepreneur from Syria who writes about the Internet's transformative effects; and students from Egypt, Sudan, and Jordan.

Given the incredible YouTube viewership in the region (it's second in the world behind the U.S.), we are going to be highlighting YouTubers from across the Arab World. At launch, we're featuring a dozen YouTubers, including young Jordanian stand-up comedian Abu Al Ghoor talking about urban legends and superstitions, Saudi cartoonist and filmmaker Malek Najar discussing social issues in Saudi society through cartoons, and HuffPost Arabi multimedia editor Ahmed Behiry from Egypt hosting a political satire show. Two hours of original video are created in the region every minute, and Saudis, for example, watch an average of three times more video than their American counterparts -- so video is going to be more central than in any of our previous launches.

We'll be showing a full picture of the region, reporting on all the challenges, but also on all the solutions and innovations. Just three years ago, the world watched as millions of people took to the streets -- from downtown Tunis to Tahrir Square -- and to social media with calls for increased representation. And now, only 38 percent of Arab young people believe that the Arab World is better off, down from 72 percent in 2012. Over half of the people in the Middle East and North Africa are under 25 years old, and they face the highest youth unemployment rate in the world -- 27.2 percent. And 79 percent of Middle Eastern youth say their generation's greatest challenge is finding a job -- with 2.8 million entering the labor force each year. And of course, the region is confronting the devastating rise of ISIS, extremism, and sectarian and ethnic tensions.

And we will be covering all of this, as well as other problems and crises like gender inequality and the worst water scarcity of any region in the world, relentlessly. But we will just as relentlessly be covering what's working -- the solutions, innovations and acts of compassion that all too often are left out of the media's narrative of the Arab World. Our section called "Huloul" (حلول), which means solutions, will be front and center in our coverage, and a major part of our global "What's Working" editorial initiative under the leadership of our HuffPost Germany editor-in-chief Sebastian Matthes.

Today, we are covering the stories of a cellist in Iraq who performs amid the ruins after terrorist attacks to remind people through music that life moves on; of a young Omani man who designed a robot that cleans ablution (ritual washing) spaces; of an artist who creates inspiring drawings on the walls of Syrian refugee camps; of Syrian refugees who re-design donated clothes to better match their tastes.

Beyond the obvious stress of those living surrounded by violence, millions in the Arab world are facing the same stress and burnout experienced around the world, exacerbated by the ever-increasing creep of technology into all areas of modern life. A recent survey of employees at 73 companies across the Middle East found stress to be the biggest health risk in the region, the top factors being the "erosion of work-life balance, especially with technologies that require employees to be available after working hours; unclear or conflicting job expectations and inadequate staffing." In the United Arab Emirates, where pressure to work long hours with little time off is prevalent across jobs and industries, 60 percent reported feeling stressed out. And in Saudi Arabia, researchers concluded that 68 percent of Saudi students suffer from lack of sleep -- the third highest in the world. And children's increased access to tablets, smartphones, and computers, which push back bedtimes and disrupt the body's natural sleep routine, has been identified as the primary culprit. This has become such a problem that Saudi teachers have begun planning lessons specifically to account for tired, sleep-deprived students. Come exam time, many of the country's university students resort to stimulants (including the illegal Captagon) to ward off fatigue and push through late-night study sessions. And lack of sleep is not just affecting Saudi Arabia's students. Data released by the government's General Directorate of Traffic revealed that 4,000 people died because of drowsy driving in 2014, and research from King Saud University's Sleep Disorders Center pointed to lack of sleep as one of the primary causes of traffic accidents in the Kingdom.

In the context of stress and burnout, the adhan -- the Islamic call to prayer -- five times a day becomes a clarion call to pause and reevaluate what really matters. I love what Jordan Denari, from Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, wrote:

"The adhan, like the ringing of church bells, calls us to gratitude, appreciation and attentiveness...That's why the adhan can be good for everyone -- even for those who aren't Muslim, and for those who don't believe in God. For most people, something is "greater," whether they choose to call it God or not. The adhan can help us recall what gives our lives meaning, and can help us cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. It can help us look up from the cellphone in our hand and notice the blue sky, the purple shadows stretching across the snow or the smiles of those we pass by."


Over the months and years ahead, we look forward to exploring on the HuffPost platform all these rich traditions and what they mean in the modern Arab world.

We are delighted to be partnering with Wadah Khanfar, the CEO of Integral Media Services. Wadah was born in the Palestinian town of Jenin and now lives in Doha, Qatar. He served as Director General of Al Jazeera, where he created an international media network out of what was a single channel when he began. Our HuffPost Arabi leadership team is led by our editor-in-chief Anas Fouda, who joins us from Al Jazeera where he was Executive Producer for New Media. Anas grew up in Egypt and has spent half of his life in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar before moving to Turkey.

Please join me in welcoming HuffPost Arabi to the HuffPost family! As always, please use the comments section to let us know what you think.