A biography open to others and a publisher who dared to...

A biography open to others and a publisher who dared to...
A biography open to others and a publisher who dared to...
The day before yesterday, death was absent from Riad Najeeb Al-Rayyes (1937-2020), “the last of the Kharijites,” who had an exceptional footprint in the history of the Arab press. With a pen and camera, he wandered through the desert sands and across seas, continents and mythical cities. The lost poet on the frontiers of “Poetry Magazine” found his eloquence in journalistic writing, trying to complete the legacy of the father, Naguib al-Rayyes, founder of the Damascene “Al-Qabas” newspaper, before the nationalization law reached it, at the time of Egyptian-Syrian unity, then the censorship law, when he decided to re-issue it, at the beginning The third millennium of Damascus as “a newspaper for two peoples.” A brave adventurer who never stopped dreaming. As soon as one project fails, he thinks about another, without abandoning his slogan “either freedom or no freedom.” Al-Rayyes finished his studies at the University of Cambridge, armed with Anglo-Saxon culture on the one hand, and wearing the mantle of Arabism on the other hand, in addition to an endless passion for intercontinental journalism, recording the facts of wars and turmoil in burning countries extending from the Arab Gulf to Vietnam, and from Samarkand to Zanzibar, as a reporter. A mobile appetite, always open to discover unknown maps, and the secrets of what happens in closed rooms.

A biography open to the biographies of others, those who made a history of hope, and sought to change the world, such as Yusef Al-Khal, Tawfiq Sayegh, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Ghassan Tueni, as he always put his signature on the pulpits of others, in different ink, from “poetry” and “dialogue To “The Hunter”, “Al Hayat” and “An-Nahar”, before he established his own platform. Thus, “Al-Manar” emerged from London (1977), after the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, as the first Arab weekly newspaper in the Diaspora, to be followed by “Riyadh Al-Rayyes Books Company”, the most daring and open Arab publishing house, the house that attracted problematic, forbidden and controversial headlines, Before settling in Beirut, the capital of the Arab book, without its owner being interested in the lists of banned books in this or that capital. His project will be completed by “Al-Naqid” magazine (1988-1995), which has sparked hot and bold literary and intellectual debates, which we think were not repeated later in any Arab press forum with regard to the “culture of enlightenment”.
It was customary for you to browse your copy of the magazine with torn pages of a poem, an intellectual article, or a chapter from a forbidden novel with the scissors of the censor. This is how Riad Al Rayyes was a spiritual father more than the owner of a platform that controlled its content. We read his biography in the profession of troubles, and we mourn the setbacks, partisanships and lies that the Arab press has turned into, as if that golden age will not return again. This man used to say “no” in the era of “yes”. Al-Rayes’s books store a literary tone in describing conditions, which tempts the reader to dive into the contents of the crowded “mailbox”. Here, there are no free letters, but histories of passion for a profession carried on secrets, paradoxes and scandals. Hybrid writing that always makes fresh bread from daily dough, whether with regard to journalistic cuisine or the futility of history and the winds of politics. He, too, is Sinbad who sought to break the rook’s egg with the hammer of difference and boldness in disclosure, crossing barbed wire and minefields, not only by what he writes, but by what others write in the pulpits he founded in succession. Dar Al-Rayyes was a haven for those fleeing the hell of censorship in their country, and if the forbidden manuscripts here and there, you find them an outlet for living and a window to light, from the site of antagonism.
Thus he launched the “Youssef Al Khal Prize for Poetry” and the “Critic Prize for Arabic Fiction”, paving the way for dozens of new voices as an additional wave in the book of modernity. On the shelves of this library, we discovered the writings of Al-Sadiq Al-Nihoum, Sadiq Jalal Al-Azm, Fawaz Trabelsi, and others, in other words, the writing of incitement, not taming, writing Beirut, not the sleeping capitals. Beirut, which was the nursery of Arab culture, with its cafes, docks, and guest Arab intellectuals exiled. And then, exile would turn into a paradise of freedom, and a field of riot: “I was the owner of a profession that was only permitted in Lebanon, and Lebanon was proud at that time that it became the only country in the Arab world capable of embracing a free press.” In “The Long Distance Journalist”, he sheds light on people, attitudes, paradoxes, dialogues, and mistakes, to reduce his experience of thirst to the truth. And if Beirut is thirsty and narrow, and Damascus is narrower, the cold has dried up, and the road is no longer open to the springs.

His history is the history of the Arab press in its golden age

His dream was that “Al Qabas” would emerge from Damascus, after a long veil. But the hardware bureaucracy thwarted the project. Riyad Al Rayyes is the man of losing bills and intellectually winning projects. For him, the book is a river of knowledge and not a commodity, and the publishing house is a tent of freedom and not a shop for gain and bargaining. The history of the owner of “Qur’ans and Swords” is the history of the Arab press in its golden age, without sanctifying oneself. “A journalist is like a farmer who carries a pitchfork with which he scatters the wheat of history with his raw and intact grains. Expose juveniles to the air. Then it turns back. It is more like a silent tank. Life may not give him an opportunity to empty his memory into the open. Or he may be attacked by a mean disease that is incompatible with his nature and completely inconsistent with his lifestyle, as in my case this one. Then he must know how to live with him, ”he says.
In his later years, Riyadh Al-Rayyes retreated, in the absence of his journalistic projects. The “critic” was absent, “the critics” (2000-2003), and his name was absent from the press of others, and so he was “held hostage”. He had to fight the disease by going twice a week to the hospital for a kidney dialysis. We do not know the extent of the pain he was enduring, as he renewed his blood every time, and what was the content of the memory tape that crossed before him, while he was cuffed by medical devices, a short distance from the abyss. Let us then listen to him mourning himself: “Here you stand alone in front of the box of your life, which, like all other people’s funds, does not open easily. Perhaps you will have to break it or throw it on the ground. You will find in this box crumbs from other people’s postcards or pieces of their boxes, because this is what friends do when they are gone. They leave in the memory of those who survived their favorite habits, their voices, their visions of life, and their ceaseless denial of death. This may be what I do now ».

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