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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

One of UAE’s first journalists remembered as a pioneer

Musabeh Obaid Al Dhahiri, who died on June 11, was one of the first Emiratis to disseminate news in written form.
Musabeh Obaid Al Dhahiri, who died on June 11, was one of the first Emiratis to disseminate news in written form. Courtesy Aletihad
Musabeh Obaid Al Dhahiri, who died on June 11, was one of the first Emiratis to disseminate news in written form. Courtesy Aletihad

Musabeh Al Dhahiri was one of the few in Al Ain to own a radio in the 1950s. By copying radio news stories on to signs displayed in his shop, the pioneer journalist disseminated the news and drew more shoppers into his store.

ABU DHABI // One of the UAE’s first journalists has been remembered as a media pioneer and a shrewd businessman.

Despite the absence of a formal education, Musabeh Obaid Al Dhahiri, who died on June 11, was one of the first Emiratis to disseminate news in written form.

After learning how to read and write from the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed the First – the eldest son of Zayed the First, who died in 1909 – and in the courts of sheikhs and scholars, Mr Al Dhahiri decided to put his education to use.

As early as the 1950s he began sharing local, regional, and international events with the Al Ain community by writing news he heard on the radio on to signs outside his food shop.

He named his publication Al Nakhi, the Emirati dialect word for chickpeas, which Mr Al Dhahiri specialised in selling.

“In the 1950s we didn’t have any magazines or newspapers. The way he diffused news to the public at that time was unique,” said Dr Qais Al Tamimi, an assistant professor of mass communication at UAE University in Al Ain.

As one of the few people who owned a radio in Al Ain at the time, Mr Al Dhahiri would compile the most important stories from news he heard on Sawt Al Arab – one of the first trans­national Arabic-language services which broadcast from Cairo – as well as the BBC World Service.

Because of the absence of birth records at the time, Mr Al Dhahiri’s age could not be ­exactly determined, Dr Al Tamimi said.

“He was a good friend of my father and I believe they were born some time in the 1920s or 30s,” he said.

Despite considering him as he would a close relative, Dr Al Tamimi said he still could not be certain what incentives Mr Al Dhahiri had for sharing news with the public.

“I’m sure some of it was a ­hobby but you could say it was also partly a commercial move to attract customers to his shop. He seemed like a very simple person but he was very clever and sharp.”

Describing Mr Al Dhahiri as a shrewd businessman, the professor said it was no surprise he opted to focus on ­developing what was to become a successful real estate enterprise rather than a career in media.

Al Nakhi continued to be published into the 1960s, but posting eventually ceased as the UAE community increasingly digested its news from newspapers, magazines and television, which began to proliferate in the 1970s.

Veteran Emirati author Habib Al Sayegh said it was unfortunate that founding figures of UAE media such as Mr Al Dhahiri were given most attention only after their death.

“His efforts undoubtedly helped to develop media in the UAE but he lived his whole life in the shadows,” said Mr Al Sayegh, who is also chairman of the Emirates Writers Union.

“He should have received praise for his achievements during his lifetime.”

Mr Al Sayegh said the many key figures and events in the evolution of local media were known to only a few scholars and specialists.

“There has to be greater effort in preserving these stories because many of them are undocumented. If our institutes do not make a concerted effort in this matter, we risk losing them for ever,” he said.

Mr Al Dhahiri was laid to rest on Saturday in Al Ain.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae