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LEBANON: Arab world's most prominent English-language newspaper closes

January 22, 2009 | 10:45 am

Dailystar_2 The Arab world's most storied English-language newspaper has suspended publication because of financial woes, the publisher told the Los Angeles Times today.

Lebanon's the Daily Star, which is distributed throughout the Middle East inside the International Herald Tribune, has been in trouble for quite some time. Still, nobody expected the fall of Lebanon's only English-language daily so abruptly.

One morning last week, without notice, the Daily Star was simply no longer available on newspaper stands. And it has not been published since that date, Jan. 14. The website has not been updated either.

The decision to shut the newspaper was made by a court order after months of financial hurdles with a Lebanese bank over a debt amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, the newspaper's publisher and editor in chief, Jamil Mroue, told The Times today.

There were no indications that the sometimes-controversial paper was closed because it broke a taboo or offended a politician, as is often the case in the Middle East.

Mroue said he had been discussing his financial troubles with the bank for months and was taken aback by the swiftness with which the ruling was executed. The newspaper offices were sealed off only an hour after the court issued its decision, he added. 

For a long time, the Daily Star had been a unique source of information in English from the Arab world. In the last few years, however, a flurry of local news websites started challenging the newspaper’s once-absolute reign. 

The fate of the newspaper is symptomatic of the deteriorating situation of newspapers in Lebanon. Most news publications live off generous contributions from wealthy political figures and parties. Others are openly owned by political groups.

Independent newspapers like the Daily Star, which publishes opinion pieces by neoconservatives as well as radical Islamists, struggle to cover expenses by selling ads.

Mroue said that since 2005, Lebanon has suffered through assassinations, political instability and a war with Israel, all of which had damaged the newspaper's revenue. He added that this factor was not taken into consideration by bank officials.

Employees working at the newspaper said they were shocked when security officials suddenly showed up last Thursday and ordered them to leave immediately. They said they were not allowed to take their personal laptops.

"At the time when the whole world is seeking information on the Middle East, it will be a real shame not to have an English-language newspaper out of Lebanon," one reporter said on condition of anonymity.

The Daily Star has had its glory days. It was founded in 1952 by Kamel Mroue, a leading Lebanese intellectual who was assassinated in the 1960s. The newspaper stopped publishing first in 1977 because of the start of the civil war in Lebanon, though it resumed briefly in 1984.

Believing in the economic revival of the country in the '90s, Kamel's son, Jamil, decided to resurrect his father's newspaper.

The Daily Star started publishing again in 1995. It expanded regionally, publishing in Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait. But the regional editions were halted in recent years after the financial blow caused by the 2006 war with Israel.

Mroue has appealed the initial ruling and is waiting for the court's judgment, expected in a few days. Meanwhile, he said, he is looking for potential investors.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Most recent issue of the Daily Star, the only English-language daily newspaper in Lebanon. The newspaper was shut down upon a court order on Jan. 14.

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