The Beirut-based independent magazine The Outpost is a new, fresh, hopeful, inspirational and moreover well-written magazine about the new Arab world, printed biannually with beautiful design and graphics. It gives us a glimpse of the lives of young Arabs whose stories used to go untold. But it also writes pure and raw about corruption, religious fanaticism, the endless (in)tolerance in the region, and about stereotypes. Its mission is to incite a socio-cultural renaissance in the Middle East by inspiring its readers to explore a world of possibilities.
Soon after it launched in September 2012, when the Arab Spring occurred, the publication was considered to be one of the most successful independent magazines in the Arab world. It was nominated for Best New Magazine and Best Magazine Design at the Magpile Magazine Awards, and later named by the Guardian as a successor to the Economist.The creative mind behind The Outpost, what has now come to be known as “the magazine of possibilities” in the Arab World, is the 28 years old Ibrahim Nehme from Beirut, Lebanon.
Two years ago, he quit the advertising world and started the magazine with some friends. al.arte.magazine caught up with Ibrahim to talk about the magazine of possibilities, “from opening the arena for women to participate or including the marginalized in the conversation, or it can be just creating a new environment for people to create and to produce art or businesses. In other words all the possibilities that need to happen for us to move forward”. Starting a new magazine during the Arab Spring, now the ‘Arab Winter’ according to Ibrahim, with the goal of changing this complex, emerging part of the world was not an easy task. Nehme: “Of course we had some doubts when we first started, but after a year we saw that narratives could actually help in changing perspectives and minds and getting people to look at the world in a different way. We’re a magazine of possibilities in a place that’s been dominated by narratives of the impossible, so now we’re using our narratives to help to change that”. Using true accounts of people instead of writing about these people makes The Outpost unique and powerful, and consequently, “stereotypes are automatically broken”. The backbone of the magazine is formed by the narratives, that are used as a tool to inspire change across different fronts, like the social, the cultural and the political front, because “we believe that narratives are an important tool in helping people understand where they stand and how the world is changing and how they are contributing to those changes. If you check the news now it’s very depressing, but there are silent changes happening and we are trying to push that forward in the magazine”.
The Outpost is also unique in using indigenous voices in their narratives as way of journalism, a method which is well-known in the tradition of Arab storytelling. The stories read like fiction, but they’re based on true stories. The choice of language is surprising, considering the magazine is trying to ignite change in a region that reads and speaks in Arabic. Ibrahim explains: “Our primary audience is the young and educated Arab youth, who are used to consume their news in English. Our second target group is an international audience, which is important because we want them to have a different view of the Arab world that normally doesn’t get a lot of exposure in mainstream media.” The magazine does plan to publish in Arabic in future since the mission is to create change in a world where Arabic is the dominant language. According to Nehme, the Arabic edition is going to be much more accessible than the English edition “in content as well as in format, something like a free newspaper or a pamphlet, or something that could be distributed very cheaply.” Another way to be accessible is to have a good digital platform. The magazine is lagging behind on the digital front, though, but that’s due to lack of financial resources, Ibrahim says. “We are growing and evolving slowly, and I think this is important.” It takes time and money to build a good creative digital platform and they “don’t want to just take the PDFs of the print edition and dump them online”.
Each issue is conceptual; they first develop the theme and then the articles. It is all about “capturing different political, social and cultural energies”. The issues are divided into three sections, for example What’s Happening, What’s Not Happening and What Could Happen. Their previous issues have tackled issues like the Possibility of Possibility, the Possibility of Moving Forward, The Possibility of Living Here, The Possibility of Getting Lost and the Possibility of Rewriting Our Story. They take a broad theme and then they “explore it across a broad spectrum”. The latest issue – The Possibility of Warming Our Hearts – was created with the hope of making people feel a little bit better during these relatively unhappy times by showcasing happiness makers in the region.
The Outpost is very inspiring and a hopeful venture in a region that is dominated by fanaticism, corruption and destruction. Some might say that it is a bit naive to initiate change in a region by just changing the narratives and focusing on the possibilities. Ibrahim has a very strong opinion about this: “I don’t agree at all. There are positive things happening. It’s just our nature these days to overlook them, due to all the negative narratives that we are bombarded with. We were working on another issue and then Gaza happened and then Syria happened and then Iraq happened… We then realized that we, as a magazine of possibilities, need to present a different world. We can’t keep on promoting this narrative of destruction and negativity from the Arab world. It’s important to present a different picture. Not necessarily to change the perspective but also to give our readers an avenue where they can smile and have hope in these difficult times.”
The Outpost can be purchased at The Outpost website or in a number of outlets mentioned on the site.