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Born in 1956, Hassan Yaghi has been in the world of publishing from an early age, starting off working in the printing industry, and then moving to work with Dar al-Tanweer. He set up the publishing house Arab Cultural Centre, "a bridge between the Maghreb and the Arab East", and worked there for 25 years, before its new proprietors disowned him. In 2011 he went back to Dar al-Tanweer, which operates in Egypt and Tunisia.
Hassan Yaghi loves to swim against the tide, and in the world of Arab publishing that is not in the best of shapes. Important publishers in Beirut have reduced the volume of their print runs to a quarter or stopped them completely. There are well-known and established publishing houses on the verge of closure. The retrenchment is widespread and the book industry is in crisis. The markets have been shrinking since the so-called Arab Spring muddied the waters, as Hassan Yaghi said in an interview with al-Hayat newspaper on March 4, 2014. It dried up receipts, tore states apart, disrupted stability and the economy, adding these to existing barriers of censorship, and closed down a number of markets.
I asked him why then he continues to publish, and who he publishes for. “I’m driven by a mysterious feeling,” he says. “I publish to satisfy my passion and my personal appetite first of all. I publish books that I like, and I like to share with others the pleasure of discovering them. I publish to help expand horizons by offering reference works and new experiences that are unknown to the audience, to break this vicious cycle that focuses on the same names.”
He speaks about Dar al-Tanweer’s work introducing new works by writers who are unknown to Arab readers, such as Ivan Klíma and Sándor Márai, and most recently The Heretic, a novel by the Spanish writer Miguel Delibes, because it is about enlightenment, reason, the dialogue between religions, the Inquisition, and criticism of a renegade state that exploits religion. In the same vein comes the publication of an Arabic translation of Babbitt by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. Yaghi says he was delighted to publish it: “There’s an interest in philosophy because a new generation has questions. But philosophy is a hard road, so Dar al-Tanweer tries to provide books that are not difficult but important.” So he published Arabic editions of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, although he disagrees with Popper’s theories, and of Luc Ferry’s La plus belle histoire de la philosophie, which tells the story of philsophy in a simplified way – the first edition of the latter book selling out within months. In all Yaghi’s choices, his concern has been to break out of the “circle of religious discourse” and “restore confidence in reason and ethics”.
Excerpted from the portrait of Hassan Yaghi by Pierre Abi Saab in Banipal 56 – Generation '56.