Khaled al Maeena is sitting in the lobby of Le Méridian in Khobar. He signals towards a Pakistani waiter: “karak chai merey leyeh.” The man is taken aback but hurries to comply.
The name Khaled al Maeena is instantly familiar to anyone living in the Arab world. Known as the ‘editor of people’, he ran Arab News, Saudia Arabia’s leading English newspaper, for 23 years. Today he is the editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette.
Recognised as a liberal Saudi, now he primarily writes about social issues but Al Maeena is also famous for his perspective on the expatriate community, especially Pakistanis. Indeed, al Maeena has a soft spot for us mostly because he spent his formative years in Karachi.
Father Raymond at St Patrick’s High School shaped him as did bicycle rides from Bolton Market to Burns Road for Nihari. Food figures prominently in his memories. He recalls Saadullah’s sandwiches at the corner of PECHS Block 2 and how in the early 1960s, Karachi had some really good Chinese restaurants. “I loved eating at Bundoo Khan and Hanifia,” he adds. “Those were such idyllic days.”
As his family had been trading in the subcontinent since the 1920s, this meant that a young al Maeena made many trips between Bombay, Calcutta and cities in Sindh. Eventually, he chose to study in Karachi. After St Patrick’s College, he studied journalism at Karachi University where some of his peers included Khursheed Ahmad and Nusrat Nasrullah.
Back then, Karachi was one of the most beautiful cities of the east after Beirut and Cairo. He would take evening walks down Shaheed-e-Millat Road. “My great uncle had a house there. Every evening, smartly dressed girls would walk in groups. How safe the roads were!” he says. “There was a time when people would drive from Guru Mandir to Tariq Road at 2 am. There was no extremism or intolerance.”
Al Maeena refutes the notion that funding for terrorism in Pakistan came from the Saudi government. He interprets it as money flowing in through individuals. Pakistanis took money from rich Saudis by saying they would build mosques but the funds were misused. He maintains that Saudis have a soft corner for Pakistan.
In May 1998, a few weeks after India’s second nuclear test, Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices and became the seventh country to develop and test a nuclear missile. During that week circulation of newspapers went up fifty percent in Saudi Arabia.
The last time al Maeena came to Pakistan was in 2006 to visit the quake-hit areas. When asked if he would like to visit Karachi again, he says: “No, I do not want to be kidnapped.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 19th, 2013.
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