France,

The RUKH Revolution

Writer

Sophie Chamas

Photographer

Hossein Fahimirad

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In our digital age, establishing a print magazine, especially an independent one, is always an ambitious endeavour. RUKH however, was not the product of a desire to engage a particular industry, but rather, a region.

A physical publication that is distributable on the Middle Eastern ground and accessible to a mixture of Arab classes, religions and experiences was, to the team behind the magazine, the most logical means of responding to regional developments. For them, print is a way to work towards a post-modern regional identity and a successful reimagining of the Arab future. ‘We don’t believe we can change things immediately,’ Ghozali comments. ‘So, we focus on fields that we believe are likely to develop, like agriculture, art, architecture, literature and fashion. RUKH is empirical and not epistemological. Our content is driven by the issues we encounter and the people we meet on our travels.’

RUKH, Ghozali continues, sprouted from ideas leftover from other attempted, ongoing and aborted projects. The first editorial team was formed in Tunisia in 2010, where Ghozali’s mother is from. It included his cousin Dora Othmani and a group of likeminded creatives she had met in London, including journalist and art editor Emma Mattei and photographer Jon Banthorpe. Many discussions were had. Originally, they conceived a magazine focused on sub-Saharan Africa. Later, they even proposed the possibility of one set in Paris, Morocco, Tunisia and even Dubai simultaneously, but such a feat required time and resources they didn’t have.

Eventually life, as it often does, got in the way. Othmani married and moved to New York, while Ghozali headed to Tokyo to start a consultancy practice. When tsunami and tragedy struck Japan however, forcing him to temporarily abandon his business, Ghozali found his attention, yet again, being pulled towards the Arab world, which was experiencing its own brand of turmoil. ‘It was April 2011. I thought to myself, “this is the moment to reactivate a magazine project.”’ The young team was formed, and on July 1, 2012 the inaugural issue ‘The Rebels’ was released. ‘They’re not who you think they are,’ teased the cover.

RUKH’s catchy cover stories are tied to the region’s current affairs. Inside, the ‘Visionary’ section examines socially significant projects, such as the molecular agricultural initiatives working to save energy featured in issue three, titled ‘Substances’. ‘Engaged’ highlights the work of activists and humanitarian groups in the region, such as the black-and-white comics on sexual harassment in Cairo published in issue four, themed around ‘Love’.

‘Bold’ showcases fashion and nightlife in an artistic and philosophical light, as Ghozali puts it. ‘Provocateur’ engages regionally controversial issues and individuals, while ‘Legend’ journeys to the Middle Eastern past to revisit writers, events and concerns that continue to be relevant today. Finally, ‘Voyageur’ takes readers on a 72-hour trip through the ‘morals of the new Arab world’. In issue one, for example, Moroccan writer Sonia Terrab travelled to neighbouring Algeria to analyse the tension and attraction vibrating between these two connected countries.

‘Visually, our main inspirations were travel journals and Western magazines like Teller,’ Ghozali explains. ‘The idea was to avoid clichés. Our designers are from [the French design school] Penninghen, so they bring a strong northern, German and Belgian influence, which you can see in the nudity and boldness of the magazine. I think it can still evolve visually though.’

Of the four issues they’ve released so far, Ghozali is most proud of issue three. ‘It raises questions I’m concerned about,’ he elaborates, ‘and simultaneously it’s very romantic in the way the reports were approached, especially the trip I took in post-revolution Tunisia with novelist Ziad Bakir. Our relationship was whimsical and sometimes tense.

He’s an artist, so I had an idea of what I wanted to grab for the issue, but the result was also surprising. We wandered in this particular country, my mother’s native country, for a week, going to high-end parties with youngsters and hanging out with the unemployed in junkyards, driving to Saint Augustine’s estate – a vineyard that was burned down during the riots.’

Ghozali sees RUKH as an extension of himself, his upbringing and the issues that concern him as a young man with Arabs roots floating around in a highly globalised and interconnected present. Born to an Algerian father and Tunisian mother in France, Ghozali was raised between Paris and Morocco, constantly ‘navigating’, as he puts it, between these two spaces. ‘I like politics as much as architecture, fashion and agriculture. I was educated in international relations at Sciences Po and the University of Tokyo. I even enrolled in the army at L’École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr to train with soldiers. My point is that I’m no one special. I’m just trying to tell stories, to render what I’ve had the chance to experience and grant access to knowledge to those who can’t afford it.’

Ghozali was privileged, he shares, to have read the likes of Elsa Triolet and Victor Hugo as a young boy growing up in Paris. Now he wants to offer youths in the Middle East that same kind of literary and intellectual exposure. ‘I want to tell some young kids in Algeria or Syria about it, because they can learn a lot from other countries and cultures. Ones that two centuries earlier experienced religious and social crises like the one described in ‘Les Miserables’.” That’s why, he tells me, they sell RUKH for a modest seven euros per issue, the lowest price they can offer while still managing to cover their expenses.

Why base RUKH out of France however, if it’s meant to engage a Middle Eastern audience? Ghozali wanted to work from a ‘neutral’ country, he explains. He didn’t want the magazine to be labelled Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Lebanese, etc, but to resonate equally in all of these locales. For now, it is distributed in over 20 countries, but one can’t help but question its ability to influence change or even provoke debate in the Arabic-speaking world as a French-language publication.
The RUKH team, it appears, began with French out of comfort, but their goal is to eventually produce an Arabic language publication.

The promise of an English version of their magazine-cum-manifesto, to be launched in the US and the Gulf soon, is in the pipeline, and Ghozali is in the process of developing it as we speak. Arabic – the goliath – will hopefully be next. ‘The critical acclaim gives us hope, as does the fact that we’ve had prestigious contributors like Rabih Kayrouz and Pierre Rabhi, who consider themselves our ambassadors, on the one hand, and an unusual audience that includes the likes of kids in the old city of Agadir, on the other. This gives us hope that we can spread knowledge.’

The magazine’s desire to educate however, is not limited to its pages. It recently launched non-editorial initiative beitRUKH, a lab that attempts to ‘materialise the concepts of the manifesto’, by hosting workshops and events and creating concept stores and libraries grounded in the fields of agriculture, architecture, art, literature and fashion, on which the magazine is focused.

The first beitRUKH took place in the kasbah of Marrakech in December 2013 at hostel and art gallery Riad Ksar Faouz, a few metres from the Royal Palace. As part of its focus on knowledge access in the old city, this first iteration of what Ghozali hopes will be many events provided, among other things, children with books they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. ‘If I, along with partners, investors or family members, can manage to dedicate 200 square metres to a library or an art gallery to educate kids instead of opening a bank to try and maximise profit, I would consider that a huge step,’ he asserts. ‘The Arab community sometimes thinks in the short term – a statement that appeared in Zaid Bakir’s story about Tunisia. It is our responsibility to think about development and sustainability.’

As part of a new wave of independent publications about the Arab world, Ghozali believes RUKH’s content, like its peers, can help deconstruct boundaries and ‘build bridges’. And for him, these aren’t just media buzzwords. ‘You have misconceptions like Algeria being plagued by corruption. It is, but young people also get loans you can’t even dream of in Europe, and zero taxes on cars and property. Many of them are unemployed but the real problem is identity.

Like the Soviet Union in the 1980s, there is a cultural blockage that can’t be tackled by satellite TV or the Internet. People want to travel, even intellectually. Those of us in media, arts, and positions of authority and power have a responsibility to foster cultural and social development.’ They most certainly do.

This article appears in the issue43Buy Now