Death is not always an end. To a majority, or to the teeming millions, it may be so. But there are a few extraordinary individuals who leave a permanent imprint in the sands of time. By conceiving something epic in scale and grand in imagination, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali, who passed away on February 21, 2013 in Bad Neustadt an der Saale, Germany, will always be remembered for his immense contributions to journalism and society.
A key figure in the history of media industry in the Sultanate of Oman, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali has left behind an unprecedented legacy written in extreme passion — shaping the course of journalism by the strength of his ideas and vision. A doyen of journalism in Oman, he personified triumph of resilience and planning with precision and perfection to win over the heaviest of odds.
He dared to dream and had the courage to chase those dreams with conviction. Essa introduced the first-ever English newspaper in the Sultanate and pioneered a genre of journalism that none before him dared to imagine. On February 23, 1975, he gifted Oman its first English newspaper — Times of Oman — in an exciting tabloid format.
"I owe to the telex from Flying Tiger Corporation, who mentioned the country (Oman) as Muscat, Oman, Saudi Arabia. If it were not for the telex, Times of Oman, would not have happened," said a beaming Essa, when Times of Oman celebrated its 35 years of successful existence in the year 2010. And indeed extremely fascinating has been the story of the birth of Times of Oman.
It was a vision of fusion — an effort on the part of a visionary who was deeply affronted by the telex message which wrongly mentioned Muscat and Oman as part of Saudi Arabia. His injured sense of pride as an Omani drove Essa to take a daring decision to introduce his country to the world outside, and thus germinated Times of Oman in his mind. In 37 years, the publication he founded on February 23, 1975 has grown into a behemoth — perhaps the strongest and the most enduring brand in Oman today.
Few entrepreneurs have had so much of impact on society and nation in such little time as Essa. Quintessentially a quiet man gifted with an amazing sense of humour and full with respect for humanity, Essa was a man always in quest of perfection and precision — traits and qualities that created the foundations of every enterprise he set up.
Essa was the face of media of Oman, both English and vernacular, to the world beyond its horizons. His extreme penchant for micro-management, ability to work under most compelling duress and his courage to defy and go against the conventional wisdom of the industry coupled with his relentless quest for simplicity made him stand out — arguably the tallest among his contemporaries.
Essa personified commitment and excellence. And these are the traits that defined the evolution of everything he touched with his Midas touch. Not that his life had been a bed of roses or that his journey through time has always been smooth. Muscat Press and Printing House (MPPH), that he made into an empire from a humble beginning, today owns seven publications including Times of Oman, Al Shabiba, Hi, Al Youm Al Saba, Thursday, Faces, and Black and White. He achieved in making MPPH one of the most valuable companies in Oman by his sheer hard work, judicious thinking and power of vision.
Boldness, courage to speak out the truth and to stand by what seemed right to him always defined Essa as an individual, entrepreneur and, most importantly, as the editor-in-chief of Times of Oman. In his own right, Essa became one of the most endearing voices of the Arabs to the world. His weekly column, Viewpoint, soon after it was first published on April 15, 2000, became one of the most keenly-awaited columns not only in Oman but also beyond its shores across the Arab world.
For the past 12 years, Viewpoint, published simultaneously in Times of Oman and Al Shabiba every Sunday, has been offering its readers new and incisive perspectives about several national and international issues.
To the people and readers, Essa offered a bold stand on the Palestinian issue imploring the United States, the world and Arab leaders to work together in the best interest of the Palestinians. Through his column Essa championed the cause of Palestinian independence and fearlessly exposed Israeli shenanigan.
Viewpoint became a window to the Arab thinking and Arab perceptions to the world, a highly respected column, revered, and well read equally by the Arabs and non-Arabs. But never ever did Essa compromise with objectivity in voicing his opinions. And that was the character which made his column, Viewpoint, stand out uniquely in the multitude.
In standing with the Palestinians and the oppressed population of the world, irrespective of their ethnicity, colour and creed, Essa's biggest contribution to journalism was his spectrum with which he viewed and analysed the issues, adding emotional dimensions — while speaking out, loud and clear — against injustice.
As a journalist he was second to none and was a newsperson par excellence, always encouraging colleagues to scratch the surface and peep beyond the apparent with a keen devotion to ethics and principles.
He guided Times of Oman and Al Shabiba into an era of modern technology, introducing the latest designs which kept all the publications he edited miles ahead of the others. In constantly helping Times of Oman and Al Shabiba to reinvent and evolve their daily content and editorials, Essa added perceptible sharpness and edge which none of the contemporaries of Times of Oman and Al Shabiba could even imagine.
Essa was therefore a pioneer and the architect with the unique ability to shape and reshape, define and redefine the phases of evolution of the media industry in Oman. He was the pioneer and architect who set the rules — forcing all others to emulate.
A keen observer of politics and global issues, Essa was also a connoisseur of classical music and art which has, time and again, found expressions in his weekly column. He was a doting father, a caring husband, a loving grandfather, a friend in need to thousands, and a protective employer.
Even in diplomacy, Essa had had a glittering stint. Between 1988 and 1992 he served at the Philippines' Honorary Consul General to Oman. And it was during this time that Essa consolidated the diplomatic stand of Philippines in the Sultanate.
Essa's demise is a big loss not only to the journalistic fraternity, but also to the nation as well as the Arab world. He has left a big vaccuum that will be very hard to fill. A true visionary, indeed.