“Hi” magazine is a monthly Arabic-language publication, produced by a private US firm in consultation with the State Department, which aims to advertise the idea of America.
US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker has said the magazine is part of Washington’s efforts to improve its perception in the Middle East.
The first two issues of “Hi” have featured celebrity profiles, including Arab-American actor Tony Shaoub and articles on sports, health, education, technology, careers and features about life in the US.
“(These are) subjects that are relevant to younger generations everywhere around the world,” said Reeker, adding the target audience is people between the ages of 18 to 35.
The Department has invested $4.2 million in the project and expects to pay the same amount in coming years to produce 50,000 copies of the magazine a month, but hopes that it will ultimately become self-financing through advertisements, said Reeker.
“Hi” sells for about $2 per copy and is available in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
"We don't expect people to pick up a copy and instantly love the United States."
US Middle East-based diplomat on "Hi"
One US diplomat based in the region, said preliminary sales showed about half the copies were being sold.
The contents of the magazine are written mainly by Arab-Americans, none of whom are employed by the US government. But an in-house State Department editorial board reviews and submits comments on possible article topics to the magazine’s producers, a Washington-based firm called “The Magazine Group”.
The diplomat and Reeker stressed the magazine is not intended to produce instant results, but is part of a larger US public relations project in the Middle East that has started after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
“We don’t expect people to pick up a copy and instantly love the United States,” said the diplomat on condition of anonymity. “We want them to read it and gradually develop an appreciation for who and what we are.”
The magazine “is not intended to create or change opinions immediately but to develop broader understandings, to have…a dialogue which will take place over years, over decades and, indeed, over generations,” said Reeker.
The public relations crusade has been criticised for not addressing the primary reason why the US is unpopular in the Middle East, mainly the perception that American policy is anti-Muslim.
Reeker defended “Hi’s” non-foreign policy focus, suggesting that Arab youth, like their counterparts from other backgrounds, would not be interested in a foreign policy journal.