SUN 27 - 11 - 2022
Date: Jun 9, 2011
Source: Press Republican
Raghida Dergham on risks, motherhood and Arab Spring
Mother, journalist, notable Arab woman enjoying changing world


NEW YORK CITY — A Global Platform for Disaster plenary gave Raghida Dergham the chance to visit her daughter Thalia, a Columbia University student finishing a semester abroad at Bosphorous University in Istanbul.

"This is the first time I've been away from her," Raghida said from her New York City residence. "I'm dying to see her."


After a weekend rendezvous with Thalia and the Geneva plenary, where she moderated a session on "The Economics of Disaster — Effective Financial Instruments to Reduce Risk," Raghida flew to Dubai for this year's Arab Media Forum.


The daughter of Nabih Dergham of Plattsburgh and the late Bahia Dergham, Raghida is a columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Al-Hayat and writes a weekly column on international political affairs.


The "Arab Spring," a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests taking place in the Arab world, offers her a deep well to tap.

"What's happening even now, we're witnessing incredible moments of history. I think the 20th century was amazing," Raghida said.


"The 21st century will give something also, but we don't know what it is yet. The Internet evolution is amazing. I don't know if there will be something on the level of electricity or the airplane."


Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries effectively used social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Times are changing throughout the Middle East and North Africa — Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Oman and on and on.


Born in Lebanon, Raghida is a third-generation American with familial ties to the North Country.

"It's an exciting part of the world I come from. The revolutions in the Arab world and the uprisings are a breath of fresh air," she said.


Legions have not only refuted the autocrats that have oppressed them but also those who pose as the alternatives.


"Such as al-Qaida and the bin Ladens," Raghida said. "The Arab Spring is a call, an outcry, for change in a very unusual way for that part of the world.

"The Libyan people were thought to be broken. After 42 years that had reduced them to the inability to make a difference, here they are rising again.


"These are marvelous examples of people saying, 'I can make a change my own way. You have taken me for granted, and I will show you how I will make a difference.' Young people are saying, 'Don't take me for granted. Don't assume I will resume being whoever I am in your imagination.' It's a beautiful surprise."

Raghida was recently named one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2011, ranked No. 42 by Arabian Business.


She is a member of the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, comprising 100 of the most respected and influential media figures globally. She has served as a political analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is featured in the PBS documentary "Caught in the Crossfire."

She was inducted into Plattsburgh State's Hall of Fame as a distinguished alumna and received an honorary doctorate of letters in 2003.


When she came to Plattsburgh at 17, it was a culture and climate shock. At the college, she studied creative writing and journalism.


"I thought I was coming to New York City. I was coming to Plattsburgh to learn and live on my own," she said. "That was opening a sense of independence and freedom.


"I don't know what would have happened if I stayed in Lebanon. I was way too young to test my parameters of freedom. For that time, I was too young for my generation and culture to spread my wings and try to fly, in terms of getting my own freedom."


While a teen in Beirut, she published poems and short stories. It was there that she was politicized and sensed social injustice, but she was not a political animal then.

"That did not sharpen until I went to Boston and started my radio program. By the time I got to New York to the United Nations, I became a political animal.


"I'm not a politician," she said. "I have a great love for politics and information. I'm fascinated by it."

In 1974, she began her journalism career as a reporter in Boston, where she created a community-bilingual weekly radio program called "Haneen," which translates as nostalgia. Two years later, she moved to New York City to become a foreign correspondent.


In 1989, Raghida joined Al-Hayat. At the Belgrade Nonaligned Summit, she interviewed eight heads of state and foreign ministers in eight days. In 1990, she reported on the Gulf War, and Thalia was born.

"Coincidentally, I started working at Al-Hayat when I got pregnant with Thalia," she said. "My life was changed tremendously by both events. By being pregnant and having Thalia, it was transforming."

Raghida was influenced journalistically by the push-the-envelope school of interviewing of Oriania Fallaci, an Italian journalist and author.


"I grew to dislike her," Raghida said. "She became a racist, bigot."

Raghida holds in high esteem the late Flora Lewis, a journalist who wrote for The Washington Post and, later, The New York Times.


"I learned from her as a columnist. I understood the process of digging and digging and checking yourself many times before writing a column," she said.

When she took on the mantle of journalist, it was a double-consciousness dilemma as an Arab and a woman.

"Right now, it's different. You have women in politics and more women on television. In the past, if a 40-year-old woman was on television, she was too old. It's a different story now.


"I was 26 when I first appeared on American television. They didn't take me seriously. I was too young and too stylish and attractive to do something."

Then, the Arab point of view was not as welcome as others.

"It was an uphill battle. There were times it was welcome and times it was left out and left out of the debate all together," Raghida said.


She cannot globe trot without her passport, credit cards, cash, iPhone, computer and pictures of her daughter and her mother, the late Bahia Dergham, who died in November 2008.

"I can't wait to have a grandchild. That is going to be a good day," Raghida said.


"My mom was there for the birth of my child. She was with me in the room, and she helped me understand that role of mother. It was her level of endless giving. How can anyone do that? I understand it's called motherhood. I prayed to God to bless me as a mother, for I was mostly inspired by my great mother, Bahia. She's now in heaven, I'm sure."

From her daughter, Raghida learned wisdom.


"She's a very wise person, not only smart, she's patient. She's very solid, feet on the ground and very self-confident and giving at the same time. I'm very impressed by my daughter. She's God's gift to me."

The Arab Spring ideology is one this mother hopes inspires her daughter.


"She can make a difference in the world in a very constructive way, to improve, to give back to the society in his or her way, in our neighborhoods and our family relationships," Raghida said.

When civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, the Dergham family returned to the North Country when she was in Boston.

Raghida hopes to return to her native land someday.


"New York is home. I've lived here for most of my life, practically. Beirut is a magical city. I'm lucky to have both wonderful cities as an option. My daughter takes pride that she's from New York. I take pride being from Beirut.

"We are truly lucky and blessed to come from such cosmopolitan cities that are so creative and exciting."


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