True||Clutching his briefcase and flashing a bashful smile, George Nader shuffles into a Hamra Street coffee shop and immediately apologizes for being late.
“My humblest apologies,” he says, uttering what is to be a frequently repeated phrase throughout the interview.
Indeed, the president and editor of Middle East Insight, a bi-monthly magazine based in Washington that covers Middle East issues, is as humble as they come. ||
Clutching his briefcase and flashing a bashful smile, George Nader shuffles into a Hamra Street coffee shop and immediately apologizes for being late.

“My humblest apologies,” he says, uttering what is to be a frequently repeated phrase throughout the interview.

Indeed, the president and editor of Middle East Insight, a bi-monthly magazine based in Washington that covers Middle East issues, is as humble as they come.

A native of Batroun, Nader left for the US at the age of 15 with an English vocabulary that didn’t extend beyond “hello,” and “how are you?”

“The consulate didn’t think I stood a chance of remaining in the States on my visitor’s visa,” Nader laughs. “I was just a Lebanese teenager with not a word of English.”

Now 25 years later, the 40-year-old Nader is graying slightly at the temples. His magazine, a 16-page publication in 1980 ­ manufactured in Nader’s Washington basement by an editorial staff of five ­ now has a circulation of nearly 10,000 worldwide and is considered one of the most authoritative publications on the Middle East.

Nader was only 20 when he founded Middle East Insight, then called International Insight, a fact he modestly dismisses as a matter of necessity. And, for all his success, the French-educated visa offender who graduated from his American high school with highest honors never finished college.

“I always knew I wanted to work in publishing and journalism,” he says matter-of-factly. “From the time I was 12, I was collecting every publication in Lebanon. While other kids were buying toys, I was buying newspapers and magazines.

“At the time I was in the States, (from 1975) the war in Lebanon had begun and not a day went by when it wasn’t in the news. Ohio was teeming with political groups that reflected the parties in Lebanon: Phalangists, Aounists among others,” he recalls.

“I never really belonged to any of them,” he adds. “And I started to wonder what was the best way for me to contribute to what was going on. For me it was communication.”

That first issue sold 200 copies, “mostly to the members of my church,” Nader says, adding with a sheepish shrug, “they probably bought them out of pity or curiosity. But in any case they bought them and that’s how it started.”

Back then, a yearly subscription cost a mere $10. Today, that fee has gone up tenfold, at a going rate of $100.

“This accounts for the increased benefits,” says Nader: policy forums, monographs, roundtable discussions, internship programs, and a website.

Indeed, Middle East Insight’s influence is far reaching, even in a city as saturated with political publications and organizations as Washington DC.

MEI’s recently published monograph on the June 4, 1967, disengagement line ­ a 60-page document that delineates the history and boundaries of the disputed Golan Heights ­ has been quoted in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and several Israeli newspapers. It is now regarded as the official map, used by the highest political officials involved in negotiations as the acceptable delineation of the line.

Nader’s own work has been as ground breaking. An interview he conducted with Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s was published in some 500 newspapers worldwide.

Nader was also the first Western-based journalist to interview former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani ­ later reprinted in the Washington Post ­ at a time when “Iran was being misjudged and labeled unfairly, tainted and crippled by Western views imposed on it.”

More recently, Nader interviewed Hizbullah, secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. That earned him “nearly a whole page in the Washington Post,” he said. Another article featuring Hizbullah’s former senior cleric, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal.

These types of articles, “that show the human aspect,” serve to educate an American public which doesn’t always know the other side, but which is willing to learn, Nader said.

“It has always been my interest and agenda to portray the issues in the Middle East with fairness and from every angle possible,” he says. “To present the public with pro-Arab and pro-American and pro-Jewish sides. To get the whole picture.”

Such broad coverage, Nader says, is a remnant of the magazine’s earliest days, when it was one of hundreds of publications targeted at Middle East concerns in the United States.

“In the midst of the confusion of the ’80s, the conflicts, the stress and bloodshed, there were too many polemics, too many dogmatic, heated, emotional parties running the publications in the US. We needed more balance, non-partisanism, an objective viewpoint.”

MEI’s stance has earned it criticism from certain pro-Arabs, some who have gone so far as to accuse him of spying and collaborating with “the Zionist enemy.” Nader stresses that “we aren’t here to be a spokesperson of the US position, but to present all the issues and to cross all lines.”

Though he does not label himself apolitical, Nader is proud to say that the magazine is non-profit and without state sponsorship. Rather it relies on donations and corporate funding. He dismisses the current political crisis in the States as “a messy situation that needs to be cleared up as soon as possible,” but the outcome of which won’t have much bearing on his efforts to report the news.

“We’ve lived through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and we’ve dealt with each openly and equally,” he said, reminding me that both Republican President George Bush and Democratic President Bill Clinton granted MEI exclusive interviews during their mandates.

These days, Nader spends his time between the US and the Arab world, and as his time with MEI approiaches two decades, he sees no sign of stopping.

“Our role is needed more than ever in the US,” he says. “We’ve only just started.”

For more information on Middle East Insight, log on to www.mideastinsight.org

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