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U.S. Says 'Hi' to Young Arabs

A new U.S.-government funded Arabic language magazine recently hit newsstands in the Arab world. Published by the State Department, Hi magazine is targeted at Arabs aged 18 to 35 with articles about social and cultural issues. Government officials say Hi, which was developed after the Sept. 11 attacks, aims to help shape a more positive view of the United States in the Middle East, where anti-American sentiment remains widespread. But some Arab consumers say it misses the mark. NPR's Kate Seelye reports.

At a bustling Virgin Megastore in Beirut, Lara Hawi, a 20-year-old Lebanese design student seems impressed with Hi after leafing through the magazine for the first time. "The name is attractive and we lack Arabic magazines that are not all full of interviews and stupid things."

The State Department is spending more than $4 million on the project, betting that readers like Hawi will be willing to shell out $2 for the magazine. Fifty thousand copies have hit newsstands from Morocco to Kuwait, and U.S. officials say they hope to eventually reach a circulation of 250,000.

Ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi Levant will soon start marketing the magazine, and CEO Elie Khoury says he's confident it will be well received. "It's a quality youth-targeting magazine that opens a door of dialogue... that is without doubt an American effort, but it's certainly not a propaganda thing," Khoury says.

The first two issues included a report on American college life, through the eyes of Arab students, a feature about the growing prominence of Arab music in the West, and a story about Internet matchmaking. The magazine steers clear of politics. A State Department official recently characterized Hi as a vehicle for American values.

In a working class neighborhood of Beirut, several college students perused the magazine outside a local snack shop. Twenty-year-old Hassan Moustafa said the content seemed rather familiar and not terribly challenging. "I would be more interested if the magazine talked about why Americans support Israel or why they did what they did in Iraq."

His friend, 21-year-old Ahmad Jabbouri, adds most Arab youth already admire American culture and people. It's the American government that's the problem, he says.

Rami Khoury, executive editor of the Beirut newspaper, The Daily Star, agrees that Hi magazine is misguided...and in his view, a waste of money. "It's another example of the confusion and I would even say total incompetence of U.S. official organs in dealing with the issue of Arab public opinion. I think they just don't get it."

Moustafa says it's clear to him that Americans know nothing about Arabs. He says what's really needed is not another magazine marketing American culture to Arabs, but rather a publication which informs Americans about the Arab world.

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