The first issue of Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) was published on International Women’s Day on 8 March 1957. And this was no coincidence. MEED’s founder and driving force for the next two decades was Elizabeth Collard, a feisty champion of Arab causes and a feminist, although she hated the term.

Collard was born in Calcutta, India, of modest parentage. Educated in England, she became the family’s breadwinner when her father died in 1934. By then, she was working to put herself through the London School of Economics, where she obtained a first-class degree.

Socialist determinism

Strong-willed, determined and iconoclastic, Collard’s upbringing in India had generated in her a loathing of imperialism – in all its manifestations. The 1930s added a powerful streak of socialist determinism.

She worked closely with Krishna Menon and Indira Gandhi (an enduring friend) to gain independence for India. When this was achieved in 1947, Collard was a champion without a cause. Then came the partition of Palestine. Her outrage at the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians led her to a lifelong relationship with the Arab world.

By the late 1960s, Collard had become a leading figure within the Arab community and the Labour Party, and was brought in to advise Prime Minister Harold Wilson on Middle East affairs. By then she counted many of the Middle East’s leaders and leading thinkers – including Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan – among her friends. She also helped to establish the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding.

But all this was ahead of her when MEED was launched from a one-room office in London. Collard had become a noted economic analyst on the developing world and, in the wake of the Suez debacle, was one of the few to realise the potential the Middle East offered to Western business.

MEED was produced on a hand-cranked Ronco printing machine

With two part-time secretarial assistants, MEED was produced on a hand-cranked Ronco printing machine. Lacking any editorial resources, MEED was a 12-page newsletter compiled from newspapers and other reports. Newspapers were flown in weekly from Cairo and Beirut, then translated and condensed. By June 1965, there were still only three staff members.

But Collard’s foresight and iron will to keep MEED going through hard financial times was soon to pay off. The next two decades saw MEED become what it is today: the leading business magazine on the Middle East.