Hiba Obaid: The Writer of Clear Words

How do you begin a new life in a foreign country? By taking on an active role in society, for example. We make a point of supporting projects in which the principal agents are refugees themselves. We’ll introduce three of them in this mini-series. Shown here is Hiba Obaid, junior journalist at “Alex Berlin.” 

Jan Abele | January 2018
Hiba Obaid fled from Syria.
Michael Kohls

Hiba Obaid says what’s on her mind. That she doesn’t like Asian food, for example. At least not here in Berlin, where it “isn’t authentic.” This is how the conversation begins, in a Vietnamese restaurant, and you might consider that a painfully direct response to the stock pleasantry of “How is your meal?” — but it does throw some things into relief right away.

Should I abandon my dream, just because I grew up in Syria?

Telling it like it is — that’s a journalistic maxim that doesn’t work in dictatorships. Was she aware of that, when she wanted to become a journalist? In response, she asks a question of her own: “Should I abandon my dream, just because I grew up in Syria?” 

Hiba Obaid has always wanted to communicate. She put on stage plays in a bar in Aleppo and made fun of the regime in her lines, in carefully coded phrases, until things got too risky for the bar owner. At that point, she had already worked for daily newspapers, but she quit, because she couldn’t bear the censors. “Sometimes, the texts weren’t just rewritten, they were about something completely different.” 

A gift for language: Hiba Obaid at her desk at “Alex Berlin.”
Michael Kohls

A gift for language: Hiba Obaid at her desk at “Alex Berlin.” 

Attending the pro-regime journalism program at the University of Aleppo was out of the question. Instead, she studied Arabic literature. At least that also had something to do with expression and language. She asserted the right to have her own opinion in a different way. “When the uprisings against Assad began, we formed a network of like-minded people at the university. We distributed pamphlets in which we denounced the regime.”  

Then came the day when one of their friends disappeared. The police also stopped at the house of her unsuspecting parents, but she herself wasn’t there. “When the friend was released from prison some time later, he begged us to stop right away. Otherwise, he said, they’d take us all away, and no one would ever come back. That’s what they’d drummed into his head.“

As an author, Hiba Obaid wants to create a level playing field

Since 2015, following her escape via Lebanon and Turkey, Hiba Obaid has been living in Berlin. Here, she has begun training to be a journalist — as a 27-year-old who has experienced things that most journalists in this country will likely never have to face. She knows how much it can cost to hold an opinion.

In Berlin, she writes for daily newspapers and magazines. In her articles, she deals with the problems that refugees have in society, and she comes to terms with her own experiences. She wants to create a sense of equal footing in a country where “people from other nations in many cases remain guests their whole lives, no matter how willing they are to integrate into society.” Her talent as an author has earned her a great deal of positive feedback and many Facebook followers — and an internship at the broadcaster “Alex Berlin.” There, she is learning all the ropes of cross-media journalism, but she doesn’t want anyone telling her to change her style of writing. 

She’d like it to stay just the way it is — always very direct.

Hiba Obaid at her desk
Michael Kohls


played a major role in the publication “We Vote for Freedom,” which was created by journalists in exile  and implemented by the newspaper Tagesspiegel in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Stiftung. She is currently completing an integration internship at broadcaster “Alex Berlin.” The internship is provided by the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (mabb) to facilitate the integration of young  journalists with refugee backgrounds in the German job market.