Ghazi Algosaibi, 70

Ghazi Algosaibi, 70, dies; poet, author and Saudi Arabian cabinet member

By Sarah El Deeb
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ghazi Algosaibi, 70, a Saudi Arabian cabinet member and widely admired writer whose work was banned by the same government he worked for, died Aug. 15 at a hospital in Riyadh. He had stomach cancer.

The scion of a wealthy trading family stretching between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Mr. Algosaibi was close to the kingdom's ruling family. He often represented his country at international forums and was known for his poetry and liberal religious views in an overwhelmingly conservative country.

Mr. Algosaibi headed the ministries of health, electricity, water, industry and labor. He also served as ambassador to Britain from 1992 to 2002.

"Ghazi was a symbol of modernity in Saudi Arabia," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a pro-reform political scientist at King Saud University. He said Mr. Algosaibi's modernist views were valued by the kingdom's current monarch, King Abdullah. "He was the first to hold that position . . . a bridge between the authority and modern thoughts."

Mr. Algosaibi spoke out against terrorism and extremism and called for democratic reform in the kingdom, while recognizing that it needed to be a very gradual process.

"What makes reform here slow is that Saudi Arabia has always been based on the principle of consensus. You have to wait for a viable consensus to reform before you go ahead," he said in 2005 during the country's first nationwide municipal elections.

Mr. Algosaibi was criticized in 2002 when, as an ambassador to Britain, he wrote a poem praising Palestinian suicide bombers at the height of the second Palestinian uprising.

In the poem titled "The Martyrs," Mr. Algosaibi said the bombers "died to honor God's word." Under criticism from Jewish groups, Mr. Algosaibi defended his poem and accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Mr. Algosaibi was a prolific novelist, poet and columnist. His writings were banned in Saudi Arabia because they frequently voiced criticism of ruling regimes in the region and often presented a satirical depiction of social and political mores.

In his 1994 novel, "Freedom Apartment," he described the coming of age of a group of Arab university students living together in Cairo during turbulent political times in the 1960s.

Mr. Algosaibi's willingness to continue working for the same government that censored his writing "symbolizes the contradictory world we live in," said celebrity talk-show host Muna AbuSulayman in an interview with Arab News.

It was only in the last month that the Saudi Culture Ministry lifted the ban on his writings, citing his contributions to the kingdom.

Survivors include his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.

-- Associated Press

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