Aburish, Said K. 1935-

views updated

ABURISH, Said K. 1935-

Indicates that a listing has been compiled from secondary sources believed to be reliable, but has not been personally verified for this edition by the author sketched.

PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1935, in Bethany, Palestine (now Israel); son of Abu Said (a journalist) and Surrya (Shahine) Aburish; married Cathryn Louise Beck, 1982 (divorced, 1984); children: Charla Josephine. Education: University of Chicago, B.A., 1957. Religion: Society of Friends (Quaker).

ADDRESSES: Home—23 Drayton Ct., Drayton Gardens, London SW10, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Writer. Worked in advertising and as a reporter for Radio Free Europe.


Payoff: Wheeling and Dealing in the Arab World, Deutsch (London, England), 1985.

Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian Family, I. B. Tauris (London, England), 1988, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1989.

Bar al-San Jurj: wakr al jawasis fi Bayrut (title means "Day in the Life of St. George Hotel Bar"), Riad El Rayyes (London, England), 1989, published as The St. George Hotel Bar, Trafalgar Square (New York, NY), 1991.

One Day I Will Tell You, Prion (London, England), 1990.

Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1991, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1993.

Al-Irtiq a wa-al-fas ad, al-suq uot al-murtaqab lil-Ailah al-SA un iyah, Muassasat al-Rafid, [London], 1994, published as The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, Gollancz (London, England), 1997, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Arafat: From Defender to Dictator, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 1998.

Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2000.

Nasser: The Last Arab, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Independent, Washington Post, and Liberation.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Writing Memoirs of a Cultural Schizoid; researching the Christians of the Holy Land.

SIDELIGHTS: Said K. Aburish, a Palestinian journalist based in London, writes about the contemporary and modern Middle East. Most of Aburish's books deal with the politics and history of the region, and many of his works criticize Middle Eastern leaders to such an extent that "he is no longer welcome anywhere in the Arab world," according to Barry Came of Maclean's. "That's a source of pride," Aburish told Came, stating his disillusionment with the current leadership of the Arab world.

Other books by Aburish are more personal, focusing on his own experiences and those of his family and ancestors. In Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian Family, Aburish relates the three-generation saga of the Aburish clan, beginning with and centering on the author's grandfather. Once a poor orphan, Khalil Aburish became an entrepreneur in the 1890s after discovering the alleged tomb of the biblical figure Lazarus on his property in Bethany, Palestine. He charged tourists to see the historic burial place and further supplemented his income by buying and selling plots of land to churches of religious denominations other than Islam. Aburish goes on to discuss the changing times of Palestine and its people. He chronicles such events as World War I and the new British rule, the war between Arabs and Jews in 1948, and the country's divided land and eventual rule by Jordan. He parallels these changes with those of his own family: the death of his grandfather, his father's flight from Beirut, and his divided family and westernized way of living. New York Times Book Review contributor Inea Bushnaq commented that Aburish "probes into the past with cleareyed thoroughness…. Some of the truths he reveals make unhappy reading, but ultimately it is his book's brusque frankness that gives it value." She further stated that "Children of Bethany is a welcome and articulate addition to the documentation of the Palestinian experience since World War I."

In The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud Aburish critically examines the condition of Saudi Arabia's ruling monarchy, characterizing it as "blind, oblivious haughtiness by a hated ruling class." He also blames U.S. oil companies for helping to shore up what he sees as a corrupt and profligate regime. Comparing the situation in Saudi Arabia to conditions in Iran before the overthrow of the shah in 1979, Aburish contends that unless the United States drastically changes its policy and begins urging the House of Saud to grant human rights and share its wealth with the people, the House of Saud will collapse to be replaced by a right-wing Islamic government that could foster a holy war with the West. William B. Quandt, writing in Foreign Affairs, noted that "the corrupting effect of money after the oil boom of the 1970s is the most convincing part of the book." However, Quandt felt that Aburish's predictions on the future are unsubstantiated, characterizing The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud as "a book that is long on speculation, filled with intriguing vignettes, and totally devoid of footnotes that might help document the alleged facts." In contrast, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found the book to be a "well-researched and provocative expose/denunciation of Arabia's powerful ruling clan."

Aburish further denounces the Middle Eastern policies of the United States, along with those of other Western nations, in A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite. Portraying Western policy as one that has supported dictatorial governments, supposedly to ensure its own economic and political interests in the region, Aburish goes on to argue that unless this policy changes it will, in the long run, prove detrimental to the West. Nader Entessar, writing in Library Journal, found A Brutal Friendship to be "a hard-hitting and provocative book" and recommended it highly "for specialists and nonspecialists alike." Daniel Pipes observed in Commentary that while Aburish's tendency to blame all of the problems of the Arab world on "a vast British and American conspiracy" is clearly a distortion of reality; it is a view that must be taken seriously because it is widely held in the Middle East.

In Arafat: From Defender to Dictator Aburish presents a detailed biography of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's life, from his early political involvements at Cairo University through his days as a guerilla fighter to his ascent to power as the dominant figure in the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). He also depicts the change observed in Arafat over the years, noting the man's growing obsession with eliminating potential rivals and his increasingly dictatorial approach to running the PLO. The end result, according to Aburish, was to corrupt the organization and to alienate many of it and Arafat's former supporters. Entessar recommended the book "for anyone who seeks a better understanding of the vagaries of the Palestinian-Israel peace process." Paul Lalor, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, felt that "Aburish makes good use of secondary sources and interviews to tell Arafat's story and bring it up to date." The book was published seven years prior to Arafat's death in 2004.

In the 1970s, Aburish was involved in arms trading in the Middle East, and he did work for Saddam Hussein, even making a trip to Canada in 1975 to try to acquire a nuclear reactor for the Iraqi dictator. His effort was unsuccessful, but at the time he thought his goal was a good one. In his book Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, a biography of the former Iraqi leader, Aburish explains, "I knew from the start, that Iraq was trying to obtain an atomic weapon, believed that it was reasonable for the Arabs to have one and made myself available to help Saddam." By the 1980s, however, Aburish became disillusioned with Hussein's goals and stopped working for him. His inside perspective allows him to give a "detailed, balanced" perspective, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who concluded that Aburish "walks a tightrope, condemning the Iraqi dictator while simultaneously criticizing the West." Indeed, Aburish explicitly blames Iraq's colonial experience for many of its modern problems, arguing that it "was the British conquest of Iraq which set the stage for what is happening today." As in A Brutal Friendship, Aburish criticizes the United States and other Western countries for supporting Hussein during the 1970s and 1980s, but he goes on to criticize the harsh line that the United States and Great Britain have taken against Iraq since the Gulf War, arguing against the sanctions those countries imposed on that country to punish Hussein, for example. The biography covers all of Hussein's life, from his childhood in Tikrit through his time in the Iraqi army and his rise to power, and compares Iraq under Hussein to the Soviet Union under former dictator Josef Stalin. Jonathan Eric Lewis, writing for Midstream, noted that the book "is not a definitive, scholarly biography of Saddam, it is an important contribution to the understanding of how the West came to support, and then turn away from, one of the century's bloodiest dictators."

Aburish's biography of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser highlights the career of a man Aburish considers the Arab world's "most charismatic leader since the prophet Mohammed." In Nasser: The Last Arab Aburish focuses on Nasser's rise to power and the efforts he made to unite the Arab world, particularly his leadership of the short-lived United Arab Republic. This new nation was supposed to unite Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen into an Arab superpower, but in the end only Egypt and Syria fully merged, and their union lasted a mere three years. The plan failed in large part, Aburish argues, because of suspicion and back-stabbing among the leaders of these countries. A Kirkus Reviews contributor considered the book to be "thoughtful—though sometimes puzzling," noting that Aburish considers the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to be solely the cause of the West. However, Gilbert Taylor, writing for Booklist, considered that Aburish, "an intellectual moderate, handles [the complexities of pan-Arab nationalism] adroitly and insightfully." Other critics, including Norman Stone in the Spectator found the book to be less readable than Aburish's previous works; Stone concluded that "Nasser remains a mystery."

Aburish once told CA: "My books constitute footnotes to the history of the modern Middle East, essentially a revisionist history. My purpose is to correct certain impressions before it becomes too late."



Aburish, Said K., Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2000.


Booklist, March 1, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Nasser: The Last Arab, p. 1122.

Commentary, September, 1998, Daniel Pipes, review of A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, p. 59.

Foreign Affairs, September-October, 1995, William B. Quandt, review of The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, p. 178.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of Nasser, p. 115.

Library Journal, July, 1998, Nader Entessar, review of A Brutal Friendship, p. 113; January, 1999, Nader Entessar, review of Arafat: From Defender to Dictator, p. 128.

Maclean's, January 31, 2000, Barry Came, "Saddam's Nuke Hunt: An Ex-Backer Writes a Searing Biography of the Iraqi Dictator," p. 44.

Midstream, May, 2001, review of Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, p. 43.

New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1990, Inea Bushnaq, review of Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian Family, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 1995, review of The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, p. 48; April 23, 2001, review of Saddam Hussein, p. 58; March 22, 2004, review of Nasser, pp. 79-80.

Spectator, July 3, 2004, Norman Stone, "A Man, a Plan, a Canal," p. 37.

Times Literary Supplement, April 23, 1999, Paul Lalor, review of Arafat, p. 7.