This article was published in the Fall 1999 issue of INEAS News.
This article's interviews were conducted during a visit to London
in June 1999.
In June 1999, I traveled again to see my brother and mother. As usual,
two weeks of doing little to nothing seemed unbearable even if it
was supposed to be a vacation, so I decided to interview prominent
Arab personalities living in London.
Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of Al-Quds
Al-Arabi newspaper, Ilham Al-Douri, an Iraqi
Psychiatrist and Abdul Hadi Al-Temimi, the only Iraqi
correspondent at the Arabic BBC were my choice for this report. Three
unique characters and rare examples in what they have accomplished,
especially considering the fact that they made most of their accomplishments
outside of their birthplace.
Born on February 17, 1950, in a refugee camp called Dair Al-Balah,
a little town in the Gaza Strip (Palestine). Abdel Bari Atwan is one
of eleven children.
His parents were illiterate; they never went to school. “It
was a very harsh life. Imagine a father who was suffering from a stomach
ulcer, needed to feed all those children plus two uncles, three aunts
and my grandparents. It was really a miserable way to start.”
Said Atwan. “Then I had my first education in refugee schools
in the Gaza Strip in Dair al-Balah elementary school. In 1967, I had
to go to Jordan hoping to continue my education. My family believed
that I was a good investment. But I could not go to school because
I found Jordan to be expensive; I had to work as a laborer in a tomato
factory. I needed to work to support myself and send money to my family.
I then increased my working hours to 12 hours per day."
Following that, one of Atwan's brothers completed a bachelor's degree
in agriculture in Cairo. He then managed to find a job in Saudi Arabia.
He convinced Abdel Bari to go to Cairo and complete his studies because
it was cheaper than Jordan. "I went to Cairo to finish my secondary
schooling. In 1970, I was accepted at Cairo University in the arts
department, specializing in journalism and completing a B.A.”
In 1970, Atwan got a B.A. in journalism. He also completed a diploma
in English/Arabic translation at the American University of Cairo
(AUC) and graduated in August 1974. His first job as a journalist
was working at Al-Balaagh Newspaper in Libya. Then he left for Saudi
Arabia writing for Al-Madina Newspaper for about three years.
In 1978, he began working for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in
London and since then he has been living there. He got his M.A. in
area studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies of London
University in 1983. Due to his dissatisfaction with the environment
and politics at Asharq Al-Awsat, he left and rejoined the
Saudi Al-Madina newspaper by opening an office in London.
He worked for four years with Al-Madina (till 1984) and was
the newspaper’s Bureau chief. Atwan was offered a job again
at Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. Then he became the managing editor
of Al-Majallah magazine. In September 1988, he resigned from
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat “without knowing where I will go.
I was offered a job to be the executive editor of Al-Hayaat
and I was also offered to be the editor of Al-Quds here in
London. So I chose Al-Quds.”
Al-Hayaat, which was owned by the Lebanese James Mrowwwa,
is now owned by prince Khalid bin Sultan. Palestinian Walid and Ziad
Abu Zuluf were the owners of Al-Quds newspaper during the
critical and crucial times of the Intifadeh (or the uprising). The
owners of the local Al-Quds newspaper in Jerusalem wanted
to internationalize it. They were ambitious and thought there might
be a place for the newspaper in London. So they came up with a limited
budget. “I knew it was a limited budget, but I was extremely
ambitious. I wanted to produce a liberal newspaper and to challenge
these empires, Al-Hayaat and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.
I love challenges and to produce unique work.”
Al-Quds newspaper began production on April 19,1989. The
team of Al-Quds worked sixteen hours a day starting from
scratch. Due to its limited budget, Al-Quds did not afford to hire
professional employees, which in turn slowed the process.
"In August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, we realized there
would be a huge crack, a huge division in the Arab world. Sadly, Al-Quds
was the only newspaper against the American intervention in Iraq,
and as a result was accused of being funded by Iraq. “The propaganda
machine of the Gulf States, Egypt, and Syria is a huge one; we are
limited in comparison. They want to smash us.”
Atwan continued by saying “Actually, I never supported or
believed in the Iraqi invasion [of Kuwait] and I never agreed with
the policies of the Iraqi government. I am against the violation of
human rights. I am against dictatorship wherever it is, but the problem
was that I knew the Americans wanted to destroy Iraq because it managed
to build an advanced military technology which was capable of maintaining
a strategic balance with Israel. The Iraqi genius scientists managed
to produce these missiles and to hit the targets accurately. This
is not allowed in the Arab world. Also, the Americans wanted to impose
a solution for the Palestinian problem. So, I had a vision and that
is why we were not with the Americans. Actually, we refused lots of
money. We were offered millions by American allies in the Arab world
to change our position, but I refused.”
Al-Quds built an excellent reputation among the Arab people.
“We managed to build a huge credibility not just among in the
Arab world, but in the West as well. Whenever the Western media wants
to represent the voice of people, they call me. I am not looking for
a job. I am not looking for a house or a Mercedes. I am not looking
for luxury. My life is very simple. I am happy and I wouldn’t
sacrifice this happiness for material. We are struggling financially
with lots of debt.” The owners of Al-Quds Al-Arabi
could not afford it, so they left. Now, it is a publicly funded newspaper
and Atwan has been the general director since 1993.
The Gulf War highly affected the status of Al-Quds newspaper,
negatively on the financial arena and positively by popular support.
“Without the Gulf War, we wouldn’t have taken such political
lines, which made us well recognized and well respected.”
Atwan indicated that most of the Arab media were with the international
coalition. Even the Jordanian press, which started in criticism of
the coalition, shifted gears later on, making it the worst defeat
and division to ever occur in the history of the Arab world.
Al-Quds has succeeded to challenge Al-Hayaat and
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and has been selling well in Europe and
the USA. It publishes 60,000 newspapers per issue.
In the social arena, Atwan does not seem to be as productive as
he is with Al-Quds newspaper. “My life was ruined because of
Al-Quds Al-Arabi. I don’t have a proper social life.
I am running from one TV to another, from a debate to another, from
seminars to travel, and so on and so forth. For example, last year,
and for the first time in my life, I took a two-week vacation. So,
I went to Tunisia. I love the sea because I was born on the sea. I
didn’t even complete a week. Four days later, Bin Laden was
bombed in Afghanistan. Suddenly, the hotel was working for me, receiving
tons of calls from CNN, ABC, BBC Sky News and others wanting to interview
me about the matter. The next day, I woke up at 4:00 am to catch the
first flight back to London. So I basically don’t have the luxury
Due to Atwan’s courageous one-on-one interview in November
1996 with Bin Laden in Afghanistan, he was approached by the media
when the bombing of Bin Laden took place. Atwan secretly met Bin Laden
in Afghanistan, where he stayed for a week and had to wear Afghani
dress. There was no electricity or running water. Atwan had to drive
12 hours in a muddy road until he reached Bin Laden’s Cave,
which was about 3000 meters above sea level at temperature 15-20 degrees
below zero. “It was the most frightening trip of my life”
He then continued to state that "Bin Laden is a phenomenon."
According to Atwan, Bin Laden is one of the few people who were able
break the norms and go to extremes. “I believe Bin Laden is
the product of the American and Israeli humiliation of Arabs and Muslims.
When you see American troops on Arab soil, when you see corrupted
regimes supported by the US, when you see the only Middle Eastern
commodity, which is oil, its prices fixed by the United States, when
Israel expands its settlements and refuses to implement UN’s
Security Council resolutions, of course you will find rebels like
Bin Laden who are willing to sacrifice their lives. Bin Laden is a
genuine person living a very humble life.”
From my visit to the office of Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper
in London, I equally noticed the modesty, genuine personality and
courage of Abdul Bari Atwan. It is evident in his writings and debates
on TV and radio. He is indeed an admirable, respected and most popular
editor of an Arab newspaper.
Abdul Hadi Al-Temimi was born in 1957 in the Babylon
district, Iraq. His elementary and secondary studies were completed
in Al-Musayyab school. He then moved to Baghdad in 1972 to obtain
a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and Languages from the University
of Baghdad, graduating in 1977.
I learned about Al-Temimi from an email I received from him in early
1999. When I knew of his credentials and work at the (Arabic) BBC,
I decided to interview him during my visit to London in June 1999.
From 1977 to 79, he worked in journalism and translation. In 1979,
Al-Temimi came to London to obtain a Master's degree in International
Conferences and Translation and a postgraduate diploma in conference
interpreting. He completed both the degree and diploma in 1982 and
returned to Iraq to work for Al-Qadisiyya newspaper.
In 1985 while in Iraq, Al-Temimi worked as a correspondent for the
(Arabic) BBC. "In 1986, I was approached by the Moroccan News
Agency as their correspondent in Iraq for one year. From 1987 to 89,
I worked as a correspondent for Reuter News Agency's Baghdad office,
I was actually covering the Iran-Iraq war."
In1989, Al-Temimi left Iraq for London to pursue his Ph.D., which
he completed in 1996. "I started as a producer from that time
and I am still working there. I have produced a variety of programs
on politics and the arts."
Al-Temimi comes from a large family, four brothers and four sisters,
ranking first in order. His brothers' and sisters' careers vary to
include medical researching, translating, engineering and teaching.
He is the only journalist-reporter in the family and the only one
outside of Iraq.
Abdul Hadi worked for about a year at the BBC Arabic television
which ended its broadcast in 1996. Many of this TV reporters and anchors
began working for Al-Jazira Satellite Channel in Qatar. Dr.
Al-Temimi stayed in London and continued reporting and producing for
the Arabic BBC radio. His reporting trips include Arab countries,
Greece, the United States, Turkey, Spain and Israel.
About his trip to Israel, Hadi indicated that it was "very
educational." When asked if he would go to report again in Israel,
Abdul Hadi confidently replied, "Yes, yes before I can go for
a visit." He is the first Iraqi reporter to ever set a foot in
Israel since its creation in 1948.
Al-Temimi is perhaps the only Iraqi reporter who is working at a
major radio channel airing outside of the Arab world and in a country
that was very hostile to his home country, Iraq. Therefore, reporting
about the Gulf war was very tough to do. "I was numb all the
time" said Dr. Al-Temimi. " How you would behave in a situation
when your country and people are being bombarded every day, and you
have a job that requires you to be professional on air. It is a split
between two different personalities."
Dr. Al-Temimi suffered racial discrimination at the Arabic BBC,
which he took to court in 1997 and won the case.
Ilham Al-Douri was born on December 22 , 1952 in
Mosul, North of Iraq. She completed her schooling from elementary
through college in Mosul. In 1976, she graduated from the Mosul Medical
Ilham has two sisters and one brother. The elder sister is an English
high school teacher; the younger sister has a B.S. in biology and
the younger brother has a B.S. in business.
Following her graduation, Ms. Al-Douri completed one year internship
of medical training at Mosul University Hospital. Like all doctors
in Iraq, Al-Douri had to serve in rural areas. "I was assigned
to Heet in Ramadi" mentioned Ilham, "I worked there for
one and a half years. It was a very difficult period having worked
away from home and my mother. I was particularly attached to my mother.
Also, the whole getting used to living in a village was not easy at
Ms. Al-Douri chose internal medicine to be her area of specialty.
In medical school, students learn psychology and psychiatry in the
fifth year. "I was fascinated by the subject at that time. So
while I was doing internal medicine, I decided to take up psychiatry
as my specialty. I think deep down I was more artistic than scientific.
There were many doctors in my family. All my cousins were doctors.
My family really wanted me to be a doctor, but I was more scientifically
oriented than artistically."
In 1979, she applied to the Institute of Psychiatry in London. Her
application was accepted and left for training in 1980. Ms. Al-Douri
was accepted at Maudsley Hospital, which is regarded as the best training
place in England. When two and half years of training at Maudsley
were completed, she worked at Guys Hospital from 1982 to 1985. During
these years, she also obtained a Diploma in Psychological Medicine
(DPM) followed by a Diploma in Psychiatry (DIP) In 1986, Al-Douri
completed an MRC-Psych, which is equivalent to Ph.D.
It really amazed me, as I was listening to Ilham, how one can study
continuously for twenty-eight years without a break and work for about
half that number of years and still want to accomplish more. Although
this is, in general, the norm for most medical doctors, it is not
the norm for women doctors in exile. Getting an MRC-psych was still
not sufficient for her ambitions. From 1987 to 1990, Dr. Al-Douri
obtained an SR (Senior Registrar) training to prepare her for consulting.
"At that time, there were 200 senior jobs available in the entire
country. So it was extremely difficult for a foreigner to obtain an
SR position," said Al-Douri.
She finished training in 1990 and was successful in finding an SR
job in March 1991 at the South End Community Care Services (SECCS)
and the National Health Services Trust. Unprecedented is the fact
that she was an Iraqi and found such a job right after the Gulf War.
Since 1991, Dr. Al-Douri consulted in three different hospitals; Runwell,
Rochford and SECCS. She has been also working privately in Priory
hospitals such as Duke's Priory Hospital and Groveland Priory Hospital.
There were many problems and obstacles in the path of such accomplishments.
Dr. Al-Douri recalls that "psychiatry has close ties to culture
and practicing in a foreign country where you don't know much about
its culture is very difficult because, as I said, psychiatric problems
are very much intermingled by culture. At some point, I wanted to
change to general medicine because it is easier to practice. It does
not require dealing with culture when treating chest infections, pneumonia,
or things like that. Also, although I was fluent in theoretical English
because I come from a country where English is taught at the elementary
level and because my sister had a degree in and taught English, I
found it very difficult when I came to this country to speak to people
in English. This in addition to the culture differences."
Dr. Al-Douri also pointed out that the other difficulty was her
being a foreigner especially from the Arab world, "One has to
be a hundred times better than the English candidate to be able to
make it to the top. I never thought that I would really make it to
the top, but I regard myself as very hard working and I don't give
up easily. If I decide to do something, it means that I will achieve
it no matter how many obstacles I find in my path. Also as a woman
to make it to the top has been very difficult."
© Copyright by Wafaa' Al-Natheema, 1999