Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi was a widely admired literary and political figurehead in contemporary Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world.An intellectual celebrated for his work in academia, public service, diplomacy, and literature, he wrote prolifically, spanning the spectrum from pragmatic political analysis to thoughtful poetic reflection.
Name: Ghazi bin Abdulrahman Algosaibi
Date of Birth: March 2nd, 1940 (1359 Hijri)
Place of Birth: Al-Ahsa
Date of Death: August 15th, 2010 (Ramadan 5th, 1431 Hijri)
Ghazi’s early years were marked by the tragedy of his mother’s death when he was only nine months old and the relative isolation of having no siblings close to his age. He later described his childhood as “oscillating between two poles - the first, my father, who was stern and severe (I was not permitted to leave the house, for instance); and the second, my maternal grandmother, who was exceedingly kind and took great pity on the ‘little orphan’”.
Far from having a detrimental impact on Ghazi, this upbringing instilled in him a view that shaped his approach to civil service many years later: “Authority without firmness leads to a dangerous complacency, but firmness without mercy leads to an even more dangerous tyranny.”This principle served Ghazi well throughout his years as manager, minister, and diplomat, but it’s anyone’s guess what effect it had on Ghazi the writer and poet.
In any case, the melancholy and isolation of his early years dissipated when Ghazi began attending school in Manama. There, he found company and friendship, eventually graduating from high school.
Ghazi started his higher education in Cairo, Egypt, where he enrolled in the University of Cairo’s law faculty. It was an experience he described as “endlessly rich,” and no doubt it was, for it later served as the inspiration for his seminal novel “An Apartment Called Freedom.”
Bachelor’s degree in hand, Ghazi returned to Saudi Arabia with the intention of continuing his studies abroad. He clung to the idea despite numerous offers of civil service positions, the most important of which was as director of the legal department in the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, headed at the time by Abdulla Al Turaiqi. Ghazi’s father, who was “fiercely respectful of his children’s independence,” offered him a position in the family business - an offer that Ghazi respectfully declined. His father understood Ghazi’s desire to pursue his education, and to that end, helped him obtain a government scholarship.
And so it was that in 1962, Ghazi headed for Los Angeles, where he spent three years at the prestigious University of Southern California (USC) and earned a master’s degree in International Relations.
During his time in America, Ghazi assumed his first administrative role, as president of the Arab Students Society at USC. After being elected by a “landslide majority”, he breathed life back into this student organisation that had been mired by disagreement and a lack of cohesion and was in its own way, a microcosm of the Arab world.
“To return home and work as a university lecturer, and then to continue my studies and obtain a PhD”; that was what Ghazi had decided - and so he returned to Riyadh in 1964. He applied to Riyadh University (now King Saud University) for a teaching position at the Faculty of Business Administration. However, the academic year had already begun and he had to wait until the following year to start teaching. Until then, he whiled away his hours at the library. By the time the exam period approached, the young academic had found a way to contribute to the university, albeit with the somewhat menial task of attaching photographs of students to their exam papers. Nevertheless, Ghazi with his master’s in international relations attended to the job willingly.
As the new academic year approached, the dean of the faculty asked Ghazi to prepare to teach two subjects, the Fundamentals of Law and the Fundamentals of Public Administration. But just as the newly appointed lecturer was about to start teaching, he was unexpectedly selected to be a member of the Saudi-Yemeni peace delegation formed in line with the newly agreed Jeddah Accord. The delegation’s mission was to help find a peaceful resolution to the Yemeni civil war raging at the time. Unbeknownst to him, Ghazi had been recommended to fill the position of political legal advisor to the Saudi delegation. The names of the delegates were presented to the king and a royal order was issued to appoint them. Without any real say in the matter, Ghazi joined the peace delegation.
By 1966, the peace delegation had ended its mission, and the ‘political legal advisor’ returned to the university where he proceeded to teach no less than seven subjects. In 1967, he set off to London to earn his PhD in Political Science. The subject of his dissertation was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, the civil war in Yemen.
Life in Academia
In 1971, having completed his PhD, Dr. Ghazi returned to Riyadh and resumed his work at the University. In addition to his academic duties, he started to run a friend’s legal consultancy office. Many years later, Dr. Ghazi readily admitted that he had not been able to turn this venture into a commercial success, but that the interactions with his clients had provided him with something far more valuable - a unique insight into Saudi Arabian society.
It was during this period that Dr. Ghazi also began to write a bi-monthly column in the Al-Riyadh Newspaper, in addition to presenting a weekly TV segment on International Relations. This media exposure helped to transform Dr. Ghazi into a recognisable public figure. This was further enhanced by his inclusion in numerous government committees that required qualified legal advisors, most notablyat the Ministry of Defence and Aviation and the Ministry of Finance.
As Dr. Ghazi’s career took off, his fame brought with it an inevitable price – he often heard himself criticized for “chasing the limelight” and being “self-promoting”. He later recalled that “in those days, I learnt a lesson that I would never forget, and that is if failure has a high price, so too does success. I attributed these criticisms to an innate instinct in humans, one that makes us shun those who are different and do things differently.”
Within a year, Dr. Ghazi was offered the position of Dean of the Faculty of Commerce. He accepted on the condition that the position would only be his for two years. He immediately set out to reform and improve the faculty’s systems and processes. He held the position for two years as agreed, and then returned to teaching.
Life in Politics
In 1973, Dr. Ghazi finally decided to make the transition from academia to civil service. Having previously turned down the position of Secretary General of the Passports Directorate, he accepted a position as Director of the Railroads Authority. In his own words, the position “had piqued my increasing interest in administration.”
Without realising it, Dr. Ghazi had become a “minister-in-training”. He now met with Prince Fahad (later HM King Fahad) on numerous occasions, sharing with him his ideas on sustainable development for the Kingdom. Finally, in 1975, Ghazi Algosaibi was appointed as Minister for Industry and Electricity. His accomplishments in this role are remembered very fondly by those who witnessed them. Homes across the Kingdom that had previously been without electricity were connected to the grid with incredible efficiency. Dr. Ghazi also played a vital role in the creation of the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), which would go on to become one of the world’s largest petrochemicals companies. It was also during this period that Dr. Ghazi started to become well-known for a very particular management technique: the surprise visit.
Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi would later admit that he would not have been able to achieve anything without the support he received from the Kingdom’s political leadership. The source of this support was HM King Fahad, who appointed Dr. Ghazi as Minister for Health following his seven-year stint as Minister for Industry and Electricity. In Dr. Ghazi’s words, “HM the King had absolute confidence in me, and he conveyed this personally on numerous occasions. His support was my first and only weapon in the ‘battles’ of the Ministry of Health.”
As Minister for Health, Dr. Ghazi made immediate and lasting changes. His work there brought a different side of him to the fore, that of a deeply compassionate man rather than a simply highly efficient administrator.
Along with a program for modernising the healthcare services and making patient care and well-being the ministry’s highest priority, he also established the Patient’s Friends Society, and spearheaded a campaign to promote blood donation.
Alas, despite his numerous achievements, many of which are still evident today, his career as minister came to an abrupt end. In 1984, a royal decree relieved him of his duties in the ministry. “It was a complicated human drama”, Ghazi later said of the event. His poem “Saif Aldoulah Alhamdani” may have been the final straw (or perhaps all the straws) that ended the close relationship between himself and King Fahad.
A month later, Ghazi was appointed Ambassador to Bahrain, a post he held for eight years. From there, he became Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK and remained in that position for eleven years. Finally, he returned to the Saudi cabinet and as Minister for Water (later Minister for Water and Electricity as the ministries merged). His final ministerial post was in the Ministry of Labour.
His literary life
Ghazi Algosaibi possessed an intrinsic literary genius that manifested itself in numerous volumes of poetry and novels. He is unsurprisingly counted among one of the most influential writers of Saudi Arabia, and his writings continue to inspire generations.
Much like his political activities, Ghazi’s literary work also attracted many critics, perhaps most famously in 1970 when his poetry collection “A Battle without Banners” was published. It drew the ire of some conservative elements within Saudi Arabia that insisted that the book should be banned and its author reprimanded. After numerous protests against the publication of the book, HM King Faisal formed a committee to rule on the publication of the book. The committee included the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Education, and the Minister of Hajj. The committee went on to rule that the book was not offensive to religion and should not be banned. Ghazi Algosaibi later recounted the position of Prince Abdullah (later HM King Abdullah) on the matter: “I heard from someone who was involved in the process that [Prince Abdullah] had urged King Faisal not to respond to the demands of the protestors.”
Over the years, Dr. Ghazi wrote prolifically, penning poetry, novels and non-fiction. His poetry collections included “Sawt Min Al Khaleej,” “Al-Ashajj,” “Lawn An Al Awrad,” Poems from the Pearl Islands, Suheim, and For The Martyrs. Some of his most famous novels were An Apartment Called Freedom, “Al-Uṣfuriyah”, Seven, “Humma,” “Danasku,” “Salma,” and “Abu Shallakh al-Barmai.” His last published novel was “Al-Jenneyyeh.” His non-fiction books include The Dilemma of Development, The Cultural Invasion, “Amrika wa-al-Sa'udiyah,” and Revolution in the Sunnah, in addition to his best-selling book administrative biography Yes (Saudi Minister): A life in Administration, and “Al Wazir Al Murafiq.”
Most of the literary works by the poet, minister, and intellectual Ghazi Algosaibi created a stir at the time of their publication. Some of them were in fact banned in Saudi Arabia. Of all his publications, “An Apartment Called Freedom” and “Al-Uṣfuriyah” are perhaps the most famous.
Dr. Ghazi’s memoirs include many amusing anecdotes from his life in public service. During his time as Minister for Electricity, for example, a neighbourhood in Riyadh experienced a major power outage. Ghazi went to the call centre to help answer some of the complaints that were coming in. An irate caller told him to “tell your minister that if he stopped writing poetry and paid attention to his job, Riyadh wouldn’t be cut off from electricity”.Ghazi thanked the caller and informed him that he was the minister and that the message had been received. This was met with a long silence after which the caller hung up.
Although never short of critics, Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi’s most direct literary confrontation was with a group of preachers. Many of them attacked his writings in their sermons (copies of which were widely distributed on tape). Some of the attacks bordered on the slanderous, and Dr. Ghazi felt a reply was needed. He wrote a series of open letters to those preachers, which would later be published as a collection under the title “Hata la takoun Fitna”.
And while many in Saudi Arabia viewed Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi as being too liberal, in the UK he was viewed by his critics as a religious conservative. Most famously, his poem “The Martyrs” about Palestinian suicide bombers was rumoured to have a led to his removal from his post as ambassador, despite the fact that the poem was published a year before his return to Saudi Arabia. On the matter, Dr. Ghazi cited the words of the Syrian author Mohamed AlMaghut, “there is no talent that goes unpunished,” adding,“there is no position without a price!”
•Assistant Professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, 1965/1385 Hijjri. He worked as a legal consultant in a number of consultancy offices, in the Ministry of Defense and Air Force, the Ministry of Finance, and in the Institute of Public Administration.
•Dean of the Administrative Sciences College in King Saud University, 1971/1391Hijjri.
•Director of the Railroads Authority, 1973/1393.
•Minister of Industry and Electricity, 1976/1396.
•Minister of Health, 1982/1402.
•Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, 1984/1404.
•Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom, 1992/1412.
•Minister of Water and Electricity , 2003/1423.•Minister of Labour,2005/1425.