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08/15/2010

Ghazi Algosaibi, controversial writer and former Saudi Arabia ambassador, dies at 70

August 15, 2010 | 11:31 am

Saudi Ghazi Algosaibi, Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to Britain who also was known for his poetry and liberal religious views in an overwhelmingly conservative country that banned his writings, has died. He was 70.

Algosaibi died Sunday of colon cancer that had spread to his stomach lining, said his cousin, Saud Algosaibi. Algosaibi underwent surgery three weeks ago at Riyadh's King Faisal Specialist Hospital and had been in the intensive care unit since, said Badr al-Qahtani, a hospital official.

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

The scion of a wealthy trading family, Algosaibi was close to the kingdom's ruling family.

"Ghazi was a symbol of modernity in Saudi Arabia," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a pro-reform political scientist at King Saud University. He said 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."

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.

Algosaibi was also 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.

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

Algosaibi also came under fire in 2002 when, as an ambassador to Britain, he wrote a poem praising Palestinian suicide bombers at the height of the second Palestinian uprising.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Ghazi Algosaibi in 2008. Credit: Issam Kanafani / AFP/Getty Images

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