Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Amir and Me:
from London:
I did my AlJazeera's show on Tuesday night. I was not myself, and was not good, friends and family told me. I agree, despite a favorable review here (thanks Rania and Leila). (Only S and my brother Maher disagreed). Host (of the ALjazeera show) was hostile, rude, and aggressive (if you are reading this Faysal, you were very rude), and the other guest started yelling and blustery, which is the recipe to make me withdrawn, disinterested, and very bored. I kept looking at my watch. I cannot say what somebody might expect me to say. And I also was (before the show) so aware of my need to resist the temptation to flatter the masses: especially when I saw that I was quite recognized (from AlJazeera not from the Bold and the Beautiful), and some would even ask for my autographs (especially Saudis, I have noticed). It became important to me to stress my independence. That was that.

The next day, I was in my Hotel Room (in fact, it was a nice suite with two bathrooms, two living rooms, one dining room, and two balconies), and the phone rang as I was sipping a beverage (green tea without saffron). I answered the phone and the caller immediately announced that "your appointment with His Royal Highness is at 12:30PM." To that I said: "what appointment"?. The question was ignored and he repeated the statement. I went back to my beverage, and then series of phone calls followed all announcing my appointment. Of course, I did not ask for an appointment, which explains my surprise. I was told that I need to go down at 11:50PM and a car would pick me up. I explained that I need to shower (my hair requires some 20 minutes of extra care and attention, you understand). Then another caller (a former minister and present-day advisor to the Amir of Qatar), called to tell me that His Royal Highness would like to meet me. I felt that now is the time to make my announcement: I explained to Mr. Qawwari that I do not wear suits nor ties. He said but for this occasion you will. I said: No, I will appear in my jeans, New Balance running shoes, and a shirt (the only one I brought with me and in which I had appeared the night before). I only bring t-shirts usually or short sleeves Polo shorts, in case you need to know all that. He said, no just put on YOUR suit. I said: I do NOT own suits or ties, and that I cannot. He said: that you cannot appear before him in jeans and running shoes. He was quite unhappy I could tell. I called a contact at AlJazeera and explained the dilemma: he said go the Mall next to the Hotel and there is a Pierre Cardin store and you can just buy a suit, at least if you insist on not wearing a tie. I said: that sounds reasonable, but hung up the phone and ignored the advise. Hopped into the shower, and put on my Angry Arab uniform (New Balance shoes, shirt, and jeans). The car came and I was told to wait for a Protocol escort. Once that person arrived, I was driven. The Royal Palace ground is so large, and you drive for a long time before you reach "the Royal Umbrella" as the entrance to the Palace is called--it should be the Emiral Umbrella as the Qatari king is known as Amir (prince). I was escorted in: a beautiful all-white marble palace with a huge central area. I had to stop and marvel. I wish it had large French windows although it had nice color glass windows and the place is Arab/Islamic architecture, which I like. The carpets were plain, or some of them. I was then taken to a waiting hall, where a Korean delegation was waiting. An advisor to the Amir came and as he greeted me he said (jokingly and in a less accented English than mine): "You are wearing the same shirt from yesterday?", to which I replied: "you are quite observant." The Korean delegation continued to talk with him, and I asked one of the members next to me (pretending some knowledge and familiarity with things Asian): "You are from Japan, right?". "Korea" he said. That was that. The Chairman of the Board of AlJazeera (a close relative to the Amir) whom I had not met before came in, and we talked for a while. He was a nice guy, and I liked his ability to resist pressures from East and West alike. I was then taken to meet the Amir: I entered his very very very large office (nicely done but I would like to see more French windows). He was very nice, jovial, and quite kind to me--I must say. He is quite big (height and weight). I pointed out that my attire is always as it is, and he did not seem to mind. As we sat down, he mentioned that he followed my contributions and that he appreciates my "nationalist sense." He also said that a few Arab leaders (especially Saudis) have complained to him me, and about my appearances on AlJazeera. I then proceeded to point out that I am quite critical of his government. I then observed to him: "I think that it is bad for your reputation to be seen with me." He laughed and said no. He said he knew (of my criticism) and asked me to elaborate on them, which I did with passion if not zeal. He listened and then said: Well, I really have respect for the opinions adn insights of Dr. As`ad AbuKhaill (that is me by the way), but I have to make decisions on the basis of what is good for my country. He explained to me some of the things they are doing in Qatar adn that he does not even have mukhabarat (secret police) like other Arab countries. We spoke some more, and then the Foreign Minister (whom I had scathingly criticized before on AlJazeera among other places and called him the Pleading Minister--because he once said that Arabs should plead with the US to achieve their goals) entered the room. The Emir then told me: Here he is, adn then told the Minister: "You know that Dr. As`ad does not like your policies and your normalization with Israel." The Minister shook my hand but was rather aloof. he talked to the Amir briefly and then left the room. I told the Amir, I have to take advantage of this meeting to ask him some questions about what is going on, foreign and domestic policy. The official coffee person then came, and poured me a cup of coffee. I normally do not drink coffee but noticed that it was yellow. I remembered that S. had wondered about saffron in coffee and thought I should try it. I did: it was more sweet and more dilute than regular coffee, which I liked. The Amir then said goodbye and I was driven back to my hotel. Segregation struck me as I did not see a single woman in the palace during the visit. Forget to say that I proudly managed throughout the meeting to avoid using any royal titles.

If I get corrupted, these are the signs: a) advertisements of Qatar Airways appear on the top of my site; b) I suddenly become the Happy Arab; c) my next book's title becomes "In the company of kings and princes;" and I insist on being called Prince Angry or Prince Arab.