Saudi Poet, Novelist and Reformer Ghazi Al-Gosaibi Dies

In 2008, the blogger Saudiwoman called Ghazi Al-Gosaibiwho died at the age of 70 in a Riyadh hospital Sunday—“one of the shiniest stars in the Saudi sky.”

Well-known for his novels, poems, and his government reforms, al-Gosaibi made waves worldwide. The Agence France Press obituary remembers him as the ambassador to Britain who sparked outrage with an ode to a Palestinian suicide bomber.

Al-Gosaibi was removed as ambassador in London in 2002 after publishing “You are the Martyrs”, an ode to Palestinian teenager Ayat Akhras, who killed two Israelis and herself in a Jerusalem supermarket. (Read the poem in English, translated by Zafarul-Islam Khan, or in Arabic.)

But he didn’t only cause controversy in London. AFP also noted that, “as minister of health in 1984, Al-Gosaibi was fired after publishing the poem ‘A Pen Bought and Sold’ that assailed the corruption and privilege of the Saudi elite under then King Fahd.”

Indeed, it was only last month—when Al-Gosaibi was already quite ill–that the Saudi Culture Ministry lifted the ban on his writings, including controversial poetry collection “A Battle Without a Flag.”

At the time, Abdo Khal, author of the Arabic Booker-winning She Throws Sparks, also banned in Saudia Arabia, said he hopes the lifting of the ban on Al-Gosaibi’s books would pave the way for other writers’ work to be made available.

A number of Al-Gosaibi’s books are available in English. His best-known novel, An Apartment Called Freedom (English translation: 1996), related the experiences of four young men who went to study in Cairo in the late 1950s before returning to their home countries in the Gulf. Other works in translation include Seven, The Gulf Crisis (nonfiction), and A Love Story. Al-Gosaibi’s poetry has appeared twice in Banipal and several are available online at Jehat.

The poem of his on Jehat that I enjoyed most was the visceral “Octopus,” translated by Sharif Elmusa and Charles Dona, and originally having appeared in the anthology Modern Arabic Poetry, edited by Salma Khada Jayyusi:


One arm circles my neck
another my limbs
another and then another

I feel these black arms
sucking at my veins
draining the life from my body
Where’s my hand?
The knife I held?
Once I had thousands of hands
thousands of knives!

With my own hands
I can cut off my arms
here I am armless
wrapped in black arms

I feel those black arms choking me
the beast’s hideous eye staring at me
in his greed seeing my death
when he draws me toward his ‘jaws
and tends me

Suddenly a knife sprouted from my forehead
a knife from my ribs
the wound blossoming with fresh blood
every drop growing a hand.
Cursing me,
the hideous eyes died.

Thank you to everyone who let me know about Al-Gosaibi’s passing, particularly the always quick Dxblit.

Selected tweets about Al-Gosaibi:

sultanalqassemi: I would say this about a very small number of people in power: The Arab world is a better place because Ghazi Al Gosaibi was born into it.

khadijapatel: I am saddened to learn of the demise of Saudi writer Ghazi Al Gosaibi. My signed copy of Hekayat Hub is a prized possession.

Hanno_A: There is no1 like the #Saudi Minister of Labor , Dr. #Ghazi Al Gosaibi , Allah yer7mh.

albaharna: A sad & great loss of Dr.Ghazi Al Gosaibi  ..intellectual reformist,writer,poet,politician,& diplomat. Our condolences to @SuhailAlgosaibi

khalidalkhalifa: Farewell my dear friend .. Ghazi al-Gosaibi , Saudi diplomat, poet, dead at 70

AbuAbdulla:رحم الله الدكتور غازي فقد كانت له مواقف في الاداره لازالنا نتداولها ونستشهد بها على القياده والامانه والإخلاص #Ghazi

رحم الله غازي الوزير الذي ابتكر الشفافية في المملكة و لم يجد حرجاً في الحق و لا حاجة لإخفائه، كان المعارض المخلص و هو في مجلس الوزراء #GHAZI

mahmood RIP Ghazi Al-Gosaibi . He was a giant and his legacy will live on. @SuhailAlgosaibi @AliaAlmoayed

bintbattuta In memory of Ghazi Al Gosaibi , an old post on my blog (in Arabic): “The pleasure of not having to understand”

JustAmira: And I hate reading Arabic and the only Arabic book I enjoyed was Ghazi Al Gosaibi

انا لله وانا اليه راجعون-the saddest day of the year R.I.P. Dr Ghazi Al Gosaibi,one of the Arab worlds greatest men & fathers best friend

Saudiwoman من اقوال الراحل المبدع الدكتور غازي القصيبي #Ghazi *المرأة مخلوق يفوقنا رقة وجمالاً ، وموقف الرجل منها مقياس تحضّره 

Saudiwoman Osama Bin Laden singled out #Ghazi Al Gosaibi in a 2006 taping, calling him a heretic, infidel and apostate.