Patrick Seale has died from a brain tumor. While he was on his death bed, his ex, Rana Qabbani, was tackily badmouthing him on Twitter over inheritence issue.
Seale belong to a generation when Western correspondents in the Middle East were among the best graduates of Middle East studies centers in Western universities (outside the US, of course – we don’t believe in expertise here in the US). Seale studied aat St. Anthony’s college at Oxford and was a student of Albert Hourani, who wanted him to become a historian. (The father of Seale was an Arabist by the way). Hourani thought very highly of Seale and wanted him to become a historian. The young Seale published his first book, the Struggle for Syria, fresh out school. It was for years one of the best book (classics really) on the Middle East. I do believe that the book inspired many people to study Syrian history and certainly inspired Philip Khoury in his work on modern Syria. [No public library in Ontario has a copy, and used copies online start from circa $150 – TS]
Seale became a foreign correspondent in the Middle East when Western correspondents in the region were real experts and historians of the region. Seale had an unusual gift: he knew how to amass a wealth of information on a subject without being overwhelmed with the data, and with the ability to tell a gripping story in a commanding style. You don’t see that style in writing on the Middle East these days.
Seale’s later books paled in comparison to his first book. His book on Asad was more of an advocacy and hagiography and failed to tell the other point of view. He presented Asad in heroic terms. He said that he believed in the case that Asad was making (not sure which is worse, to believe in Asad’s case or to not believe in it).
His book on Abu Nidal was based on the account of Abu Iyad: Seale became a successor of sorts to Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal and Middle East figures wanted to tell their story to him because they hoped that would come across as Asad came across in that book.
Seale retired from journalism and then wrote sort of “court biographies”. I asked him once: how could you write that book on Khalid bin Sultan? He said: it was a lot of money (around half a million dollars from what I heard). His last book on Riadh As-Sulh was commissioned by Sulh’s grandson, Al-Walid bin Talal, for $400,000 (I know that for a fact). But the book reads more as the work of talented graduate students and does not have the flourish and style of Seale.
I miss the times when Western correspondents in the Middle East were real experts and historians of the region and not like today: how much Middle East history do the present-day correspondents in Beirut know about the region? I bet that they know more about Gen. Dr. engineer Salim Idriss than about Jamal Abdul-Nasser or George Habash. I bet. His writings for Al-Hayat (the mouthpiece for Khalid bin Sultan) mirrored the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia: it supported Syrian regime for years before turning against it in 2005.
As’ad AbuKhalil, Angry Arab News Service