The loss is so great that one struggles to find words to describe it. In an awfully tough year that seems full of painful memories, we lost a great man on Tuesday.
As I read the message early morning that Emirati media giant, Ibrahim Al Abed, has passed away, my mind went blank. I probably was hoping that it was just not true. It must have taken me more than few minutes to absorb the sad news. I, for one, thought he would always be there, despite the burden of age — he was born in 1941, and the heavy toll of an extremely busy schedule and responsibilities he had carried for the past 45 years.
He called last week, recommending a young Emirati writer for Gulf News. “He is young, has good ideas. I hope you can support him,” he said in his usual fatherly tone. The call was typical Ibrahim. Despite his busy daily schedule, he would call regularly or send a message to comment on a piece you wrote or on a story in the newspaper, offered his usually supportive critique or a clarification, send a link for an article he read somewhere and liked, or suggest a story idea, which he did a lot. Meanwhile, you would call him to clarify a story or confirm a report. Or just simply to understand an angle you thought was missing. He would do his best to help. He never missed any deadline.
His intellectual capacity, political analysis and keen knowledge of the sociopolitical landscape of the region proved a great deal of help to many of us. Soft-spoken, adorably modest, he would always teach you something without sounding the least the know-it- all insider he actually was. He had this gift
A personal loss to every journalist
His death is a personal loss to every journalist and editor in the UAE and the wider Gulf. Since he joined the UAE Ministry of Information and Culture in 1975 to establish the state news agency, WAM, which he did in 1977, Ibrahim was literally the media beacon we all sought for guidance and support. He mentored and guided dozens of journalists in the country. As someone who always found time to talk to a young journalists, Ibrahim offered professional tips and connected them to informed sources.
Foreign journalists found it critically helpful to meet Ibrahim as soon as they landed in the UAE. As a chief of the foreign media section for years, before he moved to head the National Media Council 10 years ago, he made sure foreign journalists got the necessary access and information they needed to do a good job in the UAE. He was instrumental in introducing the growing small nation of the UAE to the outside world in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Ibrahim was not just a journalist but a thinker. His intellectual capacity, political analysis and keen knowledge of the sociopolitical landscape of the region proved a great deal of help to many of us. Soft-spoken, adorably modest, he would always teach you something without sounding the least the know-it- all insider he actually was. He had this gift.
An Arab nationalist at heart
I used to joke with him mischievously wondering where he could find the time to write all those books. He authored a dozen of them, including the annual UAE Yearbook. As an intellectual, he believed it was his duty to record his rich legacy, fortunately for us. One of those books, he explained in his encyclopedic fashion, listed the roots and dynamism of the Palestinian cause. As an Emirati, of a Palestinian descent, and an Arab nationalist, he was preoccupied with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Born in the town of Saffuriyya, which is now part of Israel, he witnessed first-hand as a young boy the birth of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and the dream of establishing an independent state.
With all the honours he was awarded in the UAE, regionally and globally, I will never forget those beautiful words written in a Twitter post by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in May 2014 congratulating Ibrahim who was awarded then the top prize of the annual Arab Media Forum: the Arab Media Personality of the Year. “I was honoured to be a student at Ibrahim Al Abed School, an Emirati pioneer in the service of the nation,” Sheikh Abdullah wrote.
As we bid him farewell today, I too was honoured to have known and learnt a great deal from Ibrahim Al Abed.