OxGAPS co-ordinator, Dennis Sammut, reflects on the life and work of Dr Abdullah Omran Taryam who died yesterday.
The death of Dr Abdullah Omran Taryam, the founder and chief Executive of the al Khaleej Newspaper Group in the United Arab Emirates, at the age of 66, has saddened many people in the Gulf region and beyond. In many ways Taryam personified the journey that the Arab people of the Gulf have made over the last half century. At a very young age he was, as a member of the delegation of Sharjah, part of the team that together with the founding fathers of the UAE negotiated the establishment of the Union paving the way for the British departure from the Gulf in 1971. He subsequently served as Minister of Education, and later as Minister of Justice.
Educated at the University of Cairo and Exeter University, Dr Taryam doctorate thesis was on the process of establishment of the UAE. His book on the same theme, “The establishment of the United Arab Emirates, 1950-1985”, was published in 1993. It remains an important source for historians, written by one who was not simply a spectator to the events but very much a part of them.
Taryam first love however always remained journalism and his newspaper al Khaleej, and its sister publications. The Group’s headquarters in Sharjah, Dar el Khaleej developed as a centre for Arab and Gulf intellectual thinking.
When I met him there in March 2012 as part of my research on the history of the region I found a person who was humble and courteous, and at the same time highly intelligent. He had a lot of useful words of advice, and he encouraged me in my work, as he did with hundreds of other writers and intellectuals over many years. He also shared with me a story of how his newspaper al Khaleej, in its early days of publications, nearly got into trouble with the British authorities, who then still called the shots in the Trucial States, because of its writings about the ambitions of the Shah of Iran vis-a-vis the Emirates. He was summoned during the night by an officer of the Trucial Oman Scouts in the presence of Sir William Luce, then back in the Gulf as a special envoy of the British government, and leant on to tone down his articles. Sir William did not want to upset the Shah but, Dr Abdullah was not impressed. He was as protective then, as he remained till his death of his beloved newspaper, of the work of journalists, as well as of his nation.
Dr Abdullah Omran Tayram was also a moderniser who was not afraid of change. As UAE Minister he introduced many important reforms in the fields of education and justice. When I met him in 2012 he was excited about the changes that his children were introducing in his media group. They, Khalid, Amira and Aisha, now have the challenging task of carrying forward their father’s mission. As the UAE enters a new decisive chapter in its young history the work started by Abdullah Omran Taryam remains as important as ever.