Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The President and Photographer Ibrahim Abboud | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The distance between Jeddah and Taif, the city of roses, grapes and pomegranates, is a hundred kilometres and you can travel between the two cities by either aeroplane or car.

I was going to interview King Faisal bin Abdulaziz (may he rest in peace) and for this reason I was accompanied by a photographer from Lebanon whose name was Ibrahim Abboud. Ibrahim Abboud was a good and simple man and shared his name with the president of Sudan at the time. This amused him and whenever he introduced himself, he would laughingly say “I’m not the president of Sudan”.

It was clear that Ibrahim was not the president of anyone except himself because he was always wearing a white short-sleeved shirt. I expected anything but that he arrive to take pictures of the interview with the king whilst wearing his uniform that did not change. When we met on the morning of the interview, I saw what he was wearing and told him “How can we meet the king whilst you are dressed like this?” He shook his head, saying: “What should I do?” I replied “Wear something appropriate!” To this, he replied by saying “Why? What’s wrong with my appearance?”

There was one solution and that was surrendering to reality at the last minute. Due to my complete ignorance of everything that is mechanical, I did not notice that the camera that Ibrahim Abboud carried was made in the first or second year that the invention was launched in.

The king was responding to questions and I was paying attention to a history-maker. Coffee was served and then came the tea. As I drank my tea, I heard a voice like an explosion. My hand shook and the tea spilled over me. The king remained royally composed while a guard came quickly having heard the noise. The king calmly said “Give us a damp towel for the gentleman”.

As I was embarrassed, I no longer knew what to do. As for Ibrahim Abboud, he laughed as if he was taking photos of his colleagues. Then he said to me in a loud voice “I’ve used up the flash, should I go and buy another one?”. I replied “Ibrahim, go and don’t come back”.

What did King Faisal do after that? He said to the guard who had come back with a damp towel “Did you put enough water on it? Do not let our guest say that we have a shortage (of water) in Taif”.

The next day, I was invited to a lunch for Yemeni tribal leaders that was hosted by the king. This mountain city is the city of peace. The Saudi-Yemen treaty was signed there and so was the agreement to end the civil war in Lebanon. Taif also served as the home for the Kuwait government in exile during the occupation of Kuwait. Its name is linked to political solutions. As a journalist, I conducted the first and most important political interview of my career in the city. King Faisal bin Abdulaziz spoke to me as though he was speaking to a senior journalist.