Death is a reality and it is sad to have to write words of condolences, especially for someone I have known throughout the different stages of life. However; throughout all these stories and events, the worst, without doubt, has been the illness of Ahmed al Rabey over the past year, may God rest his soul.
I have known Ahmed al Rabey, otherwise known as Abu Qataiba, personally, since I was a student in the United States of America through my good friend and fellow colleague Mohammed al Naghaymish, Ahmed al Rabey’s nephew. Dr Ahmed al Rabey honored me with a visit to my home and ever since that developed to become a family relationship.
Time passed and I eventually assumed the post of Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in which Ahmed al Rabey was one of the most prominent writers whose articles did not exceed 300 words – yet every word was straight to the point.
Ahmed al Rabey was always restless, he could never sit in one place for long but he was calm, very intelligent, and fought for his ideas. He was intuitive in the face of ambiguity and when the atmosphere was tense his rationality was astounding. He always used to say, “Don’t worry.”
He was a man in whom you would see the impact of history in terms of thoughts and stages. Parliamentary work was in his blood and was part of his character and he was constantly on the move between cities, gatherings and people, phoning this person or meeting that person. No meeting would pass without someone saying, “Dr Ahmed was here.”
He contributed to journalism and knew it well. We agreed and disagreed on different points. However when I invited him to contribute to the Weekly Review Supplement [Hasad al Osboo’], he asked me “What is the word count?” Then he called me afterwards to say “Check your inbox.” He also contributed to the Journal Ombudsman [Muraqib al Sahafi] column.
He used to fight for his ideas with ideas and responded to violence with words. In his popular daily opinion column in Asharq Al-Awsat he won over friends who loved him dearly as well as his enemies who were aggravated by his sharp criticism. Rabey, may God rest his soul, believed that what he wrote reached the people and had an impact on them.
Throughout his treatment in 2006 in the United States, I used to call him almost every Friday via his son Tariq. However, when the war broke out that summer in Lebanon I became preoccupied for a while. His son Tariq called me and said, “Father wants to speak to you.” He greeted me with the friendly voice and the kind words that he always greeted me with under any circumstance.
I laughed and took the initiative, “Are you coming back to write for us? The current events need Ahmed al Rabey.” He said, “I called you to ask why you have not written for two days. Write and you will find that words will be communicated and will have an impact… Do not stop,” and he said goodbye.
Ahmed al Rabey, journalist, parliamentarian, and minister, was a poet and a literature aficionado who appreciated it in all its forms. I will never forget one evening when we gathered, perhaps about five years ago, on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, and Abu Qataiba recited the words of the famous poet Mohsin al Hazani who said, “Lightning struck and I praised God.”
I laughed and I asked him, “Abu Qataida, are you a poetry lover?” He answered, “I love everything that celebrates life, happiness and optimism.”
A short while before his death, I called Ahmed to check on his health. His voice proved that he was no longer the man I once knew. “This is it, this is my fate. Allah is most compassionate, most merciful.”
Ahmed al Rabey and I shared many experiences, some of which deserve to be recounted one day and others that have passed with time.
I ask the Almighty God for mercy and forgiveness for the late Ahmed al Rabey.