Emirati diplomat and author Omar Ghobash has almost finished writing a novel that imagines the final hours of his father's life. Saif Ghobash, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, was assassinated in 1977.
"It is a fictionalised account of my father's last day," Ghobash said during a talk at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on Saturday.
The novel begins with his father waking up at 6am to go for a swim at a nearby beach. He then returns home to have breakfast with his family before heading off to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"In those six hours or so, he reminisces about different things," Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, said.
"My father participated in the issue of the islands that were invaded by Iran in 1971, took trips to see the Shah in Iran, and was educated in Bahrain and Iraq. In 1958, he was kicked out of Iraq after spending a month in jail there."
The events, Ghobash said, are touched upon in the novel in the form of recollections, "to put some colour into a story that should be of interest".
Ghobash's father was assassinated at Abu Dhabi International Airport on October 25, 1977. He was mistakenly shot and killed by a man targeting Syrian foreign minister Abdul Halim Khaddam. The Emirati minister was seeing Khaddam off when the attack took place. Ghobash was only 6 at the time.
The assassin, a Palestinian man who lived in Syria, was arrested after the shooting. Three other gunmen reportedly fled the scene. Ghobash's father, who suffered bullet wounds to the chest and arm, died in a nearby military hospital. The incident made international news headlines.
Ghobash did not say whether the novel has been given a title yet. But he said working on it has given him the opportunity to investigate segments of his father's life that he knew little about.
The novel, he said, "tries to piece together the story of what actually happened, but also the story of his life".
"There are huge chunks that I don’t know. But it gives me a certain amount of release in trying to imagine what he went through and the kinds of issues he had to deal with.”
Ghobash's previous book Letters to a Young Muslim, published in 2017, was praised for the way it champions critical thinking in the face of the rising threat of Islamic radicalisation.
Written as a series of informal letters to Ghobash’s teenage son, whom he named Saif, the book advocates a nuanced survey of a world divided by polarised thinking while giving advice on how to be a good Muslim.
"I wrote the book as a reaction to what was happening in the region with the rise of the Islamic State," Ghobash said at the talk.
“I actually started by writing a lot of notes to myself earlier. It was only later that I thought it might be possible to put a book together.”