Plagiarised author quits awards panel

Dr Abdullah al Ghathami has resigned from the advisory council of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award after passages from one of his works was plagiarised by an award winner.

DUBAI // The author whose book was plagiarised by a Sheikh Zayed Book Award winner has resigned from the organisation's advisory council.

Dr Abdullah al Ghathami wrote Cultural Criticism: A Look at Arab Cultural Patterns, from which large passages were passed off as his own by Dr Hafnaoui Baali, who went on to win Dh750,000 and a gold medal of honour for his work at the awards in February.

Dr Baali was stripped of his prize last week after the committee found the text of his entry, Comparative Cultural Criticism: an Introduction, to contain excerpts and quotations that were poorly referenced or not referenced at all, to the extent that the author was representing them as his own work.

Dr Baali so far has not spoken about the scandal. Dr al Ghathami explained yesterday he removed himself from discussions as to whether Dr Baali's prize should be rescinded and felt "the only answer" was for him to resign.

"I feel ethically responsible for what happened," he said yesterday.

Dr al Ghathami, who made his selections based on a nomination report made by a team of referees, said "in reality", they are responsible for the book being nominated.

"But on the other hand, it has been proved that Dr Baali has taken many paragraphs from my book and I am at the same time a member of the consultant committee," he said. "So, if I don't resign, people will think I ignored the matter completely."

Dr al Ghathami has been part of the nine-member advisory council since the inception of the prize five years ago.

His role involves collecting and reading reports from the referees in charge of each prize, then choosing the winners with the rest of the council.

For each of the nine awards there is a committee of three referees, who are chosen by the advisory council. The referees spend about four months reading 700 entries for the awards, before making their nomination selections and submitting their reports to the advisory council members.

Dr al Ghathami insisted he had no reason to doubt the skill of these referees.

"It is our job to read the reports written by the reference council and we rely on them to decide who the winners are," he said. "We trust they are great critics of Arabic literature, we have no reason to suspect otherwise."

Since it was announced that the award would be rescinded, other authors, and Arab media outlets, have not been distinguishing between the two levels of referee and advisory council, said Dr al Ghathani.

"It is hard for them to reconcile that I was a member of the committee and my own book was copied by the winner," he said.

Dr Eugene Rogan, another member of the council and a lecturer in the Modern History of the Middle East at Oxford University in the UK, said he would miss his colleague but respected his decision.

"It is a terrible loss to the award to lose someone of Dr al Ghathani's distinction but I think it was the right decision in the interest of the award," he said. "It is important for everyone to respect its integrity.

"His stepping down was the responsible thing to do. It is the only way to put the whole issue of the plagiarism behind us."

Dr al Ghathami, a professor in theory and criticism at the King Saud University in Riyadh, said he would steer clear of any award panels in the future.

"From now on I will stick to my research and my teaching at the university," he said.