Wednesday, February 08, 2006
naim attallah in touch with his roots
In his first autobiographical book, “The Old Ladies of Nazareth”, the London-based publisher and entrepreneur Naim Attallah gave a delightful account of his boyhood in Palestine.
In his follow-up “The Boy in England” Attallah recounted his adventures after arriving in Britain to study engineering in 1949, an exile from Palestine. Attallah was avid for new experiences, and he was attractive to other people, particularly women, and had a knack for meeting the right person at the right time.
When the Israelis disrupted his father’s financial aid, Attallah took a series of unskilled jobs and was a fitter in an electrical components factory, a steeplejack, a hospital porter and a nightclub bouncer.
In his latest autobiographical volume, “In Touch With His Roots”, published like the previous two by Attallah’s publishing house Quartet, the story moves to the British and Arab business scenes of the 1960s. Attallah is now married to the lovely Polish girl Maria. As a Palestinian with British nationality, able to mingle freely in British and Arab society, urbane but with “a streak of devilment”, he is active as a banker at the interface of Arab and Western finance.
Attallah has an unusual approach to writing memoir, writing about himself in the third person. In the first two books he refers to himself as “the boy”; in the latest he has become “Naim”. He explains that this use of the third person helps him write without inhibition and unlocks memories that might otherwise not have resurfaced.
“In Touch With his Roots” is dominated by the late Palestinian-Lebanese banker Yusif Bedas and the Intra Bank that he founded. The book is dedicated to Bedas, for his “enterprising spirit and greatness of vision.” Yet Attallah does not shy away from discussing what he saw of some of Bedas’s weaknesses.
The collapse of Intra Bank in 1966 was one of the most dramatic financial-political shocks the Middle East has witnessed. As someone who had a sensitive position within the bank, and who was close to Bedas and his wife Wadad, Attallah is well placed to give an insider’s account of events which are still in dispute 40 years on.
There are lively descriptions of the characters Attallah encountered and who in many cases became friends. Among them are the Middle East Airlines (MEA) chairman Sheikh Najib Alamuddin, Egyptian businessman Ahmed Abboud Pasha (“the Pharaoh of Free Enterprise”), Hungarian aristocrat Vamos, King Hussein’s ex-wife Princess Dina, ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, and Lebanese actress Nidal al-Ashkar.
For Attallah, a most unhappy footnote to the Intra collapse came in 1995 when, without warning, Wadad Bedas and her three children issued a complaint with the juge d’instruction in Beirut against the Intra Investment Company, Attallah and Antoine Best. It alleged there had been a breach of trust with respect to the Bedas estate, allegations that Attallah describes as “preposterous”. In 2004 Attallah was informed that the court of 1st instance in Beirut had ruled in favour of him and the other defendants; no appeal against the ruling has been lodged.
After the collapse of Intra, Attallah pursued multiple careers in publishing, the arts and business, as will be told in the fourth part of the Naim Attallah story, to be published in early 2007.
Saudi Gazette 7 February 2006