The Arab World

My involvement with the Arab world began in the 1970s with some banking assignments in the Middle East - and then took off with a passion for the Arabic language. As a fee-paying student, I was lucky enough to land a place at what was arguably the best-ever school for learners of Arabic, the British Foreign Office's Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS) in the Lebanese village of Shemlan. I studied there in its last full academic year, in 1977-8, and graduated with an FCO diploma.

The Arabists of Shemlan

I later joined the Financial Times as a specialist on Arab affairs, first as editor of its Mid-East Markets newsletter and then as a reporter on its foreign staff. I wrote extensively on the emergence of the Gulf's capital markets during the 1980s, and on the emergence too of some rising entrepreneurs with a Middle Eastern background notably Mohamed Fayed, the subject of a May 1985 feature called The Mystery of the Al-Fayeds. I have continued since then to take a close interest in the business and financial development of the Gulf.

I was a major contributor in 2006 to The Arabists of Shemlan, a book of memoirs about MECAS edited by Sir James Craig, Donald Maitland and Paul Tempest, and published by Stacey International. My own personal account of life in Shemlan was inevitably highly coloured by the increasingly violent background to my time there - coinciding as it did with a resurgence of the Lebanese civil war that had briefly seemed to be waning in 1977, but which forced the final closure of MECAS before the end of 1978.

I have made frequent visits to the Middle East over the years, both as a journalist and as a free-lance consultant. I worked in Bahrain as an adviser to its Economic Development Board during the spring and summer of 2006, and write for private clients in the Gulf on business and financial affairs. My Arabic has not improved with the passage of time - but I did enjoy attending a private tuition course at the School of Oriental and African Studies for four months in 2006.

You can download a PDF version of my chapter in The Arabists of Shemlan which tells the end of the Shemlan story as I experienced it and is entitled The End of the Road.