Three months ago I received a call from Dr. Tarek Abdul Ghaffar, inviting me to participate in a debate as part of a program run by the National Cultural Meeting Center. We agreed that the title would be: A Look at the Current Political Scene. Mr. Ahmad Sukkari would lead the debate and the date was set for the 21st of February.
Incidentally, a private social event came up at the same date and time, so four days before the conference I called Dr. Tarek inquiring, asking whether it would be possible to find replacements for some of the invitees, or to agree on changing the date of the conference. Dr. Tarek said that he would see what he could do, He then called back to say that all the invitees insisted on the original date. So we agreed on the original date, I excused myself from attending the social event, and immediately began preparing my notes for the conference. I spoke to the debate moderator, Mr. Sukkari, about the issues I was going to discuss.
Since the American role is essential in presenting a political assessment of the present Arab situation, Dr. Sukkari had a suggestion. Since my stand concerning the policies of the U.S. in this region are well known through my regular articles, he proposed that there should be another speaker to give the other side of the argument and enrich the debate.
Because of the shortness of time, the two of us agreed to find this new speaker and tell the remaining participants about him later. We went through the names, especially the new liberals (pro-Americans) and finally decided to “enter the house through its door” (Arab proverb) by having Mr. Sukkari call the Cultural and Communications section of the U.S. Embassy. He proposed the idea [of finding someone to debate opposite me] to the director of the office, Mrs. Hanaa Al Saiid, who assured him that she knew of my opinions from her daily examonation of this newspaper. She said that she was ready to arrange a meeting with someone who would answer any questions I would like to raise regarding U.S. policy in the region. But she said she was sorry that the Embassy would be unable to send an Embassy spokesperson to participate in the debate.
Up to then, everything appeared to be proceeding normally. But the surprise came within hours, when Dr. Abdul Ghaffar called me, seeking a postponement of the debate, because the speaker scheduled by the U.S. Embassy (a professor at the Arab Gulf University) had an urgent flight. I agreed without hesitation, and expressed my wish to find a replacement speaker. But as soon as the phone call ended, I became suspicious and made the connection between contacting the Embassy and the sudden delay.
I made sure to go to the National Cultural Meeting Center the day the postponed debate was supposed to be held, where I found that the speaker that was scheduled by the U.S. Embassy to debate me was himself just a visitor to the country, and not a teacher at the Arab Gulf University. Moreover, this same speaker debated the same issue in the same place only two days ago!!!
The next day I called Dr. Tarek, inquiring about the matter and telling him of my suspicions of U.S. Embassy interference to prevent me from participating. By the way, I'm not revealing any secrets by saying that my participation would cause the Embassy a lot of discomfort.
Dr. Tarek suspected ruling party interference, but confessed that he didn't really know who was responsible for what happened, be it the U.S. Embassy in an indirect way, or a government official.