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HarperCollins Takes Popular New Heikal Book �Out of Print� Three Months After U.S. Release 

By Abdeen Jabara *
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs  - December  1997

Mohammed Hassanein Heikal has been one of the world's best-known observers and participants in the last five decades of Arab political life. As journalist, author, adviser to presidents and a political prisoner, he developed an unmatched knowledge of the major players, places and events in modern Arab history. 

His role as confidant and sometimes alter ego to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser during the turbulent years of Egyptian political and social revolution and Arab world political leadership gave Heikel a unique view and appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Arab nationalist movement as it attempted to throw off vestiges of Western domination and create a progressive, unified and non-aligned Arab order. 

A skillful writer, Heikal's weekly column in Egypt's leading newspaper,Al-Ahram, was eagerly awaited by the Egyptian and Arab public as a reflection of Nasser's thinking. 

In January 1996, HarperCollins U.K. published, to widespread review and acclaim, its hardback edition of Heikal's Secret Channels: The Inside Story of Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations. The book was featured in major displays at such famous London locations as Harrods and Heathrow Airport. Heikal was interviewed about the book by the London Times and the Financial Times on the occasion of its publication. A 3,000-word review of the book by Edward Said appeared in the Observer. Since the hardback had sold out by August and HarperCollins U.K. was still receiving orders, it brought out a paperback edition in October 1996. 

By contrast, HarperCollins U.S. did not seek to provide the Heikal book to the American public until 1997, when it imported 750 copies of the book from the U.K. for an American release date of April 25, 1997. Twenty of these copies were sent out gratis as review copies. The New York Timesselected Judith Miller, a senior correspondent, to review the book and her article appeared as the lead review in a Times Sunday book section in July. 

When I tried to obtain the book from all the major bookstores in New York City after the Miller review appeared, however, I was told that the book was not available. One manager at New York's largest bookstore read me the entry on his computer screen. It said, "the publisher says, incredibly, that the book is out-of-print." The bookstore manager opined that the book had probably been pulled off the market because its material was "too sensitive." 

Is there a conspiracy to keep this book from the American public? 

When I checked with HarperCollins U.S., I was given exactly the same information. The book released on April 25 was already "out of print" even before it was reviewed in The New York Times in July. I was told that all of the copies imported had been sent to bookstores, and none had been returned. 

I was never given an explanation as to why only 750 copies had been released to the U.S. market when the book had obviously sold so well in the U.K. Instead I was told that the division of HarperCollins U.S. that imported the book, HarperWorld, had been dissolved, that no more copies would be imported for sale in the U.S., and no further explanation would be available. 

Secret Channels is a review of the history of behind-the-scenes contacts between Arabs and Israelis and a critical assessment of the results. Of the book Edward Said wrote in his review: 

"There is nothing in the available literature on the modern Middle East to compare with the masterly hour-by-hour account of what really took place during the 1967 and 1973 wars, as well as the period that produced the Oslo agreement. Not only is he riveting on the detail, but he is unforgettable in setting out the complex pattern of psychology, power politics, and coincidence out of which the larger picture has been made." 

One would have thought that HarperCollins would have wanted to capitalize on the unravelling of the Oslo accords, the resumption of terrorist strikes in West Jerusalem, and the pre-eminent role that American administrations have played both in the creation and in the destruction of the peace process to at least match its marketing effort for the book in the United Kingdom. 

Not so. On my most recent call to HarperCollins in New York, the employee I spoke to confirmed again that the book is out of print and gave me the names of two out-of-print dealers. 

Is there a conspiracy to keep this book from the American public? Perhaps not, but the fact that only 730 copies of the book were distributed to the thousands of bookstores around the country after a successful marketing effort in England should raise some eyebrows and hard questions. I finally was able to track down a copy at a bookstore in Detroit through a personal friend there. Given the history of what has happened to books examining the "other side of the coin" in Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-U.S. relations, such as George Ball's The Passionate Attachment, we should be asking some hard questions about why the American public is being denied access to the Heikal book, which so lucidly describes the tortured Israeli-Egyptian relationship from the Egyptian point of view.

* Abdeen Jabara, a former Detroit civil rights attorney and a former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, now practices law with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark in New York City.

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