Obituary: Peter Mansfield

Peter Mansfield was a writer of distinction who made an important contribution to the promotion of a better understanding of the contemporary Arab world.

During 40 years of travel throughout the Middle East he became one of the most seasoned observers of the Arab scene. Early in his career he demonstrated the strength of his convictions by resigning from the diplomatic service in protest against Anthony Eden's ill-fated Suez adventure (as did Eden's deputy minister, Anthony Nutting).

Mansfield was born in India, where his father was a member of the Indian Civil Service in Bihar province, but was sent home to England as a small child to undergo a traditional education. At Cambridge he was President of the Union, as a prelude to joining the Foreign Office in 1955. At the beginning of 1956 he was posted to the Lebanon to study Arabic at MECAS (the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies), the school maintained by the Foreign Office (and known to the Lebanese as the "spy school") in the hills above Beirut.

With his intellectual distinction already apparent, this should have been the start of a successful career as a diplomat; but fate intervened in the shape of, first, Egypt's president Abdel Nasser, who in July that year nationalised the Suez Canal Company, and then Anthony Eden, whose ill-judged response led in October to the abortive Anglo-French invasion of Egypt.

Peter Mansfield, still only 28 years old, shared the sense of outrage felt by many older men and women inside and outside the diplomatic service, and it prompted him to take the decision which was to divert his career into a completely different field. He had by now some acquaintance with the Arabic language and some feel for the Arab environment; the circumstances in which the British Government, in clandestine collusion with the Israelis, launched its assault on Egypt, gave him an added incentive to find a way to inform his fellow countrymen about the realities of the Middle East.

Initially he found work as a freelance journalist in Beirut, where he met the Spanish painter Luis Canizares, who was to be his faithful companion for the next 35 years. A connection with the Sunday Times led to Mansfield's appointment as the paper's Middle East correspondent, based in Cairo. For most of the 1960s he travelled widely through the Arabian peninsula, gaining a reputation as a perceptive reporter and acquiring a store of experience and information, which he put to good use in writing the book for which he will be best remembered. He gave it the simple title of The Arabs, and it combined a history of the Arab peoples with a comprehensive survey of the Arab world as it was in that revolutionary phase, when Nasser was the undisputed leader of Arab nationalism. Published by Penguin in 1976, the book went through several editions here and in the United States, where it was published in 1977 under the title The Arab World: a comprehensive history.

Before that, Mansfield had published two useful books about Egypt, one a biography, Nasser (1969), and the other on Nasser's Egypt (1965). Later on he was a natural choice as editor of a new edition of The Middle East: a political and economic survey (published in 1980 by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and of a Who's Who in the Arab World, for which he had built up a probably unrivalled list of acquaintances, as well as many friends, everywhere from Aleppo to Aden, from Casa-blanca to Baghdad.

His books were accurate and informative, as was the occasional journalism which he continued to practice. They were never distorted by prejudice or partisanship; but they were informed always by the desire as far as possible to understand and to sympathise. The last chapter of The Arabs, significantly, is called "Through Arab Eyes".

Peter Mansfield was a very early member of Caabu (The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding), and he wrote regularly for Middle East International, to whose comprehensive coverage of the affairs of the region he was especially qualified to contribute.

Michael Adams

Peter John Mansfield, writer: born Ranchi, India 2 September 1928; died Warwick 9 March 1996.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home