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George Atiyeh, 84, librarian, scholar

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Washington Post / May 3, 2008

WASHINGTON - George Atiyeh, a librarian and scholar who acquired and developed much of the Library of Congress's renowned collection of publications concerning the Middle East, died April 21 of pneumonia at the Virginian nursing facility in suburban Fairfax County, Va. He was 84.

Mr. Atiyeh came to the Library of Congress in 1967 after an academic career that had taken him from his native Lebanon to the University of Chicago to Puerto Rico. He served as head of the Near East Section for more than 25 years, managing the library's publications from and about the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. He helped amass a collection that has few parallels.

Fluent in five languages and familiar with a dozen others, Mr. Atiyeh was an international authority in Arabic studies and made frequent visits to the Middle East to acquire materials for the library. His network of sources among scholars, librarians, archivists, and booksellers allowed him to acquire rare publications from Arab countries, as well as early Arabic language newspapers published in the United States.

He also helped devise acquisition guidelines for the Library of Congress field office in Cairo, which has become a model for branches throughout the world.

Mr. Atiyeh directed or participated in several library programs on Middle Eastern culture, culminating in a 1995 conference on the history of printing in the Arab world, which featured scholars from around the globe.

In conjunction with the conference, presented by the library's Center for the Book, Mr. Atiyeh compiled "The Book in the Islamic World," a 305-page collection of scholarly essays about the history of books in Arab lands.

From 1991 until 1994, Mr. Atiyeh was acting chief of the African and Middle East Division at the library. He retired in 1996 after suffering a stroke.

Mr. Atiyeh was born in Amioun, Lebanon. He developed an early interest in the history, culture, and literature of the Arab world from his father's library.

He received bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the American University of Beirut in 1948 and 1950. In 1954, he received a doctorate in the history of philosophy, with a subspecialty in ancient languages, from the University of Chicago. He was fluent in Arabic, English, German, French, and Spanish.

From 1954 to 1967, he was a professor and administrator at the University of Puerto Rico.

After joining the Library of Congress in 1967, Mr. Atiyeh became a leading figure in Middle Eastern studies and served on a State Department commission on US-Egyptian culture from 1975 to 1978. He served on a White House advisory committee on Islamic affairs in 1979.

He was also a member of the advisory council of Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the advisory editorial board of the Middle East Journal, and the advisory board of the London-based al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Atiyeh wrote dozens of articles on Arabic philosophy, Christian-Muslim relations, intellectual history, and bibliographic research.

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