In the novel Cat Among the Pigeons, Prince Ali Yusuf was the twenty five year old hereditary Sheikh of Ramat, a small but extremely rich state in the Middle-east. Educated in Britain, he tried to rule in an "enlightened manner", spending money building schools, hospitals, public housing, a welfare state and a health service. These were supposed to be the things people wanted yet they somehow failed to generate a following among the population. At the beginning of the novel, Ramat was on the verge of revolution.
Yusuf reflected with some frustration that his grandfather Achmed Abdullah was a ruthless and cruel ruler who enslved hundreds and slaughtered his enemies. The very whisper of his name made people turn pale. Yet he was still looked upon, admired and respected as a legend. For some reason, the people of Ramat seemed to prefer a reign of terror to Yusuf's modern welfare state.
Just before the revolution, Yusuf tried to fly out of Ramat with his best friend, old school mate and personal pilot Bob Rawlinson. Both were killed when the plane crashed. Many suspected the plane had been sabotaged. Before flying out, Yusuf had entrusted a small pouch of jewels to Rawlinson, asking him to get it out of the country by any means. Understanding what happened to the pouch, recovering it and getting it to where Yusuf intended it to go forms the main plot of the story.
Yusuf is described as having a smooth olive face and large melancholy eyes. Bob Rawlinson observed that his friend was a nice quiet decent chap, "sincere and perplexed". Reflecting on Yusuf, a British diplomat who served in Ramat John Edmundson thought his death was regrettable as he would have made an "enlightened ruler with democratic principles". Colonel Pikeaway, more schooled in the ways of the world, countered that "That's what probably did the poor chap in".