Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat reviews an honour guard on his arrival in the Gaza Strip on May 5, 2001. (Reuters)
Updated 12 November 2019

Fifteen years later, Arafat is sorely missed

  • When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah
  • While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death

AMMAN: For Rauhi Fatouh, the memories of Yaser Arafat’s last days are as vivid as they were yesterday. 

Fatouh, a Gazan leader who belongs to Arafat’s Fatah movement, was the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Oct. 12, 2004 when president Arafat suddenly became sick while holed up at the Muqata headquarters in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Fatouh recalls going with the ailing Arafat to a French military hospital outside Paris along with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Ahmad Kurei (Abu Alaa) and a special visitor came by. “We were visited by French President Jacque Chirac who talked about the issue of transition and asked me to follow the Palestinian basic law so that there would be a smooth transition,” Fatouh told Arab News.

Article 37 of the Palestinian law stipulates that if the president of the Palestinian Authority is unable to carry on his duties, the speaker of the Legislative Council will take over for a 60-day transitional period, after which new elections are supposed to take place. 

“We were hoping that this would not happen but everyone including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Abdallah Saleh kept on calling us wanting to be sure that the transition will take place without any obstacles and if it is possible to hold the funeral outside of Palestine so that they can attend.”

When Arafat passed away, an airport funeral procession was held in Paris and Cairo while the body was flown by a Jordanian military helicopter to Ramallah. Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, and Foreign Minister Suleiman Abu Ghaith came to Ramallah to attend the funeral.

Fatouh recalls the following sequence of events: “Abbas was elected as chairman of the executive committee and I was sworn in as acting president, as per the Palestinian Basic Law in front of the Legislative Council and the senior court judges. Everything concerning the transition took place in an orderly fashion,” he said noting that he resisted various attempts by people close to him to skip the idea of having presidential elections and stay in power.

One of the first orders of business for the acting president was to respond to the hundreds of letters, requests and laws that were unanswered. “I had to deal with thousands of documents, I vowed not to refuse any request for help from Palestinians needy medical or educational help, but sometimes we had to reduce the amount.”

On his third day in office, Fatouh signed a decree allowing for presidential elections to take place exactly 60 days later. “While some wanted to have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, I decided to only have presidential elections to fill Arafat’s seat and that took place on Jan. 9, 2005.” Mahmoud Abbas won the presidential elections defeating independent medical doctor Mustafa Barghouti with 72 percent of the vote.

Najeeb Qadoumi, a member of the Palestine National and Central Councils, told Arab News that the absence of Arafat has left a vacuum in Palestinian political life. “We are sad on this occasion because we feel lonely. Arafat was able to move the Palestinian cause from a humanitarian and refugee cause to one of a revolution, a flag, national identity and statehood. Today, whenever you meet anyone and say you are Palestinian, they will mention Arafat’s name.”

While Palestinians look forward to a new generation of leaders, questions continue to dog the Palestinian leadership as to the circumstances behind Arafat’s untimely death. Hamdi Farraj, a left-wing writer from Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp, told Arab News that the mystery must be solved. Palestinian officials, including Arafat’s nephew Nasser Kidwa, insist that Arafat was poisoned, possibly with orders from former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with help from someone close to the late president. “We are further saddened by the fact that the killer of Arafat is still free, eating our food and breathing our air,” Farraj said.

Palestinians are expecting to have legislative elections early in 2020 followed within three months by presidential elections. Abbas has said previously that he has no plans to run again, but Fatah strongman Hussein Sheikh has said publicly that Abbas remains the party’s only candidate. Fatah Secretary Jibril Rajoub, seen by many as the strongest Fatah candidate, has said on Palestine TV that Abbas should be the “wise leader” of the Palestinian people and should give room to others to take his place.

Some analyst also expect Fatah deputy Mahmoud Alloul to be a candidate along with current Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Renegade Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, living in exile in the UAE, has a significant following and is expected to run for office if elections take place. Other possible candidates include Hamas’s leader Ismael Haniyeh and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as an independent.

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

Updated 17 January 2020

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

  • The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17
  • The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis

BEIRUT: Protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon on Friday as unprecedented demonstrations against a political elite accused of corruption and incompetence entered their fourth month.
The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17 has resurged this week, over delays in forming a new cabinet to address the country’s growing economic crisis.
No progress seemed to have been made on a final lineup, which protesters demand be made up solely of independent experts and empty of traditional political parties.
In central Beirut, dozens of protesters Friday stood between parked cars blocking a key thoroughfare linking the city’s east and west.
“We blocked the road with cars because it’s something they can’t move,” Marwan Karam said.
The protester condemned what he regarded as efforts to form yet another government representing the usual carve-up of power between the traditional parties.
“We don’t want a government of masked political figures,” the 30-year-old told AFP. “Any such government will fall. We won’t give it any chance in the street.”
Forming a new cabinet is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the various political parties and a multitude of religious confessions.
Nearby, Carlos Yammine, 32, said he did not want yet another “cake-sharing government.”
“What we have asked for from the start of the movement is a reduced, transitional, emergency government of independents,” he said, leaning against his car.

Elsewhere, demonstrators closed roads including in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, though some were later reopened, the National News Agency said.
The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis that Lebanon has witnessed since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The protests this week saw angry demonstrators attack banks following the imposition of sharp curbs on cash withdrawals to stem a liquidity crisis.
On Thursday night, protesters vandalized three more banks in the capital’s Hamra district, smashing their glass fronts and graffitiing ATMs, an AFP photographer said.
Earlier, Lebanon’s security services released most of the 100-plus protesters detained over the previous 48 hours, lawyers said.
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrests and the response of security forces to protests outside a police station on Wednesday night demanding detainees be released.
“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the rights watchdog.
Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound — long pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 — has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.