JEDDAH, 13 November 2004 — Although dead and buried, Yasser Arafat has caused a political storm in Kuwait and Iran where some politicians have challenged the common Arab and Islamic view of him as something of a hero.
In Kuwait several members of the National Assembly (parliament) have called for the Minister of Information Muhammad Abol-Hassan to be impeached because of the way the state-owned Kuwaiti television has covered Arafat’s sickness and death.
The state-owned television pronounced Arafat dead two days before he actually passed away. But that is not what the parliamentarians object to. They are especially angry at a 20-minute reportage the television broadcast on Arafat’s life. In it, the late Palestinian leader was described as a combatant for Palestinian and Arab causes and paid glowing tribute.
“Arafat was a traitor to the Palestinian and the Arab peoples in general,” says Parliament member Muhammad Barrak-Matir. “It is a shame that our national television should describe the traitor as a hero and a combatant.” Another member of Parliament Muhammad Al-Khalifa has called on the government to issue an apology to the Kuwaiti people for “the unwarranted praise” bestowed on Arafat.
“Arafat was a man who sided with the criminal Saddam Hussein in his invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990,” Al-Khalifa said. “The Kuwaiti people will never forget Arafat’s treachery.” Ahmad Al-Bassiri, another parliamentarian, says the program that paid tribute to Arafat must be seen as a deliberate insult to our national heroes and martyrs who gave their life fighting the Iraqi invasion.
“How can we forget how Arafat betrayed the Arab nation by siding with Saddam Hussein in raping and plundering our country?” he asks. Kuwait was the only Arab state not to send a special delegation to attend Arafat’s funeral in Cairo yesterday.
Kuwaiti newspapers have been publishing file photos showing Arafat alongside with the deposed Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein.
A spokesman for the Kuwaiti television said the reportage on Arafat had been part of a package purchased from a European television group and did not reflect the editorial views of the Kuwaiti channel.
“The program was translated and ran in a hurry,” a spokesman said. “The assertion in the program that Arafat was a hero and a combatant does not reflect our views.”
Arafat has also got the Iranian government in trouble.
In a letter to Gholam Haddad Adel, the speaker of the Islamic Assembly (parliament), a group of 17 parliamentarians has protested against the decision to send Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi to attend Arafat’s funeral in Cairo.
The signatories claim that Arafat was an enemy of Islam and the Iranian people and an Israeli puppet.
“Arafat supported the diabolic Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in 1980,” the signatories assert. “He was an enemy of our revolution and of Islam. He was also a traitor to his own people. By signing the Oslo Accords with the Zionists, Arafat dealt a deadly blow to the Palestinian cause.”
Kuwaiti and Iranian newspapers are almost alone in the Muslim world to denounce Arafat as a “corrupt, despotic and treacherous leader interested only in money and power.”
There is much irony in all this. Kuwait was the first state to support Arafat. Arafat set up his guerrilla group Al-Fatah (victory) in 1966 with a $50,000 check from the emir of Kuwait. Kuwait was also the first country to send its army officers to Jordan and Lebanon to train Al-Fatah guerrillas recruited in refugee camps. Between 1966 and 1990 Kuwait was the single biggest contributor to Arafat’s coffers, coughing out an estimated $3 billion over the period. Kuwait also allowed Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to set up businesses in its territory, enabling some of them to make immense personal fortunes.
Arafat’s story with Iran is also interesting. He first paid a secret visit to Tehran in 1975 where he received a $400,000 check as a sign of good will from the shah. According to Rahim Tahmasbi, a former Iranian security officer who handled relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Arafat received a total of $3.2 million over four years.
In 1978, however, Arafat sided with the revolutionary mullas fighting against the shah. When the mullas won, Arafat was the first foreign figure to be invited to visit Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini just days after the victory of the revolution. One of Tehran’s largest squares was named Palestine Square and the new regime transferred the compound housing the Israeli legation in Tehran to Arafat who instantly re-baptized it as Embassy of he Palestine Liberation Organization.
Arafat appointed one of Al-Fatah’s original founders Hani Al-Hassan as ambassador to the Islamic Republic in Tehran.
But in the 1980s Arafat supported Saddam’s invasion of Iran and called on the Arabs to mobilize against “the perfidious Persians”. The PLO embassy was shut within days and its ambassador expelled. Arafat became persona non grata in Iran until the end of his life.