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Yasser Arafat 1929-2004
 


Country : Cairo, Egypt
Profession : Politician
Date of birth : 1929-08-24
Date of death : 2004-11-10
Cause of Death : Cerebral Hemorrhage

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Early life

Birth and childhood

Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo to Palestinian parents. His father, Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, was a Gazan; whose mother, Yasser's paternal grandmother, was Egyptian. Arafat's father worked as a textile merchant in Cairo's religiously mixed Sakakini District. Arafat was the second-youngest of seven children and was, along with his younger brother Fathi, the only offspring born in Cairo. His mother, Zahwa Abul Saud, was from a Jerusalem family. She died from a kidney ailment in 1933, when Arafat was four years of age.

Arafat's first visit to Jerusalem came when his father, unable to raise seven children alone, sent him and his brother Fathi to their mother's family in the Moroccan Quarter of the Old City. They lived there with their uncle Salim Abul Saud for four years. In 1937, their father recalled them to be taken care of by their older sister, Inam. Arafat had a deteriorating relationship with his father; when he died in 1952, Arafat did not attend the funeral, nor did he visit his father's grave upon his return to Gaza.

Education and 1948 Arab–Israeli War

In 1944, Arafat enrolled in the University of King Fuad I and graduated in 1950. He later claimed to have sought a better understanding of Judaism and Zionism by engaging in discussions with Jews and reading publications by Theodor Herzl and other prominent Zionists. At the same time, he became an Arab nationalist and began procuring weapons to be smuggled into the former British Mandate of Palestine, for use by irregulars in the Arab Higher Committee and the Army of the Holy War militias. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Arafat left the University and, along with other Arabs, sought to enter Palestine to join Arab forces fighting against Israeli troops. However, instead of joining the ranks of the Palestinian fedayeen, Arafat fought alongside the Muslim Brotherhood, although he did not join the organization. He took part in combat in the Gaza area (which was the main battleground of Egyptian forces during the conflict). In early 1949, the war was winding down in Israel's favor, and Arafat returned to Cairo from a lack of logistical support.

After returning to the University, Arafat studied civil engineering and served as president of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) from 1952 to 1956. During his first year as president of the union, the University was renamed Cairo University after a coup was carried out by the Free Officers Movement overthrowing King Farouk I. By that time, Arafat had graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and was called to duty to fight with Egyptian forces during the Suez Crisis; however, he never actually fought on the battlefield. Later that year, at a conference in Prague, he donned a solid white keffiyeh–different from the checkered one he adopted later in Kuwait, which was to become his emblem.

Name

Arafat's original full name was Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini. Mohammed Abdel Rahman was his first name; Abdel Raouf was his father's name and Arafat his grandfather's. Al-Qudwa was the name of his tribe and al-Husseini was that of the clan to which the al-Qudwas belonged. It should be noted that Arafat's clan, al-Husseini was based in Gaza and should not be confused with the well-known, but unrelated, al-Husayni clan of Jerusalem.

Since Arafat was raised in Cairo, the tradition of dropping the Mohammed or Ahmad portion of one's first name was common; notable Egyptians such as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak did so. However, Arafat dropped also the Abdel Rahman and Abdel Raouf parts of his name as well. During the early 1950s, Arafat adopted the name Yasser, and in the early years of Arafat's guerrilla career, he assumed the nom de guerre of Abu Ammar. Both names are related to Ammar ibn Yasir, one of Muhammad's early companions. Although he dropped most of his inherited names, he retained Arafat due to its significance in Islam.

Leader of the Palestinians

On November 13, 1966, Israel launched a major raid against the Jordanian-administered West Bank town of as-Samu, in response to a Fatah-implemented roadside bomb attack, which had killed three members of the Israeli security forces near the southern Green Line border. In the resulting skirmish, scores of Jordanian security forces were killed and 125 homes razed. This raid was one of several factors that led to the 1967 Six Day War.

The Six Day war began when Israel launched a preemptive air strike against Egypt's air force on June 5, 1967. The war ended in Arab defeat and Israel's occupation of several Arab territories, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Although Nasser and his Arab allies had been defeated, Arafat and Fatah could claim a victory, in that the majority of Palestinians, who had up to that time tended to align and sympathize with individual Arab governments, now began to agree that a 'Palestinian' solution of their dilemma was indispensable. Many primarily Palestinian political parties, including George Habash's Arab Nationalist Movement, Hajj Amin al-Husseini's Arab Higher Committee, the Islamic Liberation Front and several Syrian-backed groups, virtually crumbled after their sponsor governments' defeat. Barely a week after the defeat, Arafat crossed the Jordan River in disguise and entered the West Bank, where he set up recruitment centers in Hebron, the Jerusalem area and Nablus, and began attracting both fighters and financiers for his cause.

At the same time, Nasser contacted Arafat through Mohammed Heikal (one of Nasser's advisers) and Arafat was declared by Nasser to be the 'leader of the Palestinians'. In December, Ahmad Shukeiri resigned his post as PLO Chairman. Yahya Hammuda took his place and invited Arafat to join the organization. Fatah was allocated 33 of 105 seats of the PLO Executive Committee while 57 seats were left for several other guerrilla factions.

Illness and death

First reports of Arafat's treatment by his doctors for what his spokesman said was the "flu" came on October 25, 2004, after he vomited during a meeting. His condition deteriorated in the following days. Following visits by other doctors, including teams from Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt—and agreement by Israel not to block his return—Arafat was taken on a French government jet to the Percy military hospital in Clamart, a suburb of Paris. According to one of his doctors, Arafat was suffering from Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), an immunologically-mediated decrease in the number of circulating platelets to abnormally low levels. On November 3, he lapsed into a gradually deepening coma. In the ensuing days, Arafat's health was the subject of some speculation, with suspicion that he was suffering from poisoning or AIDS. Various sources speculated that Arafat was comatose, in a "vegetative state" or dead, however, Palestinian authorities and Arafat's Jordanian doctor denied reports that Arafat was brain dead and had been kept on life support.

A controversy erupted between officials of the PNA and Suha Arafat when officials from the PNA traveled to France to see Yasser Arafat. Suha stated "They are trying to bury Abu Ammar [Arafat] alive". French law forbids physicians from discussing the condition of their patients with anybody with the exception, in case of grave prognosis, of close relatives. Accordingly, all communications concerning Arafat's health had to be authorized by his wife. Palestinian officials expressed regret that the news about Yasser Arafat was "filtered" by her.

The next day, chief surgeon Christian Estripeau of Percy reported that Arafat's condition had worsened, and that he had fallen into a deeper coma. Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, the head of the Islamic court of the Palestinian territories—who held a vigil at Arafat's bedside—visited Arafat and declared that it was out of the question to disconnect him from life support since, according to him, such an action is prohibited in Islam.

Arafat was pronounced dead at 3:30 am UTC on November 11 at the age of 75. The exact cause of his illness is unknown. Tamimi described it as "a very painful scene." When Arafat's death was announced, the Palestinian people went into a state of mourning, with Qur'anic mourning prayers emitted from mosque loudspeakers and tires burning in the street. One obituary at Socialist World said: "Many Palestinians will view the death of Yasser Arafat with a mixture of sadness and a wish that the Palestinian Authority he led, had done much more to end the poverty and oppression that blights their lives".

The Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported alleged leaks of information by unnamed medical sources at Percy hospital who had access to Arafat and his medical file. According to the newspaper, the doctors at Percy hospital suspected, from Arafat's arrival, grave lesions of the liver responsible for an alteration of the composition of the blood; Arafat was therefore placed in a hematology service. Leukemia was "soundly ruled out". According to the same source, the reason why this diagnosis of cirrhosis could not be made available was that, in the mind of the general public, cirrhosis is generally associated with the consequences of alcohol abuse. Even though the diagnosis was not of an alcoholic cirrhosis and Arafat was not known for consuming any alcohol, there was a likelihood of rumors. The source explained that Arafat's living conditions did little to improve the situation. Thus, according to the source, the probable causes of the disease were multiple; Arafat's coma was a consequence of the worsened cirrhosis. The French newspaper Le Monde quoted doctors as saying that he suffered from "an unusual blood disease and a liver problem".

After Arafat's death, the French Ministry of Defense said that Arafat's medical file would be transmitted to only his next of kin. It was determined that Arafat's nephew and PNA envoy to the UN, Nasser al-Qudwa, was a close enough relative, thus working around Suha Arafat's silence on her husband's illness. Nasser al-Qudwa was given a copy of Arafat's 558-page medical file by the French Ministry of Defense.

Poison and AIDS controversy

In September 2005, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that French experts could not determine the cause of Arafat's death. The paper quoted an Israeli AIDS expert who claimed that Arafat bore all the symptoms of AIDS, a hypothesis later rejected by The New York Times.

Ashraf al-Kurdi, a personal physician of Arafat for twenty years and who treated also the Hashemite kings of Jordan, later declared that nothing in Arafat's medical report mentioned the existence of such an infection. Another "senior Israeli physician" claimed in the article in Haaretz that it was "a classic case of food poisoning", probably caused by a meal eaten four hours before he fell ill that may have contained a toxin such as ricin, rather than a standard bacterial poisoning. However, in the same week as the report in Haaretz, The New York Times published a separate report, also based on access to Arafat's medical records, which claimed that it was highly unlikely that Arafat had AIDS or food poisoning. Both publications further speculated that the cause of death may have been an infection of an unknown nature or origin. However, rumors of Arafat's poisoning have remained popular around the world, and especially among the Arab populace. Al-Kurdi lamented the fact that Arafat's widow Suha had refused an autopsy, which would have answered many questions in the cause of death case. In 2005, al-Kurdi called for the creation of an independent commission to carry out investigations concerning Arafat's suspicious death, stating, "any doctor would tell you that these are the symptoms of a poisoning". He had previously told the Associated Press that Arafat had the AIDS virus and that "it was given to him to cover up the poison".

David Frum, a former White House speechwriter, speculated that Arafat had contracted AIDS as a result of homosexual liaisons with his bodyguards.

Paris deputy Claude Goasguen asked for a parliamentary inquiry commission on the death of Arafat in an attempt to quell rumors. The French government insisted that there was no evidence Arafat had been poisoned; otherwise, a criminal investigation would have necessarily been opened.

Aftermath

Burial

On November 11, the French military Honor Guard held a funeral for Arafat at a military airport near Paris. President Jacques Chirac stood alone beside Arafat's body for about ten minutes in a last show of respect for a leader he hailed as, "a man of courage". The next day, Arafat was flown to Egypt's capital Cairo for another brief military funeral there, before his burial in Ramallah, later that day. The funeral was attended by several heads of states, prime ministers and foreign ministers. Egypt's top Muslim cleric Sayed Tantawi led mourning prayers preceding the funeral procession.

Israel refused Arafat's wish to be buried near the al-Aqsa Mosque or anywhere in Jerusalem, citing widespread security concerns. Following his Cairo procession, Arafat was "temporarily" laid to rest within his former headquarters in Ramallah; the ceremony was watched by thousands of Palestinians. After Sheikh Taissir Tamimi discovered that Arafat was buried improperly and in a coffin–which is not in accordance with Islamic law–Arafat was reburied on the morning of November 13, at around 3:00 am. On November 10, 2007, prior to the third anniversary of Arafat's death, Abbas unveiled a mausoleum for Arafat near his temporary tomb in commemoration of him.

 

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