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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 11, 2004 ]

France steals the photo-op of the Arab world, Egypt's camel gets its nose under the tent, while the US does nothing and wins both blame and scorn


At the close of When "Palestine for Dummies" is written, Chirac should be its author, I noted that French President Jacques Chirac "sees a long term benefit in being the benefactor to both Arabs and their governments, all at little or no cost to France, at great expense to the US, and ultimately great diplomatic and commercial gain to Paris. When Chirac writes Dummies, I'll read it.

Over the past 72 hours following Arafat's death, Chirac has written a few chapters and I can but have great admiration for the French as the Elysee Palace stole the photo-op of the Arab world with drumbeat precision. Egypt took the handoff, delivering the body to Ramallah. In comparison, the US was at best parsiminous in its comments and received another dollop of Arab scorn. (At least Carter called Arafat "a powerful human symbol and forceful advocate" for the Palestinians but it was too little.) Worse, I think that we did not notice or did not care.

Madison Avenue could not have done it better. Chirac visited the hospital before the body was moved:

"I came to bow before President Yasser Arafat and pay him a final homage," Chirac told journalists after his 25-minute visit. Chirac, who came and went by a hospital side entrance, said he extended his "sincerest condolences" to Suha during his 25-minute visit, and addressed "a message of friendship and solidarity to the Palestinian people". He added: "France, of course, will continue to tirelessly act for peace and security in the Middle East and will do so with respect for the rights of the Palestinian and Israeli people."

The coffin was delivered by military escort to a waiting French army helicopter to leave for a ceremony at the Villacoublay military airport nearby Paris for:

a small ceremony involving French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and Suha Arafat. The coffin, borne by eight Republican Guard pallbearers past an honor guard, was draped in a Palestinian flag.

A full military honor guard saw the coffin loaded onto a French state aircraft, where "Republique Francaise" was emblazoned above the cargo hold door, for the hop to Cairo.

Members of the French government attended the ceremony at Villacoublay airport, described by the BBC's Allan Little in Paris as a semi-state occasion. A military band played a funeral march as Mr Arafat's coffin was carried to an Airbus plane bearing the livery of the French republic.

Text does not do it justice. You must see the images and think of the impact on 3.5 million Palestinians and their extended Arab street that, for whatever else they may be or have done, feel completely ignored and dispossessed.

Alighting in Cairo, the pomp continued:

A military honor guard carried the coffin, walking in formation from the plane to a hearse. Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, hugged Arafat's widow. The head of Mubarak's office and Egypt's foreign minister stood alongside Mrs. Mubarak. Arafat's coffin was then taken to the nearby Galaa Club, a compound that includes a hospital, mosque and social club for military officers. "I would like to draw your attention to something that is very important: It's an official military funeral and not open to the public.''

Egypt's top Muslim cleric, the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, officiated, leading the special prayers for the dead. French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, represent France at the funeral ceremony at a mosque in Cairo, Arafat's birthplace. Leaders attending this restricted Cairo funeral greatly outrank US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns.

After the funeral, Arafat's coffin was taken to the Almaza military base behind the club by horse-drawn carriage. In an ecumenical nod to the Jordanians, the coffin was then flown to el-Arish, in Egypt's northeastern Sinai Peninsula, where a transfer was made to two Jordanian helicopters that would then ferry the coffin and it accompanying delegation to Ramallah in the West Bank.

Hu Jintao sent a letter of condolences, "The Chinese people has lost a great friend."

Even North Korea declared three days of mourning.

Arafat's body flown to Egypt for funeral
Updated: 2004-11-12 00:53

Solemn Final Voyage Home for Arafat
Marc Burleigh, Agence France Presse
Friday, 12, November, 2004 (29, Ramadhan, 1425)

Gordon Housworth

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