Arafat's widow Suha battles allegations from Malta refuge

31st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Suha Arafat Monday vowed to fight off corruption allegations in Tunisia in what the iconic Palestinian leader's widow sees as the latest battle to clear her name in a long-standing case. Suha, who has lived in Malta since being stripped of her Tunisian citizenship under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2007, is the French-educated daughter of a wealthy Palestinian Christian couple.

The new authorities in Tunisia, who ousted Ben Ali in a popular uprising in January, accuse her of corruption dating back to 2006, the year before she fell out with Ben Ali's powerful wife, Leila Trabelsi.

"I will fight it as I fought a lot of things," Arafat told AFP in an interview Monday at her home in Malta, speaking in front of a large portrait of the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) who died in 2004.

"I was a victim of the Tunisian dictatorship," she said, adding that she had distanced herself from Trabelsi as soon as she uncovered corruption.

Suha, who met Yasser Arafat in the mid-1980s when she was a student at the Sorbonne University in Paris, was often accused of leading a lavish lifestyle that was far removed from the reality of most of the Palestinians that her husband fought for.

Arafat initially hired her to do public relations for the PLO, which at the time had its exiled headquarters in Tunis.

She later became his economic advisor before they married secretly in 1990, only revealing their union two years later.

Their only child, a daughter called Zahwa, was born in 1995 in a private hospital in Paris -- but marital life quickly degenerated into de facto separation.

Suha, a convert to Islam who was 34 years younger than her husband, once complained to an Egyptian newspaper that he never gave her any jewels and lived like a bachelor.

"When I complain of being neglected, he offers me souvenirs and symbols of the Palestinian revolution," she said in a rare interview.

However, she later denied that her marriage was on the rocks and she never displayed anything less than fierce loyalty to Arafat's dream of a Palestinian state.

For all her Western ways and education, she said there would have been "no greater honour" than sacrificing any son of hers to the armed struggle of the PLO.

After leaving the Middle East in early 2001, to the fury of some Palestinians who saw her as betraying their cause, Suha divided her time between Paris and Tunis.

When her husband was rushed to a Paris hospital on October 29, 2004, she was at his bedside until his death a week later.

According to Tunisian papers, Suha Arafat is wanted over alleged corruption relating to her role, along with Ben Ali's wife, in the foundation of the Carthage International School in Tunis in 2006.

She and Trabelsi fell out over the project. According to a US diplomatic cable revealed by the WikiLeaks website, Suha Arafat met the US ambassador at the time after the dispute and lashed out at the ruling family.

She was subsequently declared persona non grata, stripped of her Tunisian nationality and expelled.

Since Ben Ali was ousted in January, Tunisia's interim rulers have initiated hundreds of corruption trials against the exiled dictator and his entourage.

© 2011 AFP

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