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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wikileaks: The Suha Arafat Affair

A pair of interesting cables from Wikileaks concerning Suha Arafat, Yasir Arafat's widow.

From 2006:
The Government of Tunisia's Official Journal of September 26 published a notice that Suha Arafat, wife of the late Palestinian Authority president, and her 11-year old daughter Zahwa had acquired Tunisian nationality. Mrs. Arafat and her daughter have been living in Tunisia since the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, and Zahwa Arafat attends the American Cooperative School of Tunisia. Suha Arafat's presence in Tunisia long predates that, however. She had been a resident of Tunisia prior to her marriage, and, after residing in the Palestinian Territories from 1996-98, she returned in 1998, alternating between residences in France and Tunisia.

...We remain puzzled as to why Mrs. Arafat would want Tunisian citizenship...One possible motivation is that under Tunisian law, foreign participation in a totally non-exporting service industry cannot exceed 50 percent. Several months ago, Mrs. Arafat set up one such company -- to
build an international school in Tunis. Tunisian citizenship will allow her to control this company.
And then things went downhill. From 2007:
The GOT's decision last summer to revoke Suha Arafat's Tunisian citizenship, which had only been granted less than a year earlier, made international headlines. Since the appearance of the official register notice on August 7, the chattering class in Tunisia has not ceased to speculate about the reasons behind the decision. In a mid-October telcon with Ambassador Godec, Mrs. Arafat attributed her ouster to the personal animus of First Lady Leila Ben Ali, following a dispute over the forced closure of the Bouebdelli School, a well-respected private school. Had
it remained open, the Bouebdelli School would have represented serious competition to the new Carthage International School, a joint venture between the two First Ladies. It is doubtful that we will ever know all of the facts in this affair, but the stories of corruption swirling around the Carthage International School have a ring of truth to them.

...In a mid-October telcon with the Ambassador, Ms. Arafat blamed her ouster on the personal animus of First Lady Leila Ben Ali. "I can't believe what she's has done to me," Arafat exclaimed, "I've lost everything!" She charged that all of her properties in Tunisia had been confiscated, even by falsifying documents transferring ownership. (Note: It is rumored that Mrs. Arafat had invested -- and lost -- some 2.5 million euros in the Carthage International School. End Note.) In addition, she said, her friends and colleagues in Tunisia, including her banker, had also come under pressure. "Anyone who supports me is punished."

...Plenty of other theories have stoked the rumor mill in the Suha Arafat affair. One well-connected Palestinian resident in Tunisia told EmbOff that what sealed Mrs. Arafat's fate was that on a recent visit to Tripoli, she had asked Libyan Leader Qaddafi for money. Qaddafi had readily provided a hand-out, but he reportedly subsequently called President Ben Ali to chastise him for failing to provide adequately for the widow of the late Palestinian President. Ben Ali's acute embarrassment, so the story goes, quickly turned to wrath. It was not long before Mrs. Arafat's citizenship was revoked. Another theory holds that Suha Arafat was ousted because she had absconded with a significant amount of the first family's assets. Finally, in the face of persistent rumors that Mrs. Arafat had secretly married Belhassen Trabelsi, brother of the Tunisian First Lady, some commentators chalked up the whole ordeal to the failure of that relationship.
Some other juicy parts of that latter cable, including Suha's accusations of corruption towards the ruling family and the fact that the for-profit school had enjoyed great governmental largesse.

It seems that her Suha learned a bit about corruption during her marriage.