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'Nobody can destroy Yasser Arafat's legacy' - widow

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Suha Arafat, widow of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, believes reports that an international arrest warrant has been issued against her is all part of an attempt at character assassination “because the surname Arafat sells”.

This is an attempt to destroy his legacy but nobody can destroy the legacy of Yasser Arafat

A visibly distraught Ms Arafat, who spoke to The Times from her apartment in Malta just hours after news broke that Interpol had issued an international arrest warrant for alleged corruption, denied this was the case and said she had received no official information.

International media reported that she is wanted by Tunisian authorities over alleged corruption dating back to 2006, when she had founded the Carthage International School in Tunis with the country’s former first lady Leila Trabelsi. Until yesterday evening, her name had not appeared on Interpol’s website.

“You know, this is a character assassination. I am used to this kind of character assassination for all my life with Yasser but I did not know that this would continue even after his death,” she said.

“This is an attempt to destroy his legacy but nobody can destroy the legacy of Yasser Arafat. He is a great leader and Mahmoud Abbas is continuing on his path. It is all character assassination.”

Ms Arafat has lived in Malta since being stripped of her Tunisian citizenship under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2007.

“I have not been informed officially of any of this news. I just read it like you did on the newspapers. I am astonished because I was a victim of the Tunisian dictatorship and (after) what they have done to me, now they are accusing me of this. I have all the documents and information that proves I have nothing to do with the school,” she said.

The 48-year-old woman, who married the former Palestinian leader in 1990, explained that according to information she received from Tunisia, Interpol had not issued this arrest warrant but “judges in Tunisia were thinking of issuing this memorandum”.

Although her name does not appear on the Interpol website, where wanted people are usually listed, Ms Arafat is determined to fight to prove that she is innocent.

“I’m sending my lawyers to Tunisia to give them all the documentation which I think they don’t have, that I have nothing to do with the school,” she said, during the interview in the presence of her brother, Jubran Tawil, the Ambassador for the Palestinian Authority in Malta.

With her late husband’s large portrait in the background and a room full of silver frames of Mr Arafat at work when he was at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, Ms Arafat vehemently denied the corruption allegation.

“I left the school immediately when I realised that the First Lady was doing this kind of corruption. She was going to close one school so our (new) school would work and I could not believe that she was doing this,” she explained.

The plan to eliminate competition was where the two women argued and Ms Arafat surrendered her participation in the project.

“I have no responsibility at all and have all the documentation to prove it...they opened the file and saw my name which sells a lot.

“I don’t know why all this is happening, seven years since the death of my husband, just to make a false scandal. I don’t know who is behind it. If the Arab Spring will bring injustice, then we don’t need this Arab Spring,” an angry Ms Arafat said.

Asked if she thought it was a public relations stunt by Tunisia, which stripped her off her Tunisian citizenship in 2007 and expelled her from the country, Ms Arafat categorically replied: “Yes.”

She thanked all Maltese officials who called her to express their support, including Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat. “I love the people of Malta and the democracy here.”

If the Arab Spring will bring injustice, then we don’t need this Arab Spring
- Suha Arafat

She laughed off claims being made in some international media linking her to deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, including reports that he had financed her residence in Malta.

“I am proud of my husband and tell my daughter to be proud of my husband. All the leaders of the Arab world are being tried or killed and Yasser Arafat is the only Arab leader who is loved by his people and adored, even by people who cry when they go visit his tomb. It’s a character assassination,” she said.

“He had three funerals when most of the Arab leaders are in prison. They want to involve the name Arafat in this but I am down to earth and will fight this as I have fought all the other things that have been said against us.”

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