They both came to lead their people in the late 60s. They were one of the most beloved figures to emerge after the glow had faded on 50s Arab nationalist heroes. The Falconer and the Old Man. One created an international commercial oasis in the middle of the desert - a glass city of arches and anchors. The other fought to liberate his people, give them hope, build them a country but got lost in the fight itself. One said, "Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood" and the other kept sending Arab men to kill and die.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's death last week did not receive much notice in the US press. But, here was a man who promoted diversity, tolerance, women's rights, while undertaking a most remarkable plan of development and modernization this side of Hong Kong. The Arabs in UAE worked. Anyone who was in the Gulf in the 70s or 80s will know what I mean by that. Sure, he was a king and not an elected leader but he did right for his people in my view. US press should have payed a bit more attention to him, I think.
On the other hand, Mohammed Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini became a cruel example of Schrodinger's Cat in the US press. He is dead. He is alive. Actual headlines on CNN at the same time two days ago. His succession? His billions? His evil? His good? Spin. Away.
Much, much ink will be spilled on Arafat's life and legacy in the coming weeks. At least, he is gone. Sharon and Bush will have no one left to blame for denying Palestinian rights and liberty. One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I will just say that if Arafat wasn't so selfish, so stubborn, so maniacally interested in his own power, he might have lived to see his people free. He sacrificed so much for them but, in the end, he could not separate himself from his struggle. He could not let them - his children - speak with their words instead of guns. Eqbal Ahmed argued with him to undertake aggressive nonviolence:
Why didn't you listen, Abu Ammar?