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Egypt prepares for Yasser Arafat funeral
Updated: 2004-11-12 15:06

Egypt prepared Thursday for a strictly controlled military funeral for Yasser Arafat where dignitaries from around the world will pay their respects, but where the people ! among whom Arafat was by far more popular ! will be mostly shut out.

Egyptian Guards of Honour carry the coffin of Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat on its arrival in Cairo late November 11, 2004. Arafat, who rose from guerrilla icon to Nobel prize-winning peacemaker only to fall into isolation amid new violence with Israel, died in a French hospital on Thursday, a hospital spokesman said. [Reuters]
Egyptian Guards of Honour carry the coffin of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on its arrival in Cairo late November 11, 2004. Arafat, who rose from guerrilla icon to Nobel prize-winning peacemaker only to fall into isolation amid new violence with Israel, died in a French hospital on Thursday, a hospital spokesman said. [Reuters]
The planned 25-minute ceremony at a military club in a Cairo suburb reflects concern for security at an event expected to draw dozens of statesmen and foreign ministers. But Egypt also apparently sought to avoid an outpouring of public emotion that might either get out of control or show that the late Palestinian leader enjoyed more support than other Arab leaders.

Arafat's coffin, flown from a Paris military base, arrived in Cairo late Thursday. Authorities mounted a maximum security operation around the airport, increasing police guards and stationing observers on tall buildings.

A military honor guard carried Arafat's coffin, walking in formation from the plane to a hearse.

Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, hugged Arafat's widow, Suha, after she alighted. Egypt's foreign minister was also there.

Palestinians light candles in front of posters of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat outside the Palestinian embassy in Amman November 11, 2004. [Reuters]
Arafat's coffin was to be taken to the nearby Galaa Club, a compound that includes a hospital, mosque and social club for military officers. It was to be held overnight in the hospital and was to go to a mosque at the club on Friday morning for the funeral.

The service originally was planned for a mosque on the grounds of Cairo's international airport, but was switched to the military club for logistical reasons.

Egypt stepped in to host the service for Arafat, who died early Thursday, because it would be politically difficult for Arab leaders to travel to the Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories for a ceremony.

Security forces also were clustered under downtown overpasses near the square, and a large photograph of Mubarak beneath one bridge ! once vandalized when a demonstration got out of hand ! had been taken down.

A Chinese man reads a magazine article about Yasser Arafat in Beijing Friday Nov. 12, 2004. The headline on the story, which was published before Arafat's death Thursday, reads 'Old Soldier Arafat'. Most Chinese papers carried news of his death on their front pages Friday. [AP]
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo warned Americans to avoid areas where spontaneous protests might occur, including downtown Tahrir Square.

The club where the funeral will be held takes its name from the British military withdrawal from Egypt in 1953 ! "galaa" is the Arabic word for evacuation ! and it is located in the district of Heliopolis, where Mubarak lives.

At the funeral, special prayers for the dead will be led by Egypt's top Muslim cleric, the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi.

"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," Col. Ahmed Assem of the Interior Ministry told viewers of Egypt's state-run television.

After the funeral, Arafat's coffin will be taken to the Almaza military base near the club and then flown to Ramallah in the West Bank, Gen. Abdel Fattah Badran said. Arafat will be buried there before sunset Friday.

The short drive from the club to the base is likely to be the public's only opportunity to see Arafat's coffin pass. Security officials said Arafat's body would be borne by a horse-drawn carriage for some of the way.

If Arafat's body were to be brought into the center of Cairo, it might draw the biggest funeral crowd since the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970.

That would involve a security risk, and also a prestige risk that few Arab leaders are willing to take, said Walid Kazziha, a politics professor at the American University in Cairo.

"Other Arab leaders, would they like to see Arafat commanding this much support, even in death?" Kazziha asked.

The heads of state expected to attend include those of Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, Indonesia and Lebanon. Numerous foreign ministers, including Jack Straw of Britain, Michel Barnier of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany, have said they will attend, as has European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns will represent the United States. The Israeli Embassy in Cairo said it would not be represented.

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