1. News & Issues

Yasser Arafat


Yasser Arafat
(Photo by Rafa Samano/Cover/Getty Images)

Who is he?:

Late founder and leader of the Fatah party. Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. President of the Palestinian National Authority. Revered by some as a freedom fighter and reviled by others for terrorist attacks against Israel and alleged corruption while governing the Palestinians. Recipient of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres for the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.


Aug. 24, 1929, in Cairo, Egypt, Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa Al-Husseini. His father was a Palestinian textile merchant from Gaza and his mother died when he was 4 years old. Arafat was the second-youngest of seven children; for a time he lived with his mother's family in Jerusalem. He went to the University of King Faud I, later named Cairo University, in 1947 to study engineering.

Personal life:

Arafat left college to attempt to fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but was turned back by Egyptian forces. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood and graduated from college in 1956 with a degree in civil engineering. He served as a second lieutenant in the Egyptian Army during the Suez War, then moved to Kuwait to set up his own engineering contracting firm. It was here that he united with other Palestinian refugees to form the Fatah -- "conquest" -- organization. He married Suha Daoud Tawil, a West Bank native and Christian Palestinian activist, who converted to Islam before marrying Arafat in 1990 -- she was 27 years old and he was 61. Their daughter Zahwa was born in 1995 in France.

Political affiliation:

Founder of the Fatah party.


During his engineering work in Kuwait, Arafat began to garner financial support for his Fatah liberation group through wealthy Palestinians living in the gulf region. Fatah established a base in Jordan to launch attacks against Israel. After the Yom Kippur War in 1973 Arafat's tactics switched from terrorist to diplomatic war against Israel, aided by recognition of the PLO at the United Nations and then the Arab League. The PLO would continue its attacks against Israel and help destabilize a weak government in Beirut from a new base in southern Lebanon. Arafat was exiled to Tunisia in a brokered ceasefire in the Lebanon War. Here he continued to build his reputation globally as the public face for Palestinians as the PLO continued orchestrating attacks such as the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro. Arafat would later open dialogue between the U.S. and PLO by promising to recognize Israel, but this was suspended after the PLO continued terror attacks. In 1993, Arafat and Rabin agreed to mutual recognition in Oslo, after which Arafat assumed control over the newly created Palestinian Authority. He was elected president in 1996 and served for three years, which would see new ebbs and flows in violence.


Arafat was kept isolated in his Ramallah compound by Israel as rumors of his failing health grew more intense. He was transferred to a Paris hospital on Oct. 29, 2004, and died on Nov. 11 at age 75. The New York Post marked the news with the headline "Arafat Dead: And he won't be missed." He was interred near his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank. Rumors about the cause of death have ranged from a low platelet count to cirrhosis, to allegations of poisoning or AIDS. Suha and Zahwa lived in Tunisia after Arafat's death until her citizenship was revoked in 2007. She was living in Malta when a Tunisian court came after her in October 2011 on corruption allegations related to former first lady Leila Ben Ali.


“Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” -- Arafat's 1974 appearance before the United Nations
  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. World News
  4. Middle East
  5. Palestinian Authority
  6. Yasser Arafat - Profile of Palestinian Leader

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.