CAIRO, Nov. 12 -- In a ceremony isolated from the Arab throngs that loved Yasser Arafat best, kings and diplomats, presidents or proxies from more than 50 countries paid tribute Friday to the man who personified the Palestinians' aspirations for statehood.
While several hundred guests gathered at a small mosque within a walled military compound, a horse-drawn carriage stood stationary under a hot sun, bearing Arafat's coffin draped with the red, white and green Palestinian flag. The elegiac rhythms of prayers and Koranic verses floated over the otherwise empty avenue.
First row, from left, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Zine Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and PLO Secretary General Mahmoud Abbas follow the horse-drawn gun carriage carrying the coffin of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Cairo. Representatives from more than 50 countries gathered to pay a last tribute to the man who came to personify his people's national aspirations.
(Jerry Lampen -- Reuters)
Egyptian security forces kept the public blocks away from the Galaa Club, the well-tended military complex where the service was held.
Ranks of soldiers from the Egyptian presidential guard stretched out before the carriage, sweating and fidgeting. Finally, the prayers ended, the mourners emerged, snare drums sounded, and they began to march.
The breezy morning filled with the cadence of boots tapping on pavement, followed by the clank of horseshoes as the coffin containing Arafat's body passed along the short parade route. Grim-faced and in lock step, leaders from the Arab world led the quarter-mile procession from the wrought-iron gates of the military club to al-Maza Air Base, where an Egyptian air force cargo plane waited to transport Arafat's body to the West Bank for burial.
Among the Arab heads of state who attended the service were Syrian President Bashar Assad and King Abdullah of Jordan, whose late fathers, Hafez Assad and King Hussein, were often at odds with the Palestinian leader. Assad's attendance was not announced in advance.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak marched in the front row, flanked by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali. Alongside were Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih, King Abdullah, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Mahmoud Abbas, recently elected to succeed Arafat as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"It's a sad day of course, but at the same time he was the one that built up the Palestinian independence movement," said Walid Jumblatt, a parliament member in Lebanon and former militia leader in that country's long civil war that was partly triggered by the presence of Arafat's PLO in Beirut. "And that will remain."
Peaked military hats and clerics' turbans, African robes and business suits draped with black-and-white keffiyehs bobbed along the parade route. The Saudi delegation numbered in the dozens and needed two air-conditioned buses to move from the Galaa Club to the airport. Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi sent his cousin, Amer Gaddafi Dahm, who wore wraparound sunglasses and a scarf bearing Palestinian colors over the shoulders of his cream-colored suit.
The event, which lasted about an hour, amounted to a symbolic statement of support for Arafat and the cause he represented. There were no eulogies or spontaneous shows of emotion, only the choreographed prayer service and 10-minute march.
"I believe the delegates that attended this funeral expressed their sense of community with this person," said Alexander Saltanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister. "This was also a demonstration of the popular will to reestablish the peace process."
Arafat's wife, Suha, did not appear among the marchers. Veiled and retreating, she and the couple's daughter, Zahwa, 9, were driven through the air base gates to avoid the mass of journalists lingering outside. The two wept quietly as the coffin was carried along a red carpet and loaded onto the plane.
Arafat always found his most devoted supporters among the frustrated Arab public, not the authoritarian leaders who figured most prominently at the memorial service. That side of him was honored after his body left Cairo, when a crowd of several hundred people gathered at the storied al-Azhar mosque to commemorate his death and pledge to continue his cause.
In the mosque's vast courtyard, small groups chanted, holding aloft pictures of Arafat, the Palestinian flag and copies of the Koran. "Palestine is Arab," one man called out. "Long live Arab solidarity," came the response.
"We die, Palestine lives," a woman's high-pitched voice screamed. "Revolution, revolution until victory."
"God bless him. May he rest in peace," said Ahmed Hamdouri, 20, a university student. Like others at the mosque, Hamdouri expressed disgust that they were not allowed to attend the memorial service.
"The rulers wouldn't allow it," he said, a black-and-white keffiyeh, Arafat's trademark, draped over his head.
The chants continued: "What a shame, what a shame the funeral's at the airport."
"Because of outside pressure, the funeral was limited," said Hassan Ali, 40, an employee of the Egyptian Petroleum Ministry, as he watched the small groups of protesters eddy across the mosque courtyard. "This is a small demonstration of our anger. This is all they can do, nothing more."