The last time Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was seen in public he greeted Saddam Hussein with a kiss on the shoulder in Baghdad the day before war erupted in the Persian Gulf.
In the language of Arab embraces, Arafat's kiss signified subservience to Saddam as the leader of the Arab nation and the mentor of Palestinians around the world.Such an interpretation suits Saddam nicely. The Iraqi leader has claimed that his war against the U.S.-led coalition is a war to liberate Palestinian occupied territories.
Palestinians who harbor doubts about Arafat's staunch support for the Iraqi leader were not happy to see the PLO leader tie himself and the destiny of the Palestinian people so closely to Saddam in the form of a kiss.
"Kissing Saddam on the shoulder is one of a number of gulf Arab styles of greeting," said one Palestinian living in Cairo.
"But for Saddam, kissing him on the shoulder is meant to give the Iraqi leader a feeling of national pride . . . it is intended to make Saddam feel he is the father of the Arab family," the Palestinian explained.
The most common method of greeting in other Arab gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is nose-kissing.
In Oman, Sultan Qaboos prefers his subjects to kiss his hand, a preference shared by King Hassan of Morocco.
But Arafat's kissing of Saddam on his shoulder shows an undeclared recognition of Iraqi hegemony over the Arab world and subjugates the PLO leader to Saddam's leadership, with all the political implications that entails.
"It is not nice for Palestinians to see Arafat humiliating himself and his people in this way, because it carries a sense of subjugation to others," said the Palestinian, who asked that his name not be used.
"If Arafat didn't kiss Saddam's shoulder, this would be seen as an insult to Saddam's avowed aim to unify the Arab world under his leadership," said Ibrahim Gohary, an Egyptian journalist.
"If you're in Baghdad, you're wise to follow Saddam's rules, so perhaps we shouldn't judge Arafat too harshly," he added.