King Hassan of Morocco dies

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The Independent Online
KING HASSAN of Morocco, who died last night, was the man who surprised everyone. He was the West's friend. In 1974, in Rabat, he agreed that the PLO should be the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", to the shock and anger of King Hussein of Jordan. But within three years, he had helped to arrange President Sadat of Egypt's extraordinary visit to Jerusalem. He was one of the few Arab leaders who immediately gave his approval to the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia.

Above all, he will be remembered in the West as the man who kept open Israel's communications with the Arabs. Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin (in suitably dark glasses) and Shimon Peres all visited him in secret - even former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir is rumoured to have arrived in Morocco dressed as a man. Morocco's large Jewish community - many of them descendants of the survivors of the medieval Spanish pogrom against the Jews - were protected by Hassan.

Many in the Arab world believed the chain-smoking king was the recipient of millions of dollars in CIA funds. But he was both a modernist and an Islamist. He produced a plan for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in 1990 - typically ignored by Saddam Hussein - and was a man who believed that he could stake his claim in Islamic history by building a mosque with the highest minarets in the world. He was distrusted by his fellow Arabs, but he was a survivor, escaping numerous assassination attempts.

Last night, in the Arab world, he was remembered in a way he would not have wished: as the third Arab ruler to die this year. King Hussein of Jordan has died, and so has the Emir of Bahrain. Now the much-assaulted King of Morocco has gone the same way. Arab dictators, it seems, are not living gods.