CAIRO, Egypt – Yasser Arafat's (search) ties to Cairo go way back: It's the city where he was born, went to school and got his start in political activism.
So it was fitting that his funeral should be held there on Friday, even though he was to be buried in the West Bank (search).
"He is a great man and a hero. Every one of us and all Egyptians should be proud of him," said Hag Hassanian, an owner of a coffee shop in the middle-class neighborhood where Arafat was born.
No one there seems to remember Arafat or his family, but many take pride in the fact he once lived there.
"I always hoped that he will one day show up here, so that I can salute him," Hassanian said.
Egypt stepped in to host the service mostly because it would be politically difficult for Arab leaders to travel to the Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories for a ceremony there.
The arrangements — funeral prayers and a horse-drawn carriage before a flight to the West Bank town of Ramallah (search) for burial — also appeared aimed at asserting Egypt's regional role as the champion of the Palestinian cause.
According to Egyptian records, Arafat was born on Aug. 24, 1929, to a Palestinian father who ran a small business in Sakakini. Many Egyptian Jews lived in the district until Israel was established in 1948.
Arafat went to school in Cairo and earned an engineering degree at Fouad I University in Cairo, now Cairo University.
It was there that he first became politically active, joining the Palestinian Students League that was funneling money and weapons to Palestinians in Gaza who were fighting the newly created Israel.
Students at the university mourned Arafat on Thursday.
"I have only one picture in my mind of Palestine, and that is Arafat," said Ahmed Taher, 17.
In Cairo, Arafat also met Egyptian rebels who were fighting the British troops guarding the Suez Canal. He briefly joined the Egyptian army before being discharged — probably on suspicion of helping Palestinian fighters in Gaza, which had fallen under Egypt's control after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
When Egyptian army officers assumed power in a military coup in 1952, they expelled some Palestinian activists to Gaza and cut the allowances of the Palestinian students in Egypt.
Some of Arafat's biographers say this led him to complain to the new president, Gen. Mohammed Neguib, making his first contact with top officials.
Soon Arafat and his Palestinian colleagues conceived the plan of creating a revolutionary movement that aimed to crush Israel — independently of Arab countries — and set up a Palestinian state on the territory that used to be the British mandate of Palestine.
Confronting opposition from the Egyptian government, Arafat moved to the Gulf where he and former colleagues created Fatah, a Palestinian armed movement bent on the destruction of Israel.
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser distrusted Arafat even more than his predecessor Neguib, but he had to accommodate the emerging Palestinian leader and Fatah after Egypt's defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. Egypt began shielding the Palestinian guerrillas.
In 1968, Abdel Nasser helped Arafat assume the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a group set up with the help of the Cairo-based Arab League to represent the Palestinians.
Samir Ghattas, an Egyptian writer who covered the PLO for more than 30 years, said Arafat's relations with Egypt encouraged other Arab states to recognize him.
"These were his [Arafat's] heydays," Ghattas told The Associated Press. "Nasser helped him to became the indisputable leader of all the Palestinians."
But Arafat fell out with Egypt again when President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Arafat led a successful campaign to expel Egypt from the Arab League.
Although Arafat reconciled with President Hosni Mubarak, Sadat's successor, many Egyptians nursed a grudge against Arafat. And many objected to the way he ran the Palestinian Authority, which was set up in Gaza and the West Bank after the interim peace accords with Israel in 1993 and 1995.
"Arafat is a dictator. He wanted to be an immortal leader and the Palestinian people are now paying the price," wrote Anwar al-Hawari, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Misri Al-Youm.
Arafat was "a symbol of Arab tyranny," he added.