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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 23:33 GMT
Analysis: Belgium's Arab leader
Dyab Abu Jahjah and bodyguard
Opponents portray Dyab Abu Jahjah (l) as racist
The BBC's Stephen Sackur

Dyab Abu Jahjah is articulate, assertive and provocative - but is he dangerous?

According to the Belgian authorities he may be. Mr Abu Jahjah faces preliminary charges of inciting violence and resisting arrest after two days of clashes on the streets of Antwerp.

Funeral procession for Mohammed Achrak
The murder in Antwerp of an immigrant teacher has raised new tensions
And local police and government officials say they had Mr Abu Jahjah in their sights before the riots sparked by the murder of a Moroccan immigrant teacher in Antwerp last Tuesday night.

The reason? Mr Abu Jahjah is the leader of a group, the Arab European League, which is seen by its many critics as racist and divisive.

Indeed the Belgian Government says it will do everything in its power to have the AEL banned.

The group's base is in Antwerp's 30,000-strong north African Muslim community.

Dyab Abu Jahjah founded the AEL more than two years ago - it rose to local prominence with a series of demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause.

At least one protest march sparked clashes with police close to Antwerp's Jewish Quarter.

Multilingual campaigner

Mr Abu Jahjah himself does not fit the stereotype of the Muslim militant.

Dyab Abu Jahjah
Dyab Abu Jahjah does not fit the stereotype of a Muslim militant

He is a Belgian citizen of Lebanese origin. Thirty-one years old, clean-shaven and smartly dressed he has courted the press for the last two years in fluent French, Dutch, and English as well as Arabic.

Indeed his message does not lean heavily on the language of Islamic theology and fundamentalism.

He stresses the goal of "Arab unity", he focuses on the need for Arabs in Europe to rally around the twin causes of Palestine and Iraq.

But he has risen to prominence by taking a stands on controversial local issues.

In Antwerp, with its large north African minority, he has called for Arabic to be recognised as an "official" language.

Patrol squads

He has railed against local community initiatives aimed at integration and assimilation of minorities - instead he demands equal rights based on a separate identity.

"You do not receive equal rights, you take them," he declares on the AEL website.

In a move which outraged the Antwerp city government, Mr Abu Jahjah announced that the AEL would send out patrol squads to monitor police brutality directed at the north African immigrant community.

His words, his actions and his gift for self-publicity prompted a reaction from the far-right Vlaams (Flemish) Blok which accused him of incitement and muttered darkly about connections to Arab terror groups.


In a city riven by racial tension, the last few weeks have seen a significant rise in suspicion and mistrust.

Mr Abu Jahjah has enemies even within the Muslim community leadership in Antwerp.

They call him a dangerous upstart, and some suggest that the AEL has fewer than 500 active members.

For the moment, Mr Abu Jahjah is in custody and his supporters are calling for calm in the midst of government "provocation".

The next few days should tell us much more about both his motives and his influence.

See also:

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