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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Profile: Dissident challenges Arafat
Abdel Sattar Qassem
Qassem has been jailed several times
Abdel Sattar Qassem, a politics professor and Palestinian dissident, is so far Yasser Arafat's only declared challenger if there is an election for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority.

He has been jailed by Israel and - more recently - by Palestinian security forces after criticising Mr Arafat and the Palestinian Authority which he describes as the "most corrupt of the Arab states".


The Palestinian people have the right to use various means to regain their rights

Abdel Sattar Qassem
"I am running for the presidency because I think we need to make some drastic necessary reforms to our social, political, economic structures," Mr Qassem told the BBC.

"The Palestinians are actually suffering in two aspects - one aspect from the Israelis and then the other from the Palestinian Authority."

Although Western-educated and secular, Mr Qassem is reported to sympathise with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

"The Palestinian people have the right to use various means to regain their rights," he has said.

Educated in the US, the 53-year-old father of two teaches politics at al-Najah university - a bastion of the Islamic militant Hamas group - in the West Bank town of Nablus.

Lone rebel

He was expelled from Jordan for political activism in the 1970s where he was a college professor.

He was wounded by unidentified gunmen in 1995, whom he believes belonged to Palestinian intelligence and he says were trying to kill him after he wrote an article condemning Mr Arafat.

Abdel Sattar Qassem
Qassem's support appears limited

Mr Qassem does not recognise the state of Israel and opposes the interim peace agreements Mr Arafat struck with Israel.

He also wants to see the return of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes in what is now Israel.

However, he is said to have no local support.

His candidacy is "one way he can get a platform to express his anger, his opposition to Yasser Arafat and the whole system", Dr Khalil Shikaki, of the Palestinian Research Centre in Ramallah which carries out public opinion surveys, told BBC News Online.

This, given his dissident past, means he can stand without fear of any reprisals being taken against him.

Dr Shikaki describes Mr Qassem as a loner, a rebel figure who is not part of any political organisation and says he expects many more Palestinians to stand in the presidential election either to draw attention to themselves or to take a serious stance and show their opposition to Mr Arafat.

But says Mr Qassem: "I will try to convince the different political forces to endorse my candidacy."


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