Execution sparks wave of support for Saddam in Arab world

"He lived as hero, died as a man," says Egyptian newspaper; praise angers Iraqi government and Kuwait.

saddam killed 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
saddam killed 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Support for Saddam Hussein across the Arab world has only grown since his execution, galvanizing anger against Iraq's Shiite-led government, which the United States has hoped the region would support. One Egyptian paper, the independent Al-Karama, splashed Saddam's photo over a full page Monday, with an Iraqi flag behind him, declaring him an Arab martyr. "He lived as hero, died as a man," another Egyptian opposition newpaper, Al-Osboa, proclaimed in a headline, showing a photo of Saddam at the gallows. The praise has angered Iraq's government and Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990. On Monday, Kuwaiti lawmakers slammed Arab countries that described the former Iraqi leader as a hero and demanded the government reconsider ties and financial aid to them. The reaction, which has been building since the December 30 execution, was in contrast to the shock that followed Saddam's capture by US troops in three years earlier. At the time, Saddam was humiliated, shown bearded and bedraggled in photos as he was pulled out of a hole by US troops. The images sparked a debate across the region over his dictatorship as many pointed out his crimes while in power and his weakness in the face of US forces. In the years that followed Saddam faded in relevance, and coverage of his trial waned in Arab media. But the unruly scene at the gallows catapulted Saddam back to hero's status. In video footage smuggled out of the execution room, Saddam's Shi'ite executioners are seen taunting and cursing him, while the former leader retorts, "Is this manly?" The images angered many in the region, with some seeing it as a US-backed humiliation to the Arab world. US officials said they pressed the Iraqi government to delay the execution and criticized the way it was carried out, but they handed Saddam over for execution at the insistence of the Iraqi government. In Egypt's Arab nationalist weekly newspaper Al-Arabi, a cartoon on Sunday compared Saddam to Omar al-Mokhtar, the leader of resistance movement against Italy's military occupation of Libya, who was executed by hanging in 1931. Arab critics of Saddam said the execution had eclipsed his record of crimes and atrocities in Iraq. "Five sublime minutes at the hanging rope created the myth," columnist Abdel-Halim Qandil wrote in Al-Karama. "The story of Saddam the bloody dictator was over, replaced by Saddam's image similar to Omar al-Mokhtar." Still, some insisted Saddam's crimes should not be ignored. Sami Moubayed wrote in the daily Oman Times, that he "tried hard" to sympathize with Saddam while watching the execution. "But I could not find a single thing worth praising about Saddam." "However, the fact that he was executed under the watchful eye of the United States, at a time when Iraq is occupied, makes him a national hero to the Arabs," he wrote.