Jan 10 2007

The backlash over Saddam

Published by at 3:13 am under Articles

Daoud Kuttab, THE JERUSALEM POST       Jan. 9, 2007

It caught many by surprise. The hanging of Saddam Hussein was expected to end an era of tyranny. For years the atrocities of the Saddam Hussein regime were flashed on television screens, spouted by politicians and, lately, displayed in the hastily-established Iraqi courts.

Mass graves of Iraqis slaughtered during the Saddam regime were unearthed and have been talked about continuously ever since the fall of the regime. But all of this seemed forgotten once the former president was hanged. It wasn’t just the cell phone video of the execution that caused the backlash, though it helped enormously to show the vindictive and sectarian nature of those carrying out the capital punishment. Nor was it just the disregard for common decency that caused the backlash. The rushed execution of a former president before the exhaustion of all legal remedies reflected power and revenge rather than the dispassionate application of justice. And a hanging during the most important Islamic holiday of Id Al-Adha seems contrary to religious sensitivities. Capital punishment during religious holidays was forbidden even during the reign of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. BUT THE backlash seems much more than just the manner of the execution. It reflected a growing worry in many regional countries about the direction in which the Middle East is heading. While the backlash from governments and peoples of the region seem to reflect the Sunni-Shi’ite divide, it may be much more than that: a serious concern about the place of the moderate camp in the region.

During angry demonstrations in the Jordanian capital of Amman, for example, the protesters called for the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador to Jordan. Those protesting the hanging of Saddam were also chanting against the Palestinian Hamas movement, whose leaders have recently been very cozy with the Iranians. The convergence of opposition to Iran and Israel on account of their support for the execution has provided pan-Arabists with a rare chance to declare their anger at the two non-Arab regional powers. A moderate-vs- radical divide in the region seems clearly in the offing with an undeclared alliance between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Jordan’s King Abdullah against radical forces. Saddam’s exit from this earth has also created a split between two anti-government groups in a country like Jordan. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood clashed with pan-Arabist pro-Saddam demonstrators especially over their vocal attack against Iran and Hamas. IRONICALLY, the backlash against Shi’ites and Iran didn’t carry with it a similar opposition to the Americans, who had physical control of the late Iraqi leader until 5:30 a.m. that morning. Within 40 minutes of the Iraqis taking control of Saddam, he was hanged. It is not clear whether the backlash following the killing of Saddam will be temporary, or whether it will last.

The regional situation reflected in Lebanon and Palestine will no doubt ensure the temporary continuation of the present division between what Condoleezza Rice likes to call the moderates and the radicals. But for the moderates to be able to win over the street in the long term, major change needs to happen, change that can be tangibly felt by the average person. For Palestine, this means Abbas needing to be able to deliver changes on the ground and improvements in the lives of everyday Palestinians. For the larger Middle East, the so-called moderate leaders also need to be able to deliver to their masses positive change, more freedoms and better economic conditions.

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