In Arab World, Bitterness Over Hussein Verdict

News of Saddam Hussein's death sentence has drawn mixed reaction from throughout the world. But in the so-called "Arab Street," the reaction has been a unified bitterness.

Azzaman and Al-Sabah, two of the biggest circulation papers in Baghdad, published news stories about the death penalty for the former president -- but no commentary. Inside the Green Zone, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad hailed "an important milestone." Outside, it is too dangerous to express a viewpoint one way or the other.

Elsewhere in the Arab online media, the sentencing of Hussein was seen less as a victory for the rule of law than a defeat for the United States. In neighboring Jordan, a commentator for Al-Rai (in Arabic), the country's largest circulation newspaper, called Hussein's sentence, a "comedy in the death's quagmire."

"The problem is not the death sentence. The US soldiers could have shot him in the first minutes of his arrest. But the American political theater, with its artists, designers and directors, decided to put on trial the Baath party, Saddam and the Arab political system since Faisal I. ... Now the entire scenario has collapsed and the author, the director, the artists find themselves caught up in the Iraqi quagmire.... If the sentence is not a comedy, what is the definition of this word?"

In Syria, where the government controls the media and the democracy movement has been silenced by the chaos in Iraq, the news agency Sana reiterated European criticism of the proceedings.

In Egypt, editors of the state-controlled Egypt Gazette said, "Though very few are ready to shed tears for the condemned ex-strongman, the death verdict against Saddam is unlikely to improve either the situation in Iraq or the US predicament there. The opposite is true. Saddam's supporters may exploit the perceived blunders of the US-sponsored court to add to Americans' woes."

"Once again, a false victory in Iraq is exploited by the American establishment for the internal use," a commentator said in La Presse (in French), a pro-government daily in Tunisia. "Surprisingly, the condemnation of Saddam Hussein intervened just 48 hours prior to the November 7 mid-term elections. As expected, the White House congratulated itself, calling it a "historic day for the Iraqi people.'Spokesman Tony Snow said the sentence was 'absolute proof that there is an independent judiciary system in Iraq.'"

La Presse expressed its doubt, quoting criticism of Hussein's trial from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and observing that "neither group can be accused of sympathy toward Saddam."

In other coverage:

European leaders are calling for the commutation of Hussein's death sentence to life imprisonment. Even Tony Blair, advocate of the U.S.-led overthrow, broke with the White House in opposing the ex-dictator's execution.

Spiegel Online reported that Europe's position is both principled and pragmatic: "It is clear that the verdict and its possible application will contribute to and deepen the armed violence and the political and religious polarization in Iraq, bringing with it the almost certain risk that the crisis will spread to the entire region."

Islam Online, the news site of Egyptian scholar Yusuf Qaradawi, sees the verdict feeding sectarian violence.

"The timing while perhaps designed to serve a domestic agenda in the United States, could not be worse for Iraq," wrote Firas Al-Atraqchi, a Iraqi-Canadian correspondent. "It comes on the heels of the ever-growing civil war, the humiliation many Iraqis feel over the issue of the Iraqi flag being lowered from official buildings, the fracas over federalism, and the growing understanding that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nur Al-Maliki has done little other than hand over the reins of security to the death squads."

***

Tunisian journalist Hmida Ben Romdhane contributed to this post. Romdhane is the editor-in-chief of the international desk of the Tunisian daily newspaper "La Presse." He is with washingtonpost.com for several weeks as part of a two-month fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the International Research and Exchanges Board.

By Jefferson Morley |  November 8, 2006; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Mideast
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Comments

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Ah yes, with Saddam we get the usual barbarian U.S. approach: bad guy? Well, then, kill him. The same approach that has made the U.S. by far the most violent and dangerous country in the Western world is now destined to help keep Iraq the most dangerous and lawless place in the Arab world. America is remaking Iraq in its own image and of course, the result is bound to be ugly.

Posted by: Antonio | November 8, 2006 01:28 PM

I am not really surprised about the reaction of the Arab press. Besides being illegal, I opposed the Iraqi War, because the people of the region opposed it. While the American press was saying how wonderful it would be if the Middle East went democratic, they also reported that the Arab street didn't like it. Since we were (and are) involved in Afghanistan at the time, it seemed rather stupid to irritate them. We needed their support in the War on Terror.
I think we need to get rid of this "Axis of Evil" nonsense, and start working with the people in the region. We also need to work with all the neighboring states in an effort to keep Iraq together as a nation. Maybe the Baker Commision will make some similar proposals.
Our troops are not wanted in Iraq, and there are not enough of them to bring about any degree of security for the Iraqi people. It would take a draft to bring the level of troops up to what is needed to secure Iraq. You might have gotten the draft out of 9/11, but, at this point, not out of Iraq. Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, and we need to get our people out of there. Are we going to wait until the casualties reach 50,000 as in Vietnam?
We are not Iraqi, and therefore we cannot solve Iraq's problems. Only Iraqis can solve Iraq's problems. we cannot make them like each other or get along.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | November 8, 2006 01:28 PM

How is this war "Illegal?" That's been a popular refrain among the leftists- Illegal. Maybe the liberals should stay consistent and call it an "Undocumented War" if they have a problem with the ethics of the thing.

Posted by: stegman | November 8, 2006 02:12 PM

Hey all you arabs who love Hitler, you should realize that if it was the arabs who had a sizeable population in Europe during the coming of the nazis it would have been you instead of the jews. Interestingly, the arab population in Europe is now quite large, and has managed to anger the Europeans. Hmm.

Posted by: stegman | November 8, 2006 02:28 PM

Stegman,

As hard as it is, try not falling for the trolls on the blog. Such obvious Muslim names and then such stereotypical anti-semitic comments, you should be laughing at this hogwash, unless of course...stegman is ahmed is nasrallah is hazim.
I am surprised "Arafat" and "Mohammed" didn't make the list.

Posted by: Zain | November 8, 2006 02:39 PM

Oh maybe you're right. I will exercise more skepticism in the future.

Posted by: stegman | November 8, 2006 02:57 PM

Saddam's trial is nothing but a semi-staged US show.

It is farce and most Arabs understand it.

Posted by: Karim | November 8, 2006 06:30 PM

So if I understand this right, Saddam is guilty of protecting his right to be in power and to stop anyone he defines as a terrorist by any means possible including killing innocent people. Is that the way it is? Is that why he was given the verdict and sentence he received? If he is guilty than so is Bush and all the others that have killed in the name of national or self defense. Where is the real justice? I don't think what he did was right (Saddam) but neither do I think that Bush or most presidents we have had were right either. Why are they not tried and found gulity as well? World politics are really ugly and for the most part stupid. In truth we don't really need governments. If we all got rid of our militaries who would fight the wars? Maybe we wouldn't be able to have any, what an interesting thought.

Posted by: Berney | November 8, 2006 06:43 PM

"The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal. Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN's founding charter..." (Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger in Washington, Thursday September 16, 2004, The Guardian)

Posted by: Robert Rose | November 8, 2006 07:58 PM

Hail to you Berney, I salute you!
I am with you on that thought too.

I was dismayed myself on the verdict. More so on the day Iraq was attacked. I believe in self defense. But one cannot build by destroying what he believed was a national threat. It's not as easy as he thought it should be. We are talking about human lives here. (Not to mention the vast millions of dollars worth of money involved which could have been spent on progress and advancement instead, such as strengthening the military forces as main defense, & rebuilding what was already lost). The reality of losing more American lives by putting a death mask on the military men and the American people as a whole(who is fearing who).
Iraq became a killing field, and more innocent lives were taken on all sides.
So, was it a mistake? Was it not a National crime? Where is justice here?

The Sadam verdict may prove justice prevailed to some; but it will not stop terrorism which should be the main pursuit.

Posted by: Ann | November 8, 2006 11:05 PM

The current American president should be tried too, nay, executed because, unlike Saddam who only, allegedly destroyed some Iraqi villagers, Bush destroyed the whole Iraqi and its people (their political, economic, cultural & religious life) needless to mention the American soldiers who lost their lives on a causeless war.

Citizens of the world should not allow Bush to escape from impunity because he not only destroyed Iraq, he also causes political and economic upheaval in some parts of the world for his paranoia on the weapons of mass destruction of Saddam.

If Bush had succesfully con the world leaders to lobby in behalf of his own cause to invade Iraq, what more he could do to his own people.

How can the American citizens still believe on a leader with no moral and social responsibility and accountatability for his blunder and farcical actions?

In the end, killing Saddam, will it liberate?

Posted by: John Daniel | November 9, 2006 02:17 AM

America has blood on its hands and that blood must be repaid.

Posted by: Sahib | November 9, 2006 04:53 AM

A pack of camels costs more than five dollars.

Posted by: Gates | November 9, 2006 07:06 AM

I'm wondering why Saddam didn't end up in the Hague. Isn't that where crimes against humanity are typically tried? That's where Slobodon was sent. If Hussain were to be tried there the result might have a lot more legitimacy. For a court in an occupied country which is also in the midst of a three-way civil war to call itself legitimate is a stretch.

Posted by: Sully | November 9, 2006 08:37 AM

When will the Arabs take responsibility for themselves. Whatever the USA does or doesn't do there they get blamed for it. They really need to grow up (but never will - let's be realistic).

Posted by: Fred - Bakersfield | November 9, 2006 12:04 PM

All world leaders to stay in power kills many people if saddam did the same thng
to keep his country in control, what did he
do wrong. 150000 americans cannot control
iraq now. whereas one saddam was able to.
let saddam have a chance to control iraq
once again.
dont dare to kill saddam.

Posted by: allahkebanda | November 10, 2006 03:57 PM

Can someone please shut the crazy box? It's leaking all over the comments section.

Posted by: goodness | November 14, 2006 04:27 PM

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