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The Arab Press on Saddam Hussein’s Capture

George Ziyad, World Press Review correspondent, Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 15, 2003

Iraqis celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein
Iraqis celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein in Sadr City, a predominantly Shiite slum of Baghdad, Dec. 14, 2003 (Photo: Henghameh Fahimi/AFP-Getty Images).
“What we saw yesterday was the televised unveiling of a 30-year-old lie. A leader surrendered without fighting, the Arab street is stunned, and the Arab media appears to be in a state of shock,” wrote Tareq al-Hamed in London’s Saudi-owned, Pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat on Dec. 15. He was reacting, of course, to the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“With his silence, those Arabs who favor terrorizing people and falsifying [the images of leaders] will also fall silent—temporarily,” another columnist, Abdel-Rahman al-Rashid wrote in the same paper.

The Arab satellite channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera gave the event extensive and factual coverage. The pundits that appeared on Arab TV, far from sounding embarrassed, seemed to revel in the prospect of the U.S. presence in Iraq being exposed as a neocolonialist enterprise now that Hussein is captured. Iraqi leaders such as Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appeared to squirm at their own lack of knowledge of how and when the operation in their name was carried out.

Other Arab newspaper commentators hoped Hussein’s arrest would hasten the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq. “The United States has achieved its declared goal of removing the regime and arresting its leaders,” the Saudi daily Al-Watan argued in an editorial. “Now it must state clearly what the fate of its presence in Iraq will be.”

The Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds took a similar line: “After [Hussein’s] arrest there is no need for the coalition forces’ presence in Iraq. Traitors, this is your day. Dance to [U.S. President Goerge W.] Bush’s drum and time your prayers to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s horn, but remember that Arabs—particularly Iraqis—have their back to the wall.”

“The end of Saddam Hussein that we watched yesterday on TV was unpleasant. Many were the alarm bells sounded by Arab leaders, especially [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak, so that he would avoid that fate,” editor Ibrahim Nafie wrote in the Dec. 15 edition of the Egyptian government’s flagship daily, Al-Ahram.

“But [Hussein] seemed like a driven man, seeking an unbalanced confrontation with an international power with a pressing desire to control the world,” Nafie continued, contrasting Hussein, the wrong ruler for Iraq, with Mubarak, the right ruler for Egypt. “That the spokesman of the Americans should say that Hussein appeared to have surrendered to his destiny after capture and was being cooperative shows that Saddam was the wrong person to rule a great nation,” he concluded.

Al-Ahram also worried that “Hussein’s capture might encourage the Shiites, who constitute 60 percent of Iraq’s population, to join the resistance without fearing a return of Hussein’s regime [which relied on Sunnis for its main base of support].”

Others seemed shocked that Hussein had surrendered to the Americans without a fight. “Why has the iron man surrendered without a fight? Why did he not blow himself up with the explosives he was said to wear around his waist so he could die an honorable death of the sort the rest of his people died?” asked the Palestinian Al-Hayat al-Jadedah on Dec. 15.

“I would not have felt the same bitterness I felt as I saw Hussein’s capture if it had been at the hands of the Iraqi people, the only people entitled to bring him to account for the suffering he inflicted on them,” Galal Duweidar, editor of Egypt’s government-owned daily Al-Akhbar, echoed on Dec. 15. “It is both unfortunate and painful that the announcement of Hussein’s capture should be made by the American Civil Administrator Paul Bremer,” he added.

But perhaps the pro-Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam best captured this sense of regret at seeing U.S. troops successful with the four simple words, “The hero fell yesterday.”

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