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MediaWatch:Print
Daily Column
Arab Media: Rehabilitating Saddam
Saddam Lionized by Arab Media, His Crimes Erased
By AMER MOHSEN 01/03/2007 11:03 PM ET
Editor's note: While virtually all Iraqi newspapers have ceased publication during the two-week-long Eid holiday, we're examining the Arab world media's coverage of Iraq. Our daily summary and critique of Iraqi newspapers will resume after the Eid holiday.

Arab Media Report January 4th

The divisions and controversies surrounding Saddam’s execution are opening the way for ‘revisionist’ histories to be written about Saddam’s bygone era. Some of these narratives try to mitigate Saddam’s atrocities and shed light on his perceived ‘accomplishments’ (usually in comparison with the current situation in Iraq) and others go as far as presenting him as a firm patriot during his rule and a symbol of resistance and sovereignty after his ousting.

Such articles are finding their way even into the pro-Saudi media, despite Saudi Arabia’s deep-seated conflicts with the Saddam regime since the early 1990s. In Al-Hayat (owned by Khalid Bin Sultan, son of the Saudi crown prince), Bilal Khubbaiz wrote on Iran and Israel’s praise of Saddam’s execution. Khubbaiz saw it as ironic that the two enemies would ‘converge’ in complimenting the execution of Saddam (the Kuwaiti government also praised the verdict, but Khubbaiz did not comment on that). He explained that seeming contradiction by the fact that “Saddam, as Iraq’s ruler was the Iron Curtain that prevented the Iranian influence from expanding into the Arab area” and at the same time “a formidable party in the Arab-Israeli conflict”.

In Saudi-owned al-Sharq al-Awsat, Salih al-Qallab (ex-minister of information in Jordan) wrote arguing against the thesis of the ‘Sunni state’ of Saddam’s Ba`th. Al-Qallab said that “...with the Shi`as ... constituting over 70% of the membership of the Ba`th, the previous regime was not the regime of the Sunnis alone...the Americans, who have proven that they do not understand the region, or its history or its people should not have been dragged behind the forces that accompanied them in their campaign against Iraq, motivated by a thirst for historic revenge...and they should not have dealt with a section of the Iraqi population as if they were the custodians of the previous regime and needed to pay the price...”.

More direct praise was showered on Saddam in the Pan-Arab al-Quds al-`Arabi; Rashad Abu Shawar wrote that Saddam “went to his death with pride and bravery, chanting for his nation and Palestine and Iraq...he called on the Iraqis for reconciliation and tolerance and resistance”. In the same newspaper, Rasheed Nini, editor-in-chief of the Moroccan ‘al-Masa’’ opened his article with the following words: “I was never an admirer of Saddam. But I will admit that I liked the man on Saturday morning, and I believe that I will love him for as long as I live”.

The web-based news agency, elaph.com, published an interview with a prominent Lebanese Arab nationalist, Ma`an Bashshour, who recalled his memories with Saddam -whom he said he had met twice in recent years- and praised his “firm patriotic spirit” and “his attachment to the independence and sovereignty of his country”.

In al-Hayat, Tawfeeq al-Madini considered Saddam’s execution a sign of “the sectarian forces extracting their strength from the occupation”. In a broader analysis of the event and its implications, `Azmi Bshara (who serves as a representative in the Israeli Knesset) wrote a long article in the same newspaper arguing that the region as a whole has a choice between “ending the politics of axes or the collapse of Sykes-Picot”. Beshara pondered on how the threat to the Arab state system originates not from Arabist and Islamist transnational currents, but from the sectarian forces that are working to disintegrate the structures of their states from within (Sykes-Picot in the Arab lexicon refers to the secret Anglo-French pact that divided the region in the aftermath of the First World War and was the founding moment for most modern Levantine states in their current borders). Bshara said that the centrifugal effects of sectarian currents are compounded by the alliances struck between these movements and the ‘political camps’ dividing the Middle East today. Bshara called on Middle Eastern powers to bridge their differences and start preparing for the prospect of a ‘post-American Middle East’. Bshara wondered why the same countries who reveled in the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003 were protesting his execution. He considered these protests as misguided and futile, especially in that they took the form of sectarian hatred, “against ‘enemies’ who had no hand in the fall of the regime and the execution of Saddam”.

The London-based daily Az-Zaman headlined with a sensationalist title: “official admission: the militias executed Saddam”. Az-Zaman quoted a ‘source’ in the interior ministry who told Reuters that the official unit that was charged with the execution of Saddam was removed and that the execution was carried out by “militias and intruders”. Az-Zaman added that an “Iraqi official” had chanted the same chants used by ‘Abu Dar`’ before committing his sectarian killings (Abu Dar` is the nom de guerre of an Iraqi terrorist- allegedly affiliated with the Sadrist current- who is deemed responsible for committing countless sectarian assassinations, mostly against Iraqi Sunnis).

Lastly, al-`Arabiya reported on its website that a “Kuwaiti Businessman” had offered to pay “any sum necessary” to acquire the rope with which Saddam was hanged. According to al-`Arabiya, the businessman was told that the rope is currently in the possession of Muqtada al-Sadr.

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