CAIRO: Saddam Hussein has always been a controversial figure but ironically, his execution may create even greater contention.
He was praised by the several US administrations in the beginnings of his reign, then vilified as a ruthless madman, respected by some Arab allies and hated by others, and then finally in his final years mocked and portrayed pathetically.
It seems that in the end, through no action of his own, his alleged crimes may actually be overshadowed by what the great majority of Muslims see as an “unforgivable affront to Islam, an unfair process, and American puppeteering .
Most Egyptians who spoke to The Daily Star Egypt reflected the same views as many experts and leaders around the world in expressing anger over the timing, method, and circumstances which led to the execution.
Sabah El Gaher, a housewife, was furious when she saw the news broadcasts of Saddam being hanged.
“They hung him in Eid like he’s a sheep. The timing is an issue for many Sunnis because it was the first day of their Eid, but not the Shiite Eid, which started Sunday.
The hearings were a farce, El Gaher says. “It was an obvious act, not even well disguised.
She feels that the March 2003 invasion and the trial since has been about personalities and power rather than justice. They boosted Saddam and “let the Muslims eat into each others power so that Israel would be the only power in the region.
“He scared them [the US and Britain] somehow. We’re starting to think he was a hero and we didn’t know, that there was something under the table hidden from us.
“Even if people hated him before, they’ll like him now after his death she says.
During the trial, Saddam requested that he be executed as a military officer, in front of a firing squad. “He was a soldier, he’s supposed to be given a military death even if he killed a million people. Hanging is supposed to be for thieves, El Gaher said.
“Haram said cab driver Imam Fathi, referring to the timing of Saddam’s death. “Allah doesn’t allow this.
Fathi was in Iraq in ’89-’90 and says the Iraqi people “worshipped Saddam, who he says was very good to Egyptians. “Why would we go there if he was so bad?
Wael Farghali, a mechanic, recalled that many Egyptians traveled to Iraq under Saddam’s rule and that the population there was stable and comfortable, without apparent problems. He also pointed to Iraq as a success in terms of development, industrialization, and wealth.
Fathi, Farghali, and El Gaher also repeated what many before them have said: “Iraq can’t be ruled by anyone other than Saddam, using Iraq’s turmoil since 2003 as evidence.
With regards to the executions and massacres he allegedly inflicted on his own people, Fathi responds that the country had many traitors and plotters. “These are political things we don’t have anything to do with. Others have pointed out that we do not really know where the mass graves came from.
Political analyst Diaa Rashwan told The Daily Star Egypt that the decision was a grave religious and political strategic mistake by the US and Iraqi governments.
He says the fundamental problem with the trial and the final verdict was its apparent exhibit of sectarianism, as exemplified by the choice of the date of the execution, its location, and the witnesses present in both the final moments, where Saddam was taunted by Shiite militia members.
Furthermore, Rashwan says, Saddam was not permitted his Muslim right to a cleric with him, which is law and custom.
The timing, he explains, was meant to let the Shiites celebrate two Eids, in a clear act of revenge.
What is ironic, he points out, is that Saddam never presented himself as a Sunni leader. “He never dreamed of such a position.
Storekeeper Mohamed says “America makes the terrorists, not us. Whoever defends himself is labeled a terrorist.
On the other hand, if the decision was purely an Iraqi one, he says “no one could say anything.
In recent weeks, Arab legal institutions have lambasted the court sessions in which material evidence was brought against the ousted president. For the duration of the trial lawyers representing Saddam, as well as others in the region, called the court a sham.
Three lawyers representing Saddam and his eight co-defendants were assassinated leading to a boycott of court sessions by the rest of the defense team.
A presiding judge who told Saddam he was not a dictator was removed and replaced with another who tossed the Iraqi leader out of court.
The Egyptian lawyers syndicate said in a statement that the way the trial was conducted wasted a historical chance to achieve justice due to the political interventions that robbed the court of its independence and neutrality.
The statement didn t argue the right of the Iraqi people to put Saddam on trial and punish him for his crimes. But it stressed that trial procedure didn t give Saddam his right to a fair and a just trial.
In a statement released immediately after Saddam’s hanging, Human Rights Watch said: “The execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein following a deeply flawed trial for crimes against humanity marks a significant step away from respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq.
This lack of due process, at least as perceived by Arabs, will likely exacerbate growing divisions in the Arab world, particularly vis a vis the growing Shiite-Sunni rift.
The decision “will also encourage radicals, Rashwan says, because Saddam is being held up as a symbol of resistance and because the decision has made it impossible for anyone from the Baath party to accept reconciliation with the new Shiite-led Iraqi government.
Rashwan points to the fatwas issued by what he calls radical Islamists who once denounced Saddam as a kafir (nonbeliever), and are now almost proclaiming him a martyr.
“The Americans are seeking any symbolic victory, he says, “but in reality this will not change anything.
Rashwan also thinks the Iraqi government was afraid to have the question of Saddam’s fate on the table for negotiation with the Baathists. What they did instead, according to Rashwan, is to lose all Sunnis’ trust or confidence in the Maliki government.
But not everyone believed the hanging was tragic or will produce disastrous aftershocks.
Makram Ibrahim thought the verdict was just. “He was a dictator and I think that should be the destiny of any dictator.
He thought that American influence and the timing are irrelevant.
“He was prosecuted by an Iraqi judge under Iraqi rules, he said.
For its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement regretting the timing (during Eid Al-Adha and the end of the Hajj season) saying this period should embody a tendency towards forgiveness.
A ministry spokesperson expressed Egypt’s hopes that the execution would not lead to increased violence or a spiral of vengeance.