Support for Saddam Hussein across the Arab world has grown since his execution, galvanising anger against Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which the United States has hoped the region would support.
One Egyptian paper, the independent Al-Karama, splashed Saddam’s photo over a full page today, with an Iraqi flag behind him, declaring him an Arab martyr.
“He lived as hero, died as a man,” another Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Osboa, proclaimed in a headline, showing a photo of Saddam at the gallows.
The praise has angered Iraq’s government and Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990.
Kuwaiti lawmakers today slammed Arab countries that described the former Iraqi leader as a hero and demanded the government reconsider ties and financial aid to them.
The reaction, which has been building since the December 30 execution, was in contrast to the shock that followed Saddam’s capture by US troops in three years earlier.
At the time, Saddam was humiliated and shown bearded and bedraggled in photos as he was pulled out of a hole by US troops.
The images sparked a debate across the region over his dictatorship as many pointed out his crimes while in power and his weakness in the face of US forces.
In the years that followed Saddam faded in relevance and coverage of his trial waned in Arab media.
The unruly scene at the gallows catapulted Saddam back to hero status.
In video footage smuggled out of the execution room, Saddam’s Shiite executioners are seen taunting and cursing him, while the former leader retorts: “Is this manly?”
The images angered many in the region, with some seeing it as a US-backed humiliation to the Arab world.
US officials said they pressed the Iraqi government to delay the execution and criticised the way it was carried out, but they handed Saddam over for execution at the insistence of the Iraqi government.
In Egypt’s Arab nationalist weekly newspaper, Al-Arabi, a cartoon on Sunday compared Saddam to Omar al-Mokhtar, the leader of resistance movement against Italy’s military occupation of Libya, who was executed by hanging in 1931.
Arab critics of Saddam said the execution had eclipsed his record of crimes and atrocities in Iraq.
“Five sublime minutes at the hanging rope created the myth,” columnist Abdel-Halim Qandil wrote in Al-Karama. “The story of Saddam the bloody dictator was over, replaced by Saddam’s image similar to Omar al-Mokhtar.”
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a US ally, acknowledged the execution had rallied many Arabs around Saddam’s legacy.
“It was disgraceful and very painful,” Mubarak said of the execution in an interview with Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Thursday. “They have made him into a martyr, while the problems within Iraq remain.”
On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki denounced government for criticising the execution, accusing them of meddling in Iraqi affairs.
The hanging of Saddam could fuel support in the mainly Sunni Arab world for Iraq’s Sunni-led insurgency and increase opposition to the country’s new Shiite rulers. This could complicate US efforts to rally Arab help in reconciling Iraq’s warring communities.
On Friday, hundreds in the Egyptian capital demonstrated after prayers at al-Azhar Mosque, chanting against the United States and Arab governments, expressing support for the Iraqi insurgency.
In Jordan, columnist Ibrahim Jaber Ibrahim lashed out at the Iraqi prime minister, deriding him as “Emperor al-Maliki, standing on a precious Persian carpet”, a reference to the Iraqi Shiites’ close ties to Iran.
Talal Salman, publisher of Lebanese daily As-safir, warned that the al-Maliki government’s “vindictiveness, political blindness and short-sightedness…are establishing divisions that will spare no one, whether in Iraq or in the territories around it, including all the Arabs”.
Still, some insisted Saddam’s crimes should not be ignored.
“One can’t but be surprised at shameful Arab weeping (for Saddam)…glorifying him and considering him a hero and martyr,” wrote Palestinian writer Khaled al-Horoub in United Arab Emirates daily Al-Itihad today.
He warned that other Arab dictators will manage “to hide (their) crimes behind volatile speeches that stir up people’s feelings but destroy their present and future”.
Sami Moubayed wrote in the daily Oman Times that he “tried hard” to sympathise with Saddam while watching the execution. “But I could not find a single thing worth praising about Saddam.”
“However, the fact that he was executed under the watchful eye of the United States, at a time when Iraq is occupied, makes him a national hero to the Arabs,” he wrote.