December 17, 2003 | Front Page Magazine

Saddam: The Ceaucescu of the Arabs

What happened Saturday in Iraq? Yes, coalition forces captured Saddam Hussein. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. The historic moment is in fact broader, more significant and comprehensive.

At first, you sink into the many details of the event. The commander of the one million-soldier army did not fire a shot. This was intriguing to many in the West and embarrassing to many anti-Americans in the region. “He should have killed himself,” shouted Arab nationalists and Jihadists on al-Jazeera television.

But the man who dodged arrest and conspiracies for three decades did not design himself for a heroic end. He sent about a million human beings to death, but when confronted, he surrendered. It leaves some food for thought. Isn't it true of all those who send their young men and women to death, but who refrain from performing the same sacrifice?

Also of interest in the Middle East were the images that were aired on all the networks. A series of images showing the man in his wildest appearance sent chills of different natures from country to country. The victims of horror screamed their revenge while the supporters of Pan Arabism and Islamism cried about their loss of honor and dignity. The tableau was picturesque. By the hour, the credibility of the so-called revolutionaries in the region was crumbling fast. The Arab satellite networks airing live messages by concerned citizens showed the collapse of coherence. Rabid callers from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Gaza raged against the humiliation of Saddam's Uruba, “Arabness.” They all felt aggressed by the dental check up applied on the former dictator. “You don't do this to leaders, even if you don't like them,” shouted the angry men. To whom, Arab victims of Saddam's tyranny from Iraq, Kuwait and overseas responded harshly: “Did you forget how Saddam treated his people? When Arab mouths were opened, it wasn't to check their medical records. It was to place a bullet inside.” A wedge is now widening within the Arab world. You're either holding on to the past, holding on to the Saddams of the region, or you're tearing down the walls of silence and taking the future into your own hands.

A growing detail is to be noted as well. A number of critics of the old order are coming to the forefront of expression. Out of the underground of the Arab world, many men and a few more women are getting bolder with the regional regimes. The capture of Saddam captured their minds. “So it is possible to see a dictator being arrested like this, and brought to justice,” wrote human rights activists on the leading dissident Arab website, ELAPH. The Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassa said, “no one is shielded from justice anymore.” In Lebanon, opposition activists breathed in hope, while in neighboring Syria the underground Reform Party called for a parallel measure with their own version of the Ba'ath. The region is shaking and deep-rooted heat can be felt.

While American media pundits rushed to analyze how the successful Saddam hunt fit into the November Presidential elections, the people of the Middle East have more serious questions to answer. When I received the call that Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m., I was in Montreal, a city immersed in Francophone culture. Before I found a flight back to New York, I was graciously invited to a live half-hour on the French CBC. When asked to describe my first impression of the arrest, I said one word, almost subconsciously: C'est le Ceaucescu des Arabes. (“He is the Ceaucescu of the Arabs.”) A moment of silence followed the magic comparison before the anchors nodded their heads. The images of the 1989 execution of the Romanian dictator are the most powerful comparative figures at hand. With some difference in the details, Saddam's fall is in essence the story of Ceaucescu.

But the comparison poses grave consequences. Iraq is not an isolated Rumania. It is surrounded with equally brutal regimes with their terrorist organizational extensions. The greater detail on that Sunday morning was the global wave stirred by the capturing of the Baghdad dictator. For beyond the frustration of shocked Pan Arabists and Islamists around the region, the most dramatic tribulations rocked the leaders beyond Iraqi borders. Saddam preferred to flee his palaces and hide in a hole, but he was found by the coalition of the willing. But in Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli and Khartoum, the masters of the Palaces know very well that the next time dictators would be extracted from holes, it won't necessary be by “infidel” soldiers. The power of the example has no parallel. Last Saturday, the Ceaucescu of the Arabs was caught. The victims of abuse have seen those pictures. The rest will be history in progress.

Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict and a Terrorism expert with MSNBC and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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