December 17, 2003 | New York Daily News

With Saddam’s Fall Arabs May See the Light

Saddam Hussein's capture is cause for celebration, but his story must be seen in a larger context. It is part of the continuing and profoundly troubled saga of Arab nationalism. In the decades after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, liberal impulses were crushed by self-styled Arab nationalists. Instead of working for social development, democracy and freedom for minorities, rulers erected dictatorships and declared themselves the new Saladin.

Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Moammar Khadafy of Libya, Hafez Assad of Syria, Yasser Arafat of Palestine, Hassan Turabi of Sudan and Saddam of Iraq – each thought he was the unique savior of the Arabs.

Their existence was legitimized by one word: honor – the honor of the Arab people. Regimes attacked one another, killed, tortured, raped – all in the name of Arab honor.

Khadafy invaded neighboring Chad, Assad occupied Lebanon, Arafat sought to subvert Jordan and Turabi attempted to cleanse southern Sudan while millions died, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Wars were started with Israel that could never be won because of honor. Women were deprived of basic rights because of honor. Students were suppressed because of honor. When critics and reformers tried to raise these issues either internally or internationally, they were accused of injuring Arab honor.

After Saddam's capture, followers of Arab nationalism and jihadism raged. They condemned the images shown on television of their leader because they still identify him with the cause of Arab honor.

But he is not the Arab world, and the game is over. Millions of Iraqi men and women have been liberated: 14 million Shiites, 4million Kurds, 2 million Assyrians and Turkomen.

Arabs in Iraq and Kuwait and many other places are beginning to raise their voices. Saddam now embarrasses many of those who were pleased with his ambitions. He pledged Arab unity yet attacked Kuwait, a brother Arab country. He vowed to destroy Israel but waged war with Iran instead. He lived off a legend of courage yet did not die fighting, like his sons Uday and Qusay.

So where is the honor that the commentators of Al Jazeera TV demand for the region? To his millions of innocent victims, Saddam is the embodiment of the dishonor imposed upon the Arabs by their dictators.

Phares teaches Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University and is an MSNBC analyst on the Mideast and terrorism.