- While Saddam Hussein’s execution was greeted with delight by many of his victims – Iranians, Kuwaitis, and Iraqi Shia – it also generated widespread criticism among many Arabs and Muslims. This evokes one of the more confounding paradoxes relating to Saddam – the wide discrepancy between his actual track record and the adulation in which he was held by non-Iraqi Arabs.
- Saddam transformed Iraq into the most repressive police state in the world, where a joke or a reported thought could cost a person his life, where tens of thousands of civilians were brutally murdered by their government, and where millions starved while their unelected ruler spent incredible sums of money on monuments and palaces for himself.
- Saddam embroiled his country in a string of catastrophic foreign adventures that claimed more than one million lives and wrought untold physical and economic wreckage. Upon his ascendance in 1979, Iraq was a regional economic superpower, boasting some $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Twenty-three years later, it had been reduced to dire poverty and underdevelopment, with tens of billions in foreign debt.
- Why has such an abysmal record been widely applauded by Arabs and Muslims?
- It is the Middle East’s violent political culture that has created and perpetuated the monstrosity of Saddam (and his ilk). Only when this culture is fully eradicated will the region’s inhabitants be able to look forward to a better future. Saddam’s execution, at long last, sets a precedent of holding a local tyrant accountable for his crimes.The writer is head of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King’s College, University of London.