Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Message?

Will Saddam's capture send a message to the rest of the Arab world?

The image of Saddam Hussein in custody, his power and bravado gone, is a sobering sight for other Arab rulers whose regimes are based on might, not on the consent of their people, Arab politicians and commentators said Monday.

"Saddam's capture is a lesson to others who should know that democracy is important, that people should have a say in the decision-making, that leaderships must have relations and dialogue with their people," Ayman Majali, a former Jordanian deputy prime minister, told The Associated Press.

"But unfortunately, many leaderships in the Arab world are distanced from their people, and those should know that their fate may be like Saddam's," he said.

In Kuwait, "Lessons to the likes of Saddam," was the headline of a front-page editorial in the daily Al-Siyassah. Written by editor-in-chief Ahmed al-Jarrallah, it said Saturday's seizure of the deposed Iraqi leader provided a shock "to all the evil regimes that until now follow the example of Saddam, use his methods of tyranny and despotism."

Such regimes, al-Jarrallah wrote, "know they are like him ... and that they are the prisoners of the slogans they used to lie to their people. ... Saddam has fallen because of what his wooden mind produced, and similarly, what their minds produce will lead to their fall."

Neither al-Jarrallah nor others who described the dilemma of Arab leaders were specific about which of them had the most to fear. But all saw the arrest as a signal that the Middle East could be at an important turning point.

In Saudi Arabia, political analyst Dawood al-Shirian said the capture of Saddam was a positive development in Arab politics, but he noted it might not be so positive for some Arab rulers.

"For the first time, an Arab dictator is being held accountable for his actions. That will encourage the Arab street to be more forceful in pushing for their rights because they now know that it's not impossible to hold a dictator accountable," al-Shirian said.

Oppressive Arab governments "must feel unhappy ... because they can now see that a society without institutions, human rights and democracy will meet the same fate as Saddam's regime," he added.

An editorial in the English-language Daily Star said Arab governments would be under pressure to change from Washington's destruction of Saddam's regime.

"Like a force of nature, an emboldened America is now bearing down on a Middle East whose habitual status is somnolence," the editorial said. "If the countries of the region continue to let others decide the pace and direction of events, the storm will be a highly destructive one."

"For far too long, governments in the Middle East have moved with all the agility and imagination of a glacier. That will simply not do any longer," the editorial said.

However, it added that if the Arab nations can accept democracy and freedom, "the effect will be like a cleansing rain, washing away the stains left by decades of failed statecraft and illegitimate leadership."


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