For many Arabs, Saddam Hussein’s meek surrender to U.S. forces marked the total humiliation of a man who portrayed himself as a champion of Arab rights and the reincarnation of the 12th-century Muslim warrior Saladin.

Repeated broadcasts of close-up footage of Hussein submitting to medical exams at the hands of U.S. soldiers were met with disbelief, shame and disgust. Many Arabs reveled in his spectacular humiliation, but even those who had predicted his downfall did not imagine it would happen that way.

“No Arab and no Muslim will ever forget these images. They touched something very, very deep,” said Moroccan journalist Khalid Jamai, a leading independent commentator. “It was disgraceful to publish those pictures. It goes against human dignity, to present him like a gorilla that has come out of the forest, with someone checking his head for lice.”

The deposed Iraqi leader’s Arab supporters and enemies alike watched over and over the U.S. footage of his surrender without firing a shot.

“I wish it was a Hollywood movie, the wishful thinking of an American director,” said Palestinian Salah Ahmed. “The scene of him being examined by American doctors was the most painful since his statues were destroyed.”

In the end, many said, the man who had forced his people into three ruinous wars demonstrated the hollowness of his boasts.

“I was expecting a more honorable end for him, like shooting himself,” said Lebanese student Salam Berri. “But he was just a typical Arab leader — stay in power forever and then give their countries and themselves up to their worst enemy.”

Many said Hussein’s hope of founding an Arab warrior dynasty like his hero Saladin was exposed as fantasy.

“What we saw was the televised unveiling of 30-year-old lie. A leader surrendered without fighting, the Arab street is stunned, and the Arab media appear to be in a state of shock,” wrote Tariq Hamid in the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Arab newspapers displayed photos of Hussein in U.S. custody, looking broken and haggard, in contrast to old pictures of the arrogant president in smart suits and in palaces.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a strategic U.S. ally, greeted the capture of its menacing neighbor with quiet relief, tinged with concern over U.S. plans for Iraq and the Persian Gulf region. In contrast to Kuwait, which was occupied briefly by Hussein’s forces 13 years ago, there was no jubilation in Saudi streets and the kingdom’s rulers did not comment.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.