Wednesday, April 9, 2003; 6:28 PM
By Paul Taylor
CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab world was in shock, and some Arabs were in denial, after Baghdad fell almost without a fight and jubilant Iraqis, aided by U.S. Marines, toppled a towering statue of Saddam Hussein.
Images of crowds rejoicing at the fall of the authoritarian ruler and cheering U.S. forces, broadcast live in many Arab countries on Wednesday, caused consternation and a sense of shame, tinged in some places with envy.
Palestinians watching the al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi satellite stations were stunned at seeing the giant Saddam statue tumble in a Baghdad square after the rapid collapse of Iraq's military. "This is a tragedy and a bloody comedy. We cannot believe what we see. What happened? It seems that the Iraqis have given up Baghdad without a fight. Where is the Iraqi army? Have they evaporated?" said Walid Salem, a Ramallah shopkeeper.
Ali Jaddah, an engineer, said: "It's a day of shame. On this day Arabs have become slaves. The only man who dared to say 'no' to the Americans' face has vanished today. What is left is a bunch of bowing and scraping Arab leaders."
Many Arabs equate the Palestinians' plight under Israeli occupation with the Iraqis' new situation under U.S. and British military invasion. Anti-war banners have often featured joined Iraqi and Palestinian flags.
Ahmed, 35, a Cairo taxi driver, shook his head in disbelief at the toppling of Saddam's statue. "There is no way ordinary Iraqi citizens would have done that. Impossible! They are probably Kurds or Shias," he said.
But some people said Saddam's fall should be a warning to other Arab leaders.
Egyptian political commentator Salama Ahmed Salama told Reuters: "The gap between Arab governments and the people represents a source of anxiety for different Arab regimes. But whether they'll learn the lesson or not, I don't know."
The Iraqi example showed that the backing of a party, clique or tribe was not enough to sustain a legitimate government.
"The scene of the statue being brought down showed how Iraqis were dissatisfied with (Saddam's) regime. Maybe this is going to be a lesson and an example to other Arab leaders who consider themselves like gods," said Ali Hassan, a shopper in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Some Arab broadcasters made a point of telling viewers Saddam's demise was the end of a unique tyranny, not a precedent for other states ruled by unelected monarchs or autocrats.
"The Iraqi situation is exceptional, we can't compare it with Iran or Egypt...or a country like Saudi Arabia. This is...a regime outside history," Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi said.
While Kuwaitis -- occupied by Iraq in 1990 -- shared in the celebration, the toppling of Saddam's monument looked different in many Arab countries to the way it was seen in the West.
To many, it was an act of imperial conquest by an outside power rather than an act of liberation.
When an American marine placed a U.S. flag over the statue's face, a commentator on al-Jazeera, the most widely watched Arab satellite TV station, remarked: "Everything that happens from now on will have an American smell."
Syria's tightly controlled state television ignored the unfolding drama in the neighboring state run for 35 years by a rival branch of the Baath Party, broadcasting poetry and architecture programs instead.
Pro-Western Morocco's 2M state TV channel gave wide play in to images of looting, cheerful Iraqis dancing on the destroyed statue of Saddam and refugees fleeing the capital.
But many other Arab media focused on the civilian casualties thronging overwhelmed Iraqi hospitals, as well as journalists killed by U.S. tank and missile fire in Baghdad.