Arab Despotism on Trial

The question of whether or not to televise Saddam Hussein’s trial when it resumes after adjournment is still open.  As his lawyers have made clear, Saddam will use every opportunity to attack the legitimacy and constitutionality of the court.  He may well try to turn the trial into a circus (or even direct the insurgency), in which case the proceedings could be placed on tape delay or simply cancelled.

But it would be a shame not to broadcast the whole thing.  It is not an American or international tribunal, but a panel of five Iraqi judges.  The sight of this murderous thug being tried by his countrymen is something the families of his victims have waited patiently for, and deserve.  This alone makes televising the trial worthwhile.

However, Amir Taheri provides another intriguing reason for televising.  If Saddam seeks to portray himself as a persecuted pan-Arabist (a secular stance — not to be confused with Saddam as pan-Islamist), Arab despotism goes on trial as well:

According to Khalil al-Dulaimi, who heads Saddam’s team of Arab lawyers, the fallen despot intends to cast himself in the role of “the defender of pan-Arab values”. This should be welcomed by the judges, for it would allow the exercise to assume a greater role: putting on trial the military-security model of statehood that has been the most popular in the Arab world since the Egyptian coup d’Ã ©tat of 1952. Far from being an aberration, Saddam Hussein was an archetypal figure of the modern Arab despotic regimes based on the military and the security services. His kind of despotism was imposed on a dozen Arab nations at different times and is still in power in Libya, Syria and Sudan. In its 50 years of existence, this form of government has provoked ten large wars, including the longest of the last century: the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 that stole more than a million lives.

Saddam’s trial serves the broader cause of Democracy in the Middle East, not just in Iraq.  It deserves to be aired.


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