LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Joining us now is Fawaz Gerges. He heads the Mideast program at Sarah Lawrence College. He's currently a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, and he joins us from Egypt. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

FAWAZ GERGES: My pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Could you tell us, what is the reaction in Cairo today?

GERGES: Well, people are not surprised by Saddam's execution. But people are surprised by the speed in which the American and Iraqi authorities executed the decision, particularly on this symbolic and spiritual day. That is, today is Eid Al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.

There's also a consensus here in Egypt, and in the Arab world as a whole, that it's the Americans, not the Iraqi government, which plotted and engineered his death. And regardless of what White House officials believe, the consensus in the popular world that if it was not for the Americans, Saddam Hussein would not have been put to the gallows today.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think that the political ramifications of this execution will be more anti-American feeling?

GERGES: You know, last night, late last night, I interviewed a leading Islamist here in Egypt. Surprisingly, he said he was delighted that Saddam was being executed. Why, I asked. And he said the mosques have fallen. Sunni Muslims, which represent, I mean almost 90 percent of all Muslims, will be emboldened to resist American aggression, he said to me. And pro-American Arab leaders will take note at a fellow dictator's fate. So in this particular sense, the leading political forces in this part of the world are trying to capitalize on the execution of Saddam Hussein to garner more public support in this part of the world.

WERTHEIMER: To make a martyr of him?

GERGES: Well, you know, the president said that Saddam's execution represents an important milestone for the new Iraq. I fear, based on everything I know, that Saddam's execution represents another bloody chapter in the war-ravaged country of Iraq. In fact, sadly, the new Iraq does not differ much from Saddam's old Iraq, because I fear that tribal revenge, sectarian revenge, triumphs over the rule of law and toleration in Iraq today.

WERTHEIMER: So you think that this execution in the end, or at least for a time, will hurt the possibility of a peaceful feature.

GERGES: I have no doubts in my mind. I have no minds in my mind, that in the short term Saddam's execution will further pour more gasoline on a raging fire and also enflame sectarian tensions in Iraq. Even though Saddam Hussein was no longer important as an individual, but he represents a symbol for a besieged Sunni community, a minority community in Iraq, that feels targeted and excluded. And his execution, the way he was executed, I think, will enflame the sectarian tensions, particularly between Sunnis and Shia; not just in Iraq, but also in other places as well.

WERTHEIMER: Fawaz Gerges is the head of the Mideast program at Sarah Lawrence College. He's currently a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo. Thank you very much for taking this time to talk with us.

GERGES: Thank you.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.