“He’ll be back in power, just you wait,” says Abu Zaid, the owner of a cafe in Ram Allah. Like many other Palestinians, he is keenly following Saddam Hussein’s trial.
And with his trial over the execution of 148 people being broadcast live on satellite television throughout the Arab world, viewers in Abu Zaid’s packed cafe are not about to turn their backs on a man who was widely feared in other parts of the region.
“I had even more yesterday than today because people are beginning to be a little sceptical about the fairness of the court,” said Abu Zaid on the second full day of the trial.
Seated on wooden seats in a room shrouded in the smoke of Narjila (hubble-bubble water pipe), dozens of people could be seen on Tuesday transfixed by the events in Baghdad, where harrowing testimony was followed by more defiance from the defendant.
“He’ll (Saddam) be back in power, just you wait”
Abu Zaid, Palestinian cafe owner
Shouting at the trial judge from the dock, the deposed president proclaimed that “the Americans and the Israelis want the execution of Saddam Hussein”.
And Abu Zaid pointed out: “If Saddam is being tried for having killed those who tried to assassinate him, then why not put America on trial seeing as it has killed many more Iraqis than Saddam.”
Sharif Mahmud, a customer at the neighbouring Cafe Palestine, agreed that the trial was “a farce”.
“It’s the Americans and not the Iraqi people who are judging Saddam,” he said. “During yesterday’s hearing, for example, he was not given enough time to speak – unlike the witnesses.”
‘Honourable Arab leader’
Saddam and seven of his deputies face the death penalty by hanging if convicted of the 1982 killings in Dujail, which followed an attempt by residents of the Shia village to assassinate the then Iraqi president.
The court heard harrowing yet at times confusing testimony on Tuesday from one woman who spoke of how she was jailed for four years and beaten by intelligence agents in the early 1980s when she was a teenager.
“Saddam is the most honourable of the Arab leaders and that’s why the Americans want to get rid of him and execute him. I just hope that they are not going to succeed”
Khalil Abddin,a Palestinian
Khalil Abddin, another customer at the Cafe Palestine, said: What kind of law is it that allows testimony from a witness who was 15 at the time of these alleged events.”
“Saddam is the most honourable of the Arab leaders and that’s why the Americans want to get rid of him and execute him,” he added. “I just hope that they are not going to succeed.”
Other Palestinians have been closely following events in local newspapers, which have also provided comprehensive coverage.
Pointing to a photograph of Saddam in the dock, taxi driver Hamid Saqr said he was outraged by such an image.
“It is undignified that a president such as Saddam Hussein should be shown in such a state.”