“If there were a million Gandhi’s in Iraq,” Na’il said, “Saddam would send the Republican Guard to kill every one of them, and they would do it without any hesitation.”
Na’il’s words have been with me these recent weeks as I’ve watched two Arab regimes toppled and half-a-dozen others wobbled by nonviolent people power. If Saddam had been in power now, would he too be brought down?
The more I’ve thought of it, the more convinced I’ve become that Na’il was right. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings succeeded because the military forces of those countries refused to protect the regimes by cracking down on their own countrymen. The Egyptian military’s self-image is that of a force that protects the nation and the people, not Hosni Mubarak. Yes, many top officers were his cronies, but when the push came to shove, their loyalty to the state was greater than their loyalty to the regime. The same was true in Tunisia.
Saddam, on the other hand, could always count on two armed groups whose ONLY reason for being was their loyalty to him: the Republican Guard, and the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam. As they showed while putting down the Shi’ite uprising after the Kuwait war, these forces were perfectly happy to kill tens of thousands of Iraqis on his orders.