And so he made his cousin Hussein Kamel al-Majid, who was a police officer, Minister of Defence. To his son-in-law, Hassan Kamel al-Majid, an army officer, he transferred far-reaching executive power privileges including supervision of the military industry, leadership of the Republican Guard and control of the army's arsenal and the smuggling of banned weapons from foreign black markets. All this made him more powerful than the Minister of Defence.
In 1995, Hassan Kamel al-Majid, who was married to Saddam's daughter Raghad, broke with the regime in Baghdad and fled to Jordan, where he was granted asylum by King Hussein. Saddam later tricked him into returning to Iraq, granting him an amnesty and giving him a binding tribal promise that no harm would come to him on his return. Saddam's daughter played a key role in convincing her husband to return. In reality, Saddam had planned to have his son-in-law murdered by a related clan. When Hassan Kamel al-Majid returned to Iraq, he, his brother, father and several cousins were assassinated.
Saddam earned himself a reputation for which he was envied by both his kindred spirits – among them Ali Abdullah Saleh and Muammar al-Gaddafi – and his arch-rival Hafez al-Assad, who also ruled Syria from the helm of the Ba'ath Party. Saddam was the prototypical modern Arab despot in the Machiavellian tradition of Caliph Muawiyah. He built his state on apparently modern nationalist ideas and made himself the epitome of the nationʹs re-birth, copying Fascist ideologies from Europe in the process.
The legend of the "irreplaceable leader"
Because Saddam Hussein was pathologically addicted to self-praise, his press secretary Hussein Abduljabbar Muhsin went so far as to give the president the sobriquet "the irreplaceable leader". The objective was to portray Saddam Hussein as history's chosen leader for Iraq, a president of prophetic rank. And because, as time passed, Saddam himself began to believe this message, he did everything he could to hold on to power for the duration of his natural life, intending to pass the reins of power to his son on his death.
The same could be said of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya or Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, oriental despots who likewise ran the military, the apparatus of state and their respective ruling parties according to tribal logic. Gradually, purges turned all of these bodies into family clubs and loyalty to the head of the party into loyalty to the head of the family, or the head of the ruling clan, or both.
Ultimately, each of these three typical clan despots came to similarly gruesome ends in the third millennium. Saddam was hanged by his religious opponents who governed post-Saddam Iraq from Iran with the help of the American occupiers and their Shia accomplices.
Gaddafi was captured by "revolutionaries" while NATO aircraft circled overhead and he tried to hide in a drainage pipe. The very rebels he had described as "rats" just a short time previously lynched him and desecrated his remains.
Finally, President Saleh, who always said that governing Yemen was like "dancing on the heads of snakes", was killed in a hail of bullets fired by those with whom he had been allied until shortly before his death: the Houthis, who are now striving to rule Yemen as the new "chosen" religious and tribal group.
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Faraj Alasha is a Libyan writer and publicist.