July 1, 2005

Saddam’s novel a bestseller despite ban

By Ibon Villelabeitia

AMMAN (Reuters) - Move over Harry Potter. In Amman'sdowntown bazaars, the bestselling book these days is SaddamHussein's bootlegged novel "Get out of here, curse you!"

Banned by Jordan on the grounds the 186-page tale of anArab tribesman who defeats foreign invaders could harmrelations between Jordan and Iraq, Saddam's latest novel hasbecome so popular booksellers say they can't keep up withdemand.

"We had copies but they sold out after the book wasbanned," the owner of a kiosk in a busy Amman street toldReuters.

"We are waiting for the book to be published again. Even ifit is banned I will ask for copies outside Jordan," said thevendor, who like most of those interviewed asked for his namenot to be published.

"I had it before the government banned it but after the banmore people came to look for it," said another vendor, whoseshop stands in a narrow alley where old men dressed in whiterobes fingered beads and drank tea.

"It's a very popular book here."

Saddam, who faces war crimes charges, is a popular figurein some quarters in Jordan, where -- like the ousted dictator-- the large majority of people are Sunni Muslims. There isalso a large exile Iraqi community living here.

Portraits of Saddam smiling like a benevolent father figureare sold in some shops in gritty downtown Amman, where mostresidents are of Palestinian descent, next to pictures ofJordan's King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally.

Images of daily bloodshed in neighboring Iraq and reportsof abuses of detainees at U.S.-run prisons have whipped upanti-American sentiment in the kingdom, where some regardSaddam as an Arab nationalist leader, analysts said.

"There is a lot of unhappiness in Jordan about what isgoing on in Iraq," said Joost Hiltermann, of the InternationalCrisis Group.

"The images of violence and of Saddam in his underpantshave reinforced the notion that the U.S. war is illegal andthat Americans are in Iraq to humiliate Arabs."

Government censors can axe books in Jordan, but the ban hasplayed into the hands of Saddam, credited with writing otherworks including "Zabiba and the King" and "Men and a City."

"You can't ban books in Jordan anymore. We have satelliteand Internet," said vendor Hassan Abu Ali. "If I find copies Iwill sell thousands."

Believed to have been penned before the U.S.-led invasionof Iraq in 2003, the book tells the story of Salem, a nobleArab tribesman representing righteousness and Arab nationalism,who defeats his American and Jewish enemies.

The tale describes how Salem unites divided Arab tribes inIraq to defeat Hisquel, a foreign intruder who represents evil.