“Suddenly we forgot that he was a dictator and that he killed thousands of people,” said Roula Haddad, 33, a Lebanese Christian. “All our hatred for him suddenly turned into sympathy, sympathy with someone who was treated unjustly by an occupation force and its collaborators.”

Just a month ago Mr. Hussein was widely dismissed as a criminal who deserved the death penalty, even if his trial was seen as flawed. Much of the Middle East reacted with a collective shrug when he was found guilty of crimes against humanity in November.

But shortly after his execution last Saturday, a video emerged that showed Shiite guards taunting Mr. Hussein, who responded calmly but firmly to them. From then on, many across the region began looking at him as a martyr.

“The Arab world has been devoid of pride for a long time,” said Ahmad Mazin al-Shugairi, who hosts a television show at the Middle East Broadcasting Center that promotes a moderate version of Islam in Saudi Arabia. “The way Saddam acted in court and just before he was executed, with dignity and no fear, struck a chord with Arabs who are desperate for their own leaders to have pride too.”

Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of the independent Jordanian daily Al Ghad, said, “The last image for many was of Saddam taken out of a hole. That has all changed now.”

At the heart of the sudden reversal of opinion was the symbolism of the hasty execution, now framed as an act of sectarian vengeance shrouded in political theater and overseen by the American occupation.

In much of the predominantly Sunni Arab world, the timing of the execution in the early hours of Id al-Adha, which is among the holiest days of the Muslim year, when violence is forbidden and when even Mr. Hussein himself sometimes released prisoners, was seen as a direct insult to the Sunni world.

The contrast between the official video aired without sound on Iraqi television of Mr. Hussein being taken to the gallows and fitted with a noose around his neck and the unauthorized grainy, chaotic recording of the same scene with sound, depicting Shiite militiamen taunting Mr. Hussein with his hands tied, damning him to hell and praising the militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, touched a sectarian nerve.

“He stood as strong as a mountain while he was being hanged,” said Ahmed el-Ghamrawi, a former Egyptian ambassador to Iraq. “He died a strong president and lived as a strong president. This is the image people are left with.” ~The New York Times