BAGHDAD — A day after a little-known Iraqi television journalist threw his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad, his act of defiance was embraced around the Arab world on Monday as a symbol of rage at a still unpopular war.
In Baghdad's Sadr City, people removed their footwear and placed the shoes and sandals at the end of long poles, waving them high in the air. In Saudi Arabia, a newspaper reported that a man offered $10-million to buy just one of what has almost certainly become the world's most famous pair of black dress shoes.
A daughter of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reportedly awarded the shoe thrower, journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi, a medal of courage.
Across much of the Arab world, many saw the act as heroic, expressing the contempt many feel for the U.S. leader they blame for years of bloodshed and chaos. Some deplored Zeidi's act as a breach of respect or of traditional Arab hospitality toward guests, even if they shared the sentiment.
In Syria, Zeidi's picture was shown all day long on the state television network, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery.
Zeidi, 28, the correspondent for an independent Iraqi television station, remained in Iraqi custody. He could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi prime minister, who was standing next to Bush. Conviction carries a sentence of up to two years in prison or a small fine, although it's unlikely he would face the maximum penalty given his newfound cult status.
What made Zeidi's defiance particularly resonant for many in the Arab world was their anger at autocratic Arab leaders whom they have considered slavish followers of Bush's policies in the Middle East.
"Bush wanted to end his bloody term hearing compliments and welcoming words from his collaborators in the Arab and Islamic world. But a shoe from a real Arab man summed up Bush's black history and told the entire world that the Arabs hold their head high," said Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political science professor at the West Bank's An Najah University,
The incident has been a source of embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, in a statement on Monday, called the shoe throwing a "shameful, savage act" and demanded a public apology from Al-Baghdadia, the independent satellite channel that employs Zeidi.
As of Monday night, no apology from the station was forthcoming.