Dubai: Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets yesterday to demand the release of Muntadar Al Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist who threw his size-10 shoes at President George W. Bush on Sunday. Arabs across the Middle East hailed the journalist as a hero and praised his insult as a proper send-off to the unpopular US president.
Arab bloggers had a field day after the "shoe heard around the world" incident. "Today (Sunday) is the day that 'Angry Arab' has been preparing itself for three years and finally it happened" remarked one blog.
It went on to joke, "please, please one shoe at a time".
Damascus was abuzz with the news; almost as if the entire city was watching a football match, hurt that their favourite team, had missed a goal, Sami Moubayed, Gulf News correspondent, reported.
Many users of the popular Internet networking site Facebook posted the video of the incident to their profile pages and a floating text message in Riyadh joked "Iraq considers Sunday as the international day for shoes."
"Al Zaidi did what Arab leaders failed to do." Gazi Abu Baker, a 55-year-old shopkeeper in the West Bank town of Jenin said, "This journalist should be elected president of Iraq for what he has done."
On a more serious note colleagues of Iraqi Journalist Muntadar Al Zaidi say they are worried as they have yet to hear any news about him.
"They confiscated his mobile, I tried calling him but no answer. No one knows where he is now," Dr. Abdul Hussain Shaaban, managing director of Al Baghdadiya Satellite TV and colleague of Al Zaidi told Gulf News. Saddam Hussain's former lawyer Khalil Al Dulaimi said yesterday he was forming a team to defend Al Zaidi. "It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Al Dulaimi.
"Al Zaidi should be released immediately."
An Iraqi government official speaking on condition of anonymity said Al Zaidi was being held for questioning by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's guards and is being tested for alcohol and drugs.
On Sunday, President Bush narrowly escaped a shoe to the head while making a surprise visit to Baghdad. "This is a gift from the Iraqis, this is the farewell kiss, you dog!" Al Zaidi shouted just before he chucked his shoes at the US President.
"This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" Al Zaidi shouted as he hurled his other shoe.
Al Maliki's security crowded in on him, beating him relentlessly. Mohammad Taher, reporter from Afaq pro-government TV station described Al Zaidi "crying like a girl."
"All I can report is that it is a size 10," Bush joked.
"Al Zaidi was kidnapped last year by an unknown militia and until now no one knows who was responsible. He was not only protesting from a general anti-US point of view, but a personal one," Al Shaaban said.
Al Shaaban declined to comment whether he supported Al Zaidi's actions. But he emphasised that it symbolised the "catastrophe of the American government".
Hitting someone with a shoe is a huge insult in Iraq because the shoe is considered the dirtiest part of body. Iraqis beat Saddam's toppled statue with their shoes in 2003 and more recently a crowds of people demonstrating against the US Iraqi security agreement beat Bush's burning effigy with their shoes.
Al Shaaban said Al Zaidi was demonstrating what people around the world have been feeling for years about the Bush administration.
"Using shoes is just the Iraqi way," he joked.
- With additional input from agencies