Residents of the Arab world have been in a state of great unease in the two days since Saddam Hussein's capture. They were stunned by the hole in which Saddam had hidden, the miserable hut in which he had been living, his wild hair and beard and the humiliating pictures shown after his capture. They had difficulty digesting the words of the American officer who compared him to a rat.

It is unusual to see a national leader at a moment of such weakness. For years, Saddam even used to avoid being photographed while marching so that his limp would not be noticed. Even those who know he was a tyrant found it hard to accept the way in which the Americans humiliated Saddam. Many believe there had been a conspiracy to turn him over.

Many Arabs have a soft spot in their hearts for Saddam, believing that he fought the Americans on behalf of all the Arabs. They will continue to support him even during his trial because he symbolizes for them the feeling of belonging to the Arab nation.

Saddam's capture has also raised question marks in the minds of many in the Middle East as they ask themselves about the legitimacy of the Arab regimes. In Egypt and Syria, as in Iraq, the leaders rose to power through coups.

Opposition members in many Arab countries complain of tyranny. "If Saddam has fallen, who will be next?" they ask. That is why many of the Arab leaders, in their responses to the new situation, stressed the importance of handing power over to the Iraqi people.

The Palestinian Authority issued no official response to the arrest of Saddam, and for good reason. For years, Saddam supported the Palestinian cause and Yasser Arafat was one of the only supporters of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the first Gulf war.

But last night, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said that Saddam's capture was an internal Iraqi affair. He expressed the hope that the Iraqis would soon have the authority to chose their own future and said the Palestinians wished them well with whatever option they chose.

The Palestinian on the street was greatly disappointed by Saddam's capture. What bothered them most was that the Americans had gained a victory. "If the Americans get stronger, we will grow weaker," one of them said.

In Syria, national TV did not broadcast Saddam's capture - there is too much similarity for comfort between the Ba'ath regime in Iraq and in Syria. Both brought a minority to power in a military coup and kept power by force. "I do not believe Syria is the next objective of the U.S.," President Bashaar Assad said before leaving on a visit to Greece.

The official response in Jordan was muted. While many citizens support Saddam, the government supports the American attempt to rebuild Iraq. Jordanian Minister Asma Khader said a chapter had been closed and Jordan wished to see stability in Iraq. An Islamic parliamentarian, however, said: "This is bad news. Saddam was the symbol of opposition to American plans in the region." Many would have preferred to see Saddam fight to the death like his sons.

Feelings were mixed in Egypt and many people did not believe the American version of the capture, calling it "lies" and "propaganda." An Egyptian commentator said: "The American governor has humiliated Saddam and the first to congratulate him was the prime minister of Israel." The official reaction was short and spoke of the need to hasten the transfer of power to the Iraqi people.

Saddam's capture has given rise to great interest in another respect - the Iranian context. There are those who believe that Saddam's capture is a sign that Tehran and Washington have renewed dialogue. The Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, whose intelligence officers participated in tracking down Saddam, chose to leak the news of Saddam's capture to the Iranian media and to be interviewed by them.

Iranians have not forgotten the eight-year long war with Saddam and his refusal to allow Shi'ites to go to their holy sites in Iraq. The borders between the two countries have recently been opened and there is a steady stream of visitors now in both directions.