From Saddam Husayn's Novel of Fear by Ofra Bengio (2002):
Zabiba and the King is best understood as Saddam’s own preparation for his final descent from the stage. It should be read as a summary of his life, an "artistic" contribution to his people, an epitaph, and a last will and testament, all rolled into one. In all probability, Saddam was moved to write the novel by the deaths of other veteran rulers in Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Qatar, and Bahrain. Were Saddam still welcome at an Arab summit conference, he would no longer face many of his old cohorts across the table.
The ongoing sanctions and the suffering of Iraqis make for a very mixed legacy, and Saddam now feels the need to be absolved of guilt by his own people. The possibility that they might trash his memory on his demise is a fear that runs through the novel. "Will the people carry me aloft on their shoulders," the king asks Zabiba, "after I die?" "Yes," she reassures him, "after long life, your royal highness, they will bear you aloft on their shoulders and keep you in their hearts."27
But Saddam cannot be so certain. His core message is that he is blameless for the many hardships, and that "others"—family members, Jews, kings, emirs, and foreigners—are the true villains of the piece. Saddam has tried to convey the same message by every possible medium; in Zabiba and the King, it is the turn of literature. This is propaganda disguised as a novel—and poorly disguised at that.
It is also the capstone to the vulgar kitsch that forms the "artistic" legacy of Saddam’s regime. Iraq was once a flourishing center of Arabic literature. But nothing it has produced in recent years is likely to outlast the rule of Saddam, since all of it is somehow contaminated by his omnipresence. Now that Zabiba is headed for the musical stage, one begins to wax nostalgic for the art of imperialism. After all, it gave Egypt Aida.