The way of all dictators | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 13, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 13, 2011

The way of all dictators

Dictators are a curious breed. When they seize power, they have little time or patience to remember the fate that might have befallen autocrats in earlier times and in other countries. Of course, some men, like Hosni Mubarak, do not come by power through seizing it but by being placed there through constitutional means.
The trouble, though, is that once they get to that place, they begin exploring the ways and means by which they can stay there and, more specifically, make sure that after them it will be their children to carry on with the odious job of ruling a country against its wishes.
Mubarak took charge of Egypt after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981. He was able to do that because he had been Sadat's vice president. And then began the long process of time in which Mubarak firmly and gradually entrenched himself in authority. He said he would be president for two terms, or twelve years in all. He broke that promise. And then he began grooming son Gamal as his probable successor.
Today, the whole Mubarak clan is bereft of power and influence. That is what years of dictatorial rule lead to. For years it is the word of the dictator against the word of the people or of the Almighty. And then comes a time when the dictatorship crumbles. The power and the pelf, together with the accumulated arrogance of years, are all swiftly gone.
Mubarak could have left in dignity years ago. He did not, much as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines did not when he should have departed in good grace rather than impose martial law in 1972 as a means of clinging on to authority. Marcos had Benigno Aquino kept in detention and then freed and permitted to go abroad. In 1983, as a returning Aquino stepped out of an aircraft in Manila, his goal obviously to build up resistance to the regime, he was shot. His corpse lay sprawled on the tarmac.
Three years later, the entire Marcos clan fled the Philippines as Aquino's widow led a People Power revolution to return the country to democracy. It was democracy that had brought Marcos to power in 1965, when he beat incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal at the elections. It was democracy he murdered in 1972.
When the twilight draws nigh, dictators pull out all the stops to try to hang on to power. Nicolae Ceausescu did it in Romania in 1989. But then came that rally in Timisoara, where for the first time in his life, Ceausescu faced the wrath of his long-suppressed people. A few days later, on the run from the mobs, he was caught and summarily killed along with his wife.
It was a reminder of what had happened to Benito Mussolini and his mistress in Italy in the 1940s. Some dictators, like Ayub Khan of Pakistan, think they can carry on despite a whole country rising up against them by asking the military to intervene on their behalf. The soldiers do intervene, but as the vanguard of a new dictatorship. Yahya Khan did bring Pakistan's army on to the scene again, by making sure that Ayub would go and he would take charge of a restive country. That was in March 1969.
In December 1990, Bangladesh's Hussein Muhammad Ershad saw the army he had brought back into politics in 1982 turn its back on him. General Nuruddin had little wish to prop up a dying autocracy. The march of democracy was too strong to be subverted.
There is always the ignoble about dictators. They begin by striking at the self-esteem of citizens. By the time their sinister rule draws to an end, it is their self-esteem which simply withers in the onslaught of popular resistance. It is a lesson dictators learn when it is too late in the day for them to save themselves.
Reza Pahlavi treated his people with contempt and the rest of the world with disdain. In January 1979, it was a contemptible emperor with pretensions to godliness that Iran's people forced out of the country. The self-styled Emperor Bokassa I of the so-called Central African Empire did not have intelligence enough to understand that he was a joke in modern times. He was thrown out. He had it coming.
Hosni Mubarak is now history. There are quite a few others who should be following in his footsteps. Think of Yemen's Ali Abdallah Saleh and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Think of all the Middle Eastern monarchies that must be reinvented as republics underpinned by the will of the people.

The writer is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star. E-mail:

Stay updated on the go with The Daily Star Android & iOS News App. Click here to download it for your device.

Type START <space> BR and send SMS it to 22222

Type START <space> BR and send SMS it to 2222

Type START <space> BR and send SMS it to 2225

Leave your comments

Top News

Top News