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Assad’s visit to Bab Amr shows that history repeats itself in disgusting ways

Assad walks among the “residents” of Bab Amr…

On the 27th March, Syria’s embattled President, Bashar al-Assad made a visit to the former opposition stronghold of Bab Amr in Homs, Syria. This neighbourhood had been in the firm hands of the Free Syrian Army for nearly three quarters of a year, serving as their main base. It was finally taken by the Syrian army on the 1st March. The government ominously declared prior to the capture that the neighbourhood was being "cleaned".

The fall of Bab Amr was accompanied by the tragic, and sadly predictable tales of atrocites emerged after the fall. Among them, a shocking tale (all too believable, given the brutal nature of the Syrian government’s response to demands for change, peaceful or otherwise) of 17 FSA soldiers being massacred with knives after being caught and attempting to flee the area, Avaaz alleged they may even have been civilians. There were also claims from defected soldiers that they had orders to shoot anyone on sight, claims that 36 people were rounded up and summarily executed, etc. In all, all manner of atrocities were reported.

In his visit Assad was surrounded by people showing their support (or at least appearing to; I’m betting that many were Mukhabarat or pro-Assad civilians driven into the area. Would the genuine residents (and I feel I can say that with a degree of certainty) cheer on the figurehead for the brutal family fiefdom which killed their children and reduced their homes and lives to rubble? If they are people of the area then it is all too likely they were paid or coerced (the latter much more likely) to attend.

In his words to the people of the area (but were they, really?) he claimed that life would return to the area and it would be “better than it was before.” You can rearrange bricks, pour cement and restore utilities. But how do you tell the mother who has no child running home after school to greet her with an angelic smile that life will be “better”. How do you restore the innocent, untormented minds of the young who have witnessed butchers massacring innocents? His words are hollow and utterly, utterly cynical. 

The real reason that he made this venture was to use it as a thinly-veiled victory parade. He left unspoken in words what he gave voice to in actions. As he smugly strode down the devastated streets with his typically unassuming gait, he was proclaiming: “Look what I can do to you if you raise your voice against me. I have won.”  

That probably also explains why this wasn’t streamed live. If many of these people had been normal people then they could have taken a desperate risk and started to heckle and boo their leader and humiliate him in the same way that Ceausescu’s people humiliated him in front of Romania and the whole world in 1989.

As one activist by the name of said: ”He thinks he won and scored a great victory” (speaking by telephone). ”He wants to show the world he defeated and put down a revolution. But … it seems he can’t even release the video until he has left Homs. That is not control.” 

But he hasn’t won by any means. There’s suppressing physical territory and people with bullets and tanks and there’s crushing an idea. Nobody can do the latter, not even the omnipotent and omniscient “Doctor” Bashar (who should have had his medial accreditations withdrawn several times over by now, considering how he’s made doctors and others violate the Hippocratic Oath in hospitals and refuse to treat injured opponents).

…Now look at this image of Himmler looking contemptuously 
at a Dachau prisoner. Similar, eh?

I noticed one particularly unsettling historical similarity. On January 20th 1941, Heinrich Himmler, escorted by his subordinates (notice how Assad is escorted around by sycophants in the video, an image which looks eerily similar) walked among the scenes of suffering and death at the height of Nazi power, viewing the death and destruction he himself had created with a similar aloof, barely-concealed air of satisfaction. His standing among the people he made to suffer is exactly the same kind of victorious gloating at the height of his power which Assad is enjoying in, militarily, could be said to be the height of his. History repeats itself. 

I could go further and compare his visit to Himmler’s visit to Auchwitz, but that wouldn’t be half as appropriate. The Nazis targeted specific people and there was one sole leader. Assad represents an extended family fiefdom and arbitrarily targets everyone and anyone against him.

But I could easily compare Assad and Himmler. Both seemingly unassuming and not at all dictatorial, both rather vain with something of an inferiority complex, and both mass-murderers. History always repeats itself in more ways than one. In these instances, most of these “ideologies” these murderers follow are mere rubber-stamps for murderous actions. Assad is more Nazi than Ba’athist. Nasser would turn in his grave in disgust.

If Kofi Annan thinks he has got anywhere in dealing with Assad, then he will be disappointed

Recently the UN peace envoy Kofi Annan travelled to Syria (after initial reluctance on the part of the Syrian government) to meet with the ever-embattled President and representative of his family Mafia - both a single person - Bashar al-Assad, the man who’s security forces (and they can conclusively be called his security forces under the legal responsibility invested in the President) have been killing peaceful protesters and  for months, spawning the latter to protect the former.

Every single agreement that was supposed to halt the violence has has next-to-no effect on the levels of bloodshed on the part of the security forces. The Arab League peace plan in November 2011 went completely unheeded by the Syrian government and their was still unabated killing in the form of around 250 deaths between the 2nd November (the date of the signing) and the 12th November.  The Arab League Monitoring mission in December 2011 merely delayed the time period in which the security forces would open fire on demonstrations - as soon as the observers were out of sight.

Every single plan proposed has either been rejected by Damascus in the name of the “sovereignty” of Syria, has been paid lip service in the form of meaningless rhetoric, or has been downright ignored. 

Now Mr Annan thinks he may have made a change. He has presented Mr Assad with a series of "concrete proposals" to curb the violence. Meaning that he has done very little that most other international actors have already done or tried to do. Condemn the violence, hand over some proposals (backed by next to no practical action  to ensure that the government enforces them) to the President, shake hands, leave.

Will his “concrete proposals” (which he has yet to elaborate on but will likely be nothing innovative) change anything?

Unlikely. The regime has shown time and time again that the only respect it has is for violence and violent methods of suppression. Notice how Assad was never talking about any kind of negotiated settlement until the armed resistance came about as a reaction to his brutality. On the 30th March he was rambling on about avoiding “subjecting the reform process to momentary conditions, otherwise it will be counterproductive”. The only negotiated settlement that came about (and the only significant development of this kind throughout the entire conflict) was after fierce Free Syrian Army resistance for days on end against  almost impossible odds, and government acceptance that they could not dislodge the fighters for the time being. This is evident from the fact that General Shawkat himself (Assad’s brother-in-law) was reportedly leading the ceasefire negotiations himself. A sure sign that the Assad’s were listening to force and force alone.

Now, after repeated rejections and ignoring of every single peace settlement or plan, Mr Annan believes that he can somehow solve this crisis through negotiation? He even talked of reforms (we all know how swift and progressive Assad’s reforms are) which would create a "solid foundation for a democratic Syria".

All this bloodshed and some still think that this rotten travesty of hereditary Ba’athism can be reformed? Have around 10,000 deaths not shown the answer to this question? Someone pull Mr Annan out of March 2011.

Talk of “reforms” and leaving Mr Assad with a list of "a set of concrete proposals" to end the violence will get zilch achieved, save an increase in hot air while more innocents are killed. Mr Annan would do better to try to gain better access to weapons for the Free Syrian Army to help them defend these innocents. They can’t fend off the Shabeeeha while hiding behind pieces of paper, can they?

Pieces of paper which will end up down the back of the Assad family sofa, alongside Asma’s credibility and the new “constitution”.

Scores of civilians have been killed since Mr Annan departed with no agreement in his hands whatsoever, because Assad says a solution is impossible as long as the “terrorist groups” continue throughout the country. Read between the propaganda lines and change “terrorist groups” to “the oppositon movement”.

Of course, Assad hopes to sign an agreement with some meaningless opposition sock puppets as soon as he has wiped them out. But if he thinks he can do so then he is extremely deluded. When in history have bullets crushed ideals?

The government only respects violence and will fall by the same road. Not by “concrete proposals” amounting to hot air and no tangible action.

The suspension of the Arab League’s mission to Syria is effectively acceptance of failure

Yesterday, the Arab League’s mission to Syria was suspended by the Arab League as the violence in the country worsened. The justification for doing so is allegedly because of the increasing violence.  

The head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, said: ”Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence … it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League’s mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league’s council,”  

100 observers are currently in the country, but they will not undertake any more observation missions to conflict hotspots or anywhere in Syria. 

Personally, there is little point in them staying. Nothing they have done or can do will make any tangible, long-term change which could solve the crisis Syria is undergoing. 

Not, that is, as long as Assad refuses to properly acknowledge that an opposition movement even exists, continues to order his troops to shoot peaceful protesters, will not repeal the Ba’ath party’s hegemony in society, and continues to try to stay in power. To do this he would need to repeal article 8 of the Syrian constitution which states that: ”[t]he leading party in the society and the state is the … Ba’ath Party. It leads the National Progressive Front seeking to unify the resources of the masses of the people and place them at the service of the goals of the Arab nation.”

True, the observers have been able to visit opposition protesters, watch their protests and hear their views. They have also been able to see pro-Assad demonstrations and hear the viewpoints of pro-Assad demonstrators. They even got to hear opinions of the Free Syrian Army soldiers they visited.

But what use is this, fundamentally. Often, these observers have had the security forces standing some yards away as they go about their business. As soon as they leave, the security forces open fire on demonstrations or move their armed vehicles and tanks back into the area to continue fighting against opposition forces (the Free Syrian Army).  

Sometimes the security forces have even had the audacity to open fire even when the observers were present. At one point the observers allegedly had to duck from gunfire in Homs.  

You would think that this would at least have helped because the leaders of the observer mission would have considered this an outrage and been able to furiously expostulate and show proof of the Syrian government’s crimes to the world. 

Instead, the head of the mission (General Dabi) claimed that he saw "nothing frightening" in Homs. The only bad thing he seems to have hinted at was that "some places looked a bit of a mess". If he had looked carefully, he would see a city plagued with sectarian killings, battles between security forces and defectors, and rampant murders of civilians by the Syrian government. 

The fact that General Dabi was made head of this mission was detrimental enough. Anyone who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities against civilians surely could not be an impartial observer in such a conflict. What looks like an atrocity to us would probably not be “frightening” to him.  

Besides, observers are only of real use to monitor ceasefires and if nations are agreeing to the clauses of agreements they made. Syria has not; armoured vehicles and tanks are still in most streets. What more must they prove? The killings are captured in thousands of hours of footage, eyewitness accounts, torture and bullet signs on the bodies of victims, names of the dead… 

If anything, the killings have actually risen by 400 people to over 6,400. That is only the official estimate. I shudder to think what the actual figures must be, if those buried in mass graves an unaccounted for, those tortured to death in captivity without their bodies being returned to their families, etc are not counted, which they almost certainly are not.

The Arab League monitor’s presence was basically giving Assad cover to launch more attacks via the implied legitimacy that came with the agreement to the monitors and their subsequent deployment. As long as they negotiated and did deals with his government, the more it made his authority seem legitimate to the outside world and to his embattled people. For what cost? 

The Saudis and Gulf states realised it was a failure and pulled out of the mission last week. The suspension of the mission by the rest of the league is similar acceptance, and with good reason.

Bashar al-Assad is either isolated from reality, deluded, or a liar - or all three

Recently, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave a speech to his embattled nation and to the world. In this speech he vowed to strike “terrorists with an iron fist”, again denounced the “external conspiracy” that he thinks (or says) is responsible for the current unrest in Syria, and declared: “We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders from inside the country”. He also proclaimed “When I rule, I rule because that is the people’s will, and when I leave office, I leave because it is the people’s will”  and vowed “victory” in-between the odd cheer from the rubber-stamp parliament members and Baath party loyalists.    

He later delivered another speech the next day, to a largely enthusiastic crowd of thousands. He could have made it into a spectacular event and crowd-surfed, microphone in hand, but instead stood shyly and unsure of his ground, speaking nervously, slowly, and typically devoid of charisma and full of his typical rhetoric. His wife and three children were in the crowd at the front, as a clear sign of solidarity.  

This points to one thing - a feeble leader, totally unenthusiastic about his job (he allegedly never had any political ambitions and tried to refuse the job of president) and isolated from reality, or at least in a state of extreme denial.   
Over the previous weeks, some guilt has maybe been evident, or at least a wish to distance him from the violence. In his previous interview with Barbara Walters in early December last year, he showed these signs when he ironically said: “If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position”. He went on to claim, when asked about the atrocities the military was blatantly committing against peaceful protesters: “They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.”  

What on earth was he talking about?! He seems to be trying to say that the president and the government are not mutually exclusive. Then it gets better: “I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.”  

Not his forces?! Firstly, the President in Syria is legally head of the army, and therefore commands the functions of the military, orders operations, etc. To distance himself from the military is simply a lie. Saying they are not his forces is also incorrect; the government and the army are very cynically entwined (hence the low number of high-level defections in the ranks of the military) and he (at least in theory) is the supreme commander. In this hierarchical structure, the military is not allowed to deploy anywhere without orders from the highest chain of command. Who could that be?   

 Even hypothesising or speculating that Assad may only be in command of his army in theory (his more openly murderous brother Maher appears to enjoy some influence) and that commanders and members of the government have more influence, his labelling the army as under control of the government also fails to exempt him from the massive and undeniable shadow of responsibility which hangs over him. The President is also the supreme head of the government, hence the rhythmic Ceausescu-esque clapping and slavish eulogies given to him before speeches in the powerless parliament.   
He (effectively) blames the government, he blames “individuals” in the army and security forces who have made “mistakes”, he blames an “external conspiracy” - everyone is to blame but himself, even when all the footage, government structure, bureaucratic procedure and all manner of evidence is against him. This is a clear (relatively unspoken) indication that he knows the disgraceful nature of the oppression and wants to keep a respectable distance from it.  

If you want to look more deeply and look back over his ten years in power, you could be forgiven for regarding all this as one part of one long-running cynical ploy that Assad has been playing over the years. To claim reformist credentials, and yet when the repression kicks in to be able to keep a respectful distance from it all and make himself look like a leader with good intentions but held back by reactionary men in his government.   

It may well be the case; he may be a mere puppet of his family and ministers, hence the incoherent attempts to absolve all responsibility. However it has been reported that the country is run by the Assad family like a personal fiefdom, and the leadership is collective. There seems to be some truth in this. A Damascus resident said: 

"The protests will not go away and the regime is finished," says one Damascus resident who has taken to the streets in protest. "But the family’s gradual detachment from the people and its arrogance means they will be the last to realise it." 

But another statement made seems to give an ominous hint that it may not be like that at all. He ominously declared in the rambling, incoherent speech: “It will end when the Syrian people decide to turn into a submissive people”.This was a small slip-up but a hugely revealing one. For a second he dropped the charade of the conspiracy-theory obsessed president, and directly referred to the Syrian people, telling them that they must be submissive to end the “conspiracy” (A.K.A. the repression).  
He is basically saying: "Stop protesting and I’ll stop shooting". 
So now we see a picture suggesting he may be a liar. Subtle hints, but telling hints. He’s probably lied to himself so much that he now believes it. Dictators in regimes such as these tend to surround themselves with flatterers and sycophants who tell them what they want to hear and eventually isolate them from reality. A 2009 US diplomatic cable said:   
"Bashar’s vanity represents another Achilles heel: the degree to which USG [U.S. government] visitors add to his consequence to some degree affects the prospects for a successful meeting.”   

More convincing evidence comes from his official biographer via the Guardian: 
"[Bashar] changed over time from a well-intentioned man into someone who believed the propaganda and praise of the sycophants surrounding him," said David Lesch, an American academic and Assad’s official biographer.”    
Now we have a somewhat accurate picture. A picture of an insecure, unenthusiastic, isolated and vain man who dislikes his job and is caught in between a rock and a hard place and maybe feeling some regrets. More likely a desperate-instinct of self-preservation, typical of all dictators. His end will be no different.

Are the recent clashes in Libya a sign of serious disunity?

Recently, Libya has experienced clashes in the vicinity of the capital which seem suggestive of some form of pervading disunity amongst armed groups (and possibly rival factions depending on their geographical locations).

On the 3rd January, clashes in Tripoli killed two people and injured six when a dispute between armed groups. An individual from one of the brigades from Misrata was taken into custody by the Tripoli militia on suspicion of robbery, resulting in clashes when the Misratan militiamen tried to free him. Six other men from the Misrata brigades were allegedly captured and beaten inside the building and injured, although the extent of their injuries is not known.

The men were freed by a Misratan commander (save for the one who was under suspicion of stealing) but then the Misratan militias opened fire on the building shortly afterwards in an attempt to free them. The incident seems to have subsided and calm seems restored for now.
However, the Libyan government said it would send reinforcements to the area. This is worrying in itself despite the restabalising effects it may have. The regular army does not discriminate when recruiting soldiers (and rightfully so) but inevitably, many of the troops deployed in the capital will hail from areas where many of the militias originate from - such as Zintan, Benghazi, Misrata, etc, especially since the army is composed of fighters from all over the country that rose to defeat Gaddafi, and fighters from these regions played some of the most important roles in defeating Gaddafi’s forces.

The forces deployed/suggested to be deployed will have many in their ranks with links and ties to those within these regional militias. If yet more incidents occur (and they seem to be doing so fairly regularly) and a severe situation develops, to restore security they may be forced to fire on their comrades. This runs a greater risk of infighting and chaos. As happened in Gaddafi’s army in February, these forces may refuse to fire on fellows and defect or split, and thus causing yet more armed chaos.

This might seem to some as far fetched, but even the leader of the provisional government, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, has warned that these clashes risk re-igniting the civil war. He is not wrong. If a minor incident like this can lead to a serious confrontation and the need to call in the army, then the possibilities of this happening again, especially amongst tribal and regional fault lines, is very likely.

Much of the time the NTC has argued that tribal ties are largely dead and meaningless to Libyans, and were a weapon used by Gaddafi to divide and rule them. However, the evidence seems to show that tribal and geographical ties still seem to have some influence. The best example of this came in late-July 2011, when the NTC commander Abdul Fatah Younis was assassinated on the 29th July, after being initially summoned back to Benghazi on the 28th July to answer questions about his activities regarding the misuse of military assets. The assassination was blamed on a pro-Gaddafi sleeper cell, but it appears that it was actually done by a bunch of fanatical islamists amongst his own men, in revenge for his former targeting of them when he was interior minister.

Members of Younis’ Obeidi tribe, the largest in Libya, came back to Benghazi (before they knew he was assassinated) to demand his release, firing guns through the windows of government buildings and engaging in tense stand-offs with the NTC forces. The commanders in Misrata announced that they would not take orders from the NTC over the killing of Younis and later refused to accept the NTC appointee chosen to command Tripoli as a result. This one incident had nearly torn a serious rift through the entire command and control chain (and indeed, the entire unity) of the NTC and Free Libyan forces. An escalation could have destroyed unity altogether and proved decisive in Gaddafi’s stubborn cling to power in Tripoli.

Who is to say that such a risk could come about again, and escalate into something far worse? Militia clashes are becoming increasingly regular and large, with some using heavy weapons against each other. The Abdul Fatah Younis killing came dangerously close to repeating itself when militias ambushed the convoy of the commander of the National Army, Major General Khalifa Belgasim Haftar. What with the inter-militia-NTC-forces clashes becoming regular in the capital, the seat of the government and a sensitive area, the difficulty of disarming and integrating militias into the regular army, and ongoing disputes over appointees, who’s to say that in this sensitive environment this assassination (had it been successful) would have had much more dire consequences?

It appears that tribal and geographical ties still count for much amongst some Libyans; a ghost of Gaddafi’s attempts to keep them alive to divide and conquer. Much remains to be done on the path to democracy and freedom, and many threats lie ahead, from infighting and the risk of insurgency by rogue pro-Gaddafi elements.

But if Libyans are truly committed to the future they will overcome this. From all the terrible sacrifice, struggle, and oppression they have been through and triumphed in, I have no doubts that they can overcome challenges in the future, whatever they may be. I wish them all the best in doing so.

Know your dictatorship: Common features

There are many dictatorships across the globe, including former dictatorships. No matter what the ideology behind such dictatorships is (be it Fascism, Communism, Socialism, Ba’athism, etc) they all seem to share many similar features. Here are some examples: 
Nepotism. A common feature of dictatorship; it involves placing one’s friends or family in important positions of power in order to keep the stability of the dictatorship in place and keep the myopic dictator (or his family, who often run the country in question like a personal fifedom) in power. The more power dictators seem to get, the more they depend on a small circle of friends and sycophants to make them feel secure as they feel they can no longer trust anyone else. such are the effects of absolute power. Examples of this can be seen in: 

Ceausescu and his wife Elena

  • Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania - In 1980 his unintelligent and obnoxious wife Elena was made deputy prime minister of Romania. Mr Ceausescu had recently had General Pacepa (a trusted Securitate general) defect in 1978 and was trying to purge the government of all his former men and defend his own position. The more power he got, the more he felt the need for his family to hold onto it.  
  • Saddam Hussein’s Iraq - His family and friends dominated the government; his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (or “Chemical Ali”) was a general, commander and trusted aide as well as head of the Intelligence Service. His Department of General Intelligence was run by his half-brother General Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti. These are just a few examples of nepotism in his system. 
  • Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya - His son al-Mu’tasim was Libya’s National Security Advisor (despite being described as a “womaniser” and “not intellectually curious”) and his youngest son Khamis led the 32nd military/security forces brigade known as the “Khamis Brigade” which had access to some of the best weapons, training and favour in Libya while the units of the regular army were under-trained and under-equipped in a cynical ploy to prevent them rebelling and if so, to enable the security forces to put said rebellion down with ease. It seems to have failed though…
  • Ba’athist Syria (1970-present) - The late President Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat was head of the “Defence Companies” - a security forces militia designed to crush internal dissent and responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the regime, including the Hama massacre of 1982. Under current president Bashar al-Assad the system seems to have got worse; his cousin Rami Makhlouf has to get 10% from each business before he gives it permission to launch, and he gets the final say on practically all business interests inside Syria (it is said he directly and indirectly controls 60% of all businesses). His brutal brother Maher commands the 4th Division (formed from the “Defence Companies”) - a division of elite security forces similar to the Khamis Brigade and similarly responsible  for most of the violence against demonstrators. Indeed, Maher is de-facto head of the military. Assad’s family is said to run things as a joint family council behind the scenes. 

Hafez al-Assad (left) and his son Bashar (right)

  • Saleh’s Yemen - Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali is currently commander of the Republican Guard. His former friend (and rumoured half-brother) general Ali Mohsen al-Amar had command of around half the army until he defected in March to support the ongoing revolution. 
This nepotism can also take the form (as it has in most of the examples above which I shall list below, and others too) of hereditary dictatorship - that is, the dictator dies and passes the baton to one of his odious children or relatives, such is the obsession of keeping power in the family that it prevails even after death. Royal families in all but name. Examples are: 
  • North Korea - The first president Kim Il-Sung (President 1945-1994) died in 1994, and his equally hardline son Kim Jong-Il assumed power as his successor and rules to this day, a move endorsed by the rubber-stamp communist party. Worse, he has gone on to make his youngest son Kim Jong-un his successor when he dies (which may not be too long away, given his illness). He is described as “just like his father”. Lovely. A true dynasty’s third member is soon to inherit the throne, unless a revolution (God willing) gives the long suffering North Korean people. 
  • Gaddafi’s Libya - Yep. As mentioned above. Gaddafi’s second son Saif al-Islam was once to be his future successor; Saif of LSE PHD (suspected to be plagarised) and finger wagging, patronising lectures. The collapse of his father’s regime, his father’s death and Saif’s capture ended that dream. This is a thankful example of a failed hereditary dictatorship; a much more successful example is…  
  • Syria - Yes you’ve guessed it. President Hafez al-Assad (president from 1970-2000) originally had plans to make his dynamic son Basil president. However Basil got himself killed in an automobile accident and Bashar was dragged back from his opthamology studies in London to inherit the throne (allegedly against his own will). Hafez died in 2000 and power passed to Bashar, who is currently responsible for the worst atrocities in the Syrian revolution. Like father like son. 
  • Francois Duvalier in Haiti is another example. President of Haiti from 1957-1971; his rule was based on a hellish campaign of repression and voodo. His son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” inherited the throne upon his death, but was thankfully ousted in February 1986. 
Some more examples of attempted nepotism: 
  • Yemen - President Ali Abdullah Saleh (President from 1978-2011) had plans to make his son Ahmed president of Yemen upon his death. Thankfully the Yemeni people spoke up and this is now universally recognised as not going to take place, especially now Saleh has signed the Gulf Cooperation Council deal to hand over his powers and step down.  
  • Romania - President Nicolae Ceausescu (President 1965-1989) allegedly had plans to make his son Nicu president of Romania upon his death (or after both he and his wife were dead, however Nicu denies this). Nicu allegedly scandalised the capital with drinking, raping and car accidents. As they have in Yemen, the people spoke up in 1989 and the dream of the dictator was not to be realised. Ceausescu and his wife were shot and Nicu died of cirrhosis in 1996 in complete obscurity in a Vienna hospital. 
  • Saddam Hussein - His murderous, erratic son Udei was originally his heir, but fell out of favour and was banished after beating his food taster to death in 1988. Saddam’s second son Qusay was then made heir but America invaded Iraq in 2003. Saddam fell from power and Udei and Qusay were killed in a furious gunbattle with coalition troops in 2003.   
  • Syria - A hat trick for Syria! Assad seemingly had plans (or at least his government did) on making his young son Hafez the future President; the President’s supporters sometimes chant: “Abu Hafez!” to show that they “want” (no doubt given a nod by the government) him to take over the reigns one day. With the current uprising it looks like that will never become a reality…   
  • Egypt - Former President Hosni Mubarak was seemingly grooming his son Gamal to succeed him as President when he died (shown by Gamal’s rapid rise in the party as Mubarak’s health got worse). But the Egyptian revolution came along…and well, that’s another story.
Brutality and violence. Many of these dictators came to power through violence, and some have never had to face the genuine opinion of the people before throughout all their leadership. When they do, they often become furious and don’t like what they hear. How can they respond? The only way they can think of and they only means to an end which they respect - brutal, irrational violence. They don’t think that if they entered into a dialogue they could salvage something, while the people are still willing to talk. They resort to brute instinct and when it fails (which it often does) they have just infuriated the people all the more and made them uncompromising and vengeful and broken the climate of fear which was crucial to keeping them in power. Once fallen it can never be remade. Some of the best examples of brutal dictatorships are: 
  • Ceausescu’s Romania. The secret police (Securitate) were some of the most brutal in the world, killing prisoners with radiation to make it look like a natural death of cancer, having dissidents beaten, and repressing the populus with a reputation of fear. The best example in this context is the revolution of 1989. On President Ceausescu’s orders, the Securitate fired on crowds of peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians in the cities of Timisoara and Bucharest.  

Charles T. Powers writing for the Los Angeles Times on December 30, 1989 described the Securitate as follows:
In the first three days of the battle, when fighting went on across the Palace Square in front of the Communist Party Central Committee building, the Securitate fighters were wearing black jumpsuits with a red silk stripe down the right side. They wore black berets. They used submachine guns and high-powered rifles with infra-red sniper scopes.
“They used Romanian-made, Soviet-model rifles,” an army major said. “They used small machine guns and other German, English or Italian weapons, all of the highest quality. They were very good shots. They shot only at the head.”  

  •  Rifaat al-Assad’s “Defence Companies” - In 1982 an Islamist revolt broke out in the city of Hama, To supress it, Hafez al-Assad dispatched Rifaat’s troops (including the secret police) who subjected Hama to a pulverising air and artillery bombardment (so as to enable tanks to enter the city), ground attack and massacre which resulted in around 40,000 innocent civilians being killed. All in three weeks. This infamous event became known as the "Hama massacre" and gained infamy throughout Syria.  

General Augusto Pinochet

  • Pinochet’s Chile - Augusto Pinochet assumed power in Chile following a CIA-backed coup against the communist regime on the 11th September 1973. Under his rule, 1200-3200 people (largely opponents of the regime) were killed, around 80,000 were interned, and 30,000 tortured. He also privatized the economy, promoted free trade reforms and encouraged economic cooperation to “save the country from communism”. Strangely for a dictator, he actually gave up power in 1990 and allowed free elections. 
  • Gaddafi’s Libya - There have been too many examples of brutality under the former Libyan regime (1969-2011) of Muammar Gaddafi. One of the most notorious examples was the Abu Salem prison massacre. Prisoners took a guard hostage in an attempt to negotiate better conditions (in 1996). The government response was to massacre 1600 of them after rounding them up into the courtyard. A big mistake. The demands of families who lost loved ones cannot be hidden, calls for investigations will not go away. In fact, it was the arrest of a lawyer for the families which triggered the protests that brought down the Gaddafi government in the Libyan civil war. In turn, it was the brutality of his regime which triggered said armed uprising. He hired mercenaries to kill peaceful protesters and unleashed his thugs on Benghazi and other cities. Anti-tank missiles were fired into crowds of peaceful protesters, shooting at them was the norm, and thugs beat and shot at people. They didn’t expect them to shoot back, evidently… 
Rubber-stamp parliaments and “elections”; vain attempts by dictators to justify their obvious dictatorships. To make their decisions legitimate-looking; as if they are part of a collective (and this shifting responsibility from one single individual) when it is obvious to all who is behind the decisions and what the outcome will be. Some of the best examples are: 
  • Syria - Again?! My, they’re doing well…anyway, in the “referendum” in 2000 on if Hafez al-Assad’s son Bashar should become President, Bashar got 97% of the vote in a blatantly rigged referendum. To be honest, it was always likely to be rigged as there were no other candidates. 
  • Burma - The military Junta held elections in November 2010 for the “transition to democracy. However, the parliament is dominated by military sycophants, pro-regime parties, stooges, corrupt officials, pro-regime soldiers, and others and cannot hold the government to account. Same old military rulers, minus the uniforms. Some democracy. Why has the government done this? The answer is obvious; to masquerade as a civilian government through a parliament as they know that barely anyone in parliament is going to oppose the measure due to the composition of the members. 
  • Romania pre-1989 - My, Romania isn’t doing so well, is it? The Grand National Assembly was the Romanian communist answer to a parliament, but it had no real power; especially not under the Ceausescu regime. Ceausescu would make speeches and they would listen in supercilious boredom, be forced to make disgusting eulogies to the “Great leader”, “Esteemed Comrade” (and his wife) and rhythmically clap after every few remarks he made.  
Ostentation and riches - A typical dictator plunders the wealth of his people and lives in luxury while they starve. Examples are: 

Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt 
 between 1980 and 2011.

  • Hosni Mubarak - While many Egyptians found it hard to make a living, the Mubaraks had wealth beyond their means which may add up to the sum of $70 billion or more. This would have been enough to completely redevelop employment opportunities, employment opportunities and the standard of living for the Egyptian people. Instead it was hoarded by an ailing despot and his family, made from corruption, business interests, nepotism, and other such deals, especially the controversial gas deal with Israel which lost Egypt some $714 million due to the cheaper-than-market prices of the exports. 
  • Ferdinand Marcos - His system was racked with corruption, nepotism (his wife’s influence; Elena Ceausescu comes to mind here). While the country was in severe poverty, they lived in luxury and his wife had collected over 2700 pairs of shoes. The regime collapsed following the "People Power Revolution" in 1986 and the couple fled abroad, although his wide returned and later won a seat in the House of Representatives and his son Ferdinand became a senator in 2010. 
  • Muammar Gaddafi - When Tripoli fell between the 21st-28th August 2011, Gaddafi’s luxury residences and those of his family were there for all to see. Luxury furnature, pianos, residences, jet-skis, hot tubs and even a golden gun were found in the residences of Gaddafi and his family. This was a man who claimed to live a simple existence as a Bedoin in a tent. Most Libyans lived very simply as their country was very underdeveloped, thanks to Gaddafi. He and his family lived like kings while the Libyan people endured hardships. So much for the free health care.
However dissimilar dictators may look, they usually follow a similar, generic pattern and the consequences of said pattern - absolute power corrupts absolutely.
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