The Retired Muslim Dictators Club
The New Moderate apologizes for its absence during an extraordinary 11 days in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. We were making the long-overdue transition from our dying 2004 Toshiba laptop to a sleek contemporary model with a strange new operating system. Now back to live action…
The Revolution of 2011 is going viral. The governments of Tunisia and Egypt have already toppled, and the ripples are now fanning out in ever-widening circles: Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Iran, Wisconsin. In Zimbabwe, home of world-class evil dictator Robert Mugabe, 46 citizens were arrested merely for watching televised accounts of rebellions in other lands.
2010 was a woeful year for moderates; vehement righties and lefties alike conspired to marginalize us and make us irrelevant. 2011 is shaping up to be an epochal annus horribilis for dictators — especially in the Muslim world. One by one they’re being targeted by their long-abused people; one by one they’re falling or clutching desperately at whatever they can still clutch.
Every one of these dictators remembers the disconcerting sight of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the very model of a Middle Eastern strongman, dangling inertly at the end of a rope, his neck bent and bloodied. A few of them, suddenly whiffing the scent of their own mortality, are cashing in their chips and slinking out the door.
Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak have already fled to safety. Libya’s grand panjandrum for the past 42 years, the flamboyant Moammar Qaddafi, is scrambling to stay afloat. It’s not looking good for the 68-year-old tyrant — though he still struts, shakes his aging fist, makes not-so-veiled threats against his people, and vows to fight “to the last drop of blood.” Whether the blood turns out to be his or his people’s remains to be seen.
I suppose Qaddafi deserves to be held in a certain degree of awe for having seized power at the green age of 26 and survived atop the heap for the past four decades. He’s the alpha lion of the Muslim world, and he has the outlandish uniforms to prove it. But his era is headed for history’s dumpster; it’s just a question of whether he goes out with a bang or a whimper. It’s his call.
Who’s next? King Khalifa of Bahrain, who lent his name (along with copious quantities of cash) to the world’s tallest building only a couple of years ago, is fighting to keep his throne, and Ahmadinejad’s Iran is growing restive again. How long can these ignoble tyrants hold out against an army of civilians equipped with cell phones and Twitter accounts?
Ahmadinejad’s ouster would be the capstone of a glorious year in the annals of revolution, comparable to 1776, 1789, 1848 or 1989. (Note that I’ve omitted 1917 and 1979 from the ranks of glorious revolutionary years.)
The eventual fall of Qaddafi will be welcome news, but the prospect of seeing the Iranians topple their theocratic autocracy (or is it their autocratic theocracy?) fills The New Moderate with an immoderate passion bordering on euphoria. These brave and civilized people, trampled first by a repressive Shah and then by fanatical Islamists, have refused to surrender their pride and spirit despite decades of opposition from tyrannical leaders and stubborn fundamentalists alike. They deserve their revolution.
The tyrants of the Muslim world can declare war on their own people. They might succeed for an hour or a year. But they won’t prevail in the end. Too many oppressed Muslims have felt the exhilaration of impending freedom, and there’s no stuffing this genie back inside its bottle.
I like to imagine all those retired dictators gathering at a bar in distant exile, sipping their yogurt drinks and wondering where they went wrong. Ahmadinejad would probably blame the Americans and Jews… Mubarak might shrug and hold modern technology accountable while Qaddafi would gaze into a mirror and curse his fading looks.
But if they want to uncover the real reason for their failures, they need look no further than the souls of their own people. These people wondered why they languished in the dust while Westerners flourished. Sure, they might have cursed the American Satan at first, but they grew to envy our culture, wealth, technology and freedom.
Especially the freedom. After centuries locked away in their sweltering prisons, subjected to the endless declamations of autocrats and mullahs, they could feel the fresh air drifting in from the West. They awoke and became aware of their confinement. The cool Western air felt good on their faces, and they longed to regain sovereignty over their souls.
Not a bad aspiration for any of us, including the voiceless captives of the American corporate system. Think about it: we’re tolerating miniature totalitarian regimes in our own midst. Twelve-hour days? Downsizing and outsourcing of jobs to please wealthy investors? Decisions handed down from on high without the right to vote? Runaway CEO salaries and golden parachutes?
Maybe the spirit of rebellion needs to drift back to these shores and awaken our own great, silent, suffering middle class… the unrewarded beasts of burden who unwittingly serve the interests of our plutocratic potentates. But that’s the start of another story.