Friday, January 14, 2011

People Power in Tunisia: A Warning for Other "Forever" Rulers

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of TunisiaImage via WikipediaAfter 23 years in office, Tunisia's president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country on Friday after days of mass protests in one of the Arab world's most repressive regimes.

The Guardian reported that Ben Ali, 74, had been in power since 1987. On Thursday he announced he would not stand for another presidential term in 2014, but Tunisia had been radicalised by the weeks of violence and the killings of scores of demonstrators.

Al Jazeera also reported that the prime minister,Mohammed Ghannouchi has taken over control of the government, citing chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution as the article by which he was assuming power.

Maltese air traffic controllers have apparently told Al Jazeera that Ben Ali is bound for Paris, though the Maltese government has denied any knowledge of Ben Ali's plane having stopped in Malta after having left Tunis.

IPS News added that like many other Western-backed Arab rulers, he ruled with an iron fist, leading to massive human rights abuses, widespread corruption and lack of democracy.

"When a young street hawker named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in mid-December to protest unemployment and corruption in the central town Sidi Buzeid, Western capitals didn’t react. Ben Ali, it was assumed, was sure to crush the protests that followed in no time."

It did not.

Sounds awfully familiar.

Uganda's Idi Amin who came to power in 1971 was forced to flee into exile by helicopter by 1979. He died and was buried in Jeddah, Saud Arabia.

Mobutu Sese Seko who was in power in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 was overthrown by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997 (who himself was assassinated by his bodyguards in 2001). Mobuto went into exile and died in Morocco in 1997.

Ferdinand Marcos
who was came to power in the Philippines in 1965 fled the country in 1986 after three days of "people power." He lived in exile in Hawaii where he died in 1989. 

Former Haitian strongman Jean-Claude Duvalier or "Baby Doc" who was handed power by his father in 1971, retired to the south of France after a popular uprising in 1986.  He reportedly lost most of his wealth with his 1993 divorce and now live in Paris.

Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam who came to power in 1977 ended up in Zimbabwe after his ouster in 1987. Found guilty of genocide in 2006, Ethiopia's Supreme Court in 2008 sentenced him - in absentia - to death.

Hissene Habré of Chad was in power from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990. He fled--reportedly with looted millions--to the West African nation of Senegal.  Recent news report says that Senegal has demanded that the international community donors provide 27 million euros (36 million US dollars) up front before it starts the process of trying Habré for war crimes.

We hope the news currently unfolding are giving the following "forever" rulers not just indigestion but also really scary nightmares.

If they reform now, well, they may still get a chance to grow old and die in the countries that they loved. If they don't, a time will come soon when their people will simply decide that the game has gone on for far too long and kick them out of their countries. 

Then one day in a distant far away country, they will simply die of loneliness and heartbreak in a cold, foreign land among strangers.       

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