Friday, February 4, 2011

Dictators and Dominoes

If you have been following the news in the last week or so, you probably haven't missed the story about Egypt. It seems that the people of Egypt have had enough. And, they want their dictator Hosni Mubarak to leave.

Dictators are interesting people. In fact, we have quite a few of them still around, even if this is the century of democracy. And freedom. If you look at how dictators start off, you will see that it is very seldom that they start off without popular support. And, little by little, they chip off at the institutions of freedom and democracy in the country they rule. So much, that in a couple of decades, they can convert a free country into an authoritarian dictatorship, and that is when most people realize what a mess they got into. Which is why, it is very important that people guard their democratic rights zealously, and keep hero and family worship under control, even in so called mature democracies like India.

A friend once educated me about the people's right to choose. Psychologically, it seems that human beings don't care about the right to choose their leaders that much. Which probably explains the low voter turnouts, specially in mature democracies. But, people do care about their right to fire the rulers they don't like. And that should explain why the voter turnouts are massive when an established leader is thrown out, even in a democracy. So, "I have had enough and you need to leave", seems to be the catch phrase in all popular revolts, including those, that happen in democracies.

And this round of  the "I have had enough" revolutions seems to be in the Arab world.  It started in Tunisia. It is affecting Egypt right now, and it is showing signs of continuing for a while in places like Yemen and Jordan. And who knows, Saudi Arabia may not be that far. This string of toppling dominoes reminds me so much of another series of revolutions I remember closely following, about two decades ago. That is when the iron curtain came down, and a lot of eastern European communist dictatorships fell. Of all those dominoes, the one that I remember watching with admiration was the one in Romania. Nicolae Ceausescu, was an absolute dictator and no one ever imagined that he would go down with the rest of the toppling dominoes in eastern Europe. But, after I saw the Romanian revolution, I came to the conclusion that when thousands of people are out on the streets, and they believe that history is changing, absolutely nothing can stop them. After the revolution, Ceausescu, was tried and executed very quickly, and to this day, I remember the gory pictures of his dead body on television, which was an attempt to dissuade his forces from continuing on. Apparently, it worked.

I think it is very clever of Hosni Mobarak to try and buy time. If you can succeed in doing that, you can calm people down, and retain your grip on power. Revolutions work because you have people on the streets, willing to give up their lives. Delay them a little, and it can all fail. Which is why, I will be curious to see how it all ends.

During the chaos of all revolutions, you come across funny stories about dictators. Apparently, when Ceausescu would go hunting in the villages of Romania, the village chief would fire a shot in the air to gather everyone, to pay their respects. On one such occasion, after the chief fired a shot, someone shouted from the fields, "What is it?". "It's Ceausescu" was the response. No one came out for about ten minutes, so the chief fired another shot in the air. "What is it?" someone shouted again. "It's Ceausescu", shouted the chief sounding rather irritated.

"Didn't you get him the first time?" shouted someone from the fields.


  1. Your endings are quite brilliant.

  2. interesting discussion. Egypt has had worse autocrats ruling it.. nasser fort eg sadat anwar, was an enigma.. never really figured if he was good or bad.

    Interestingly, none of these dictators ever did any good to the countries they ruled...mubarak must be glad he is alive, given what happens to such ppl in the end.

  3. Thanks Laxman. I am glad you like them.

    Janani, I am eagerly waiting to see how this one turns out. Still no solution from what I understand.