Retirement for dictators isn’t easy - Monocolumn | Monocle


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24 July 2012

In the Monocle Guide to Being a Dictator (available in all good bookshops just as soon as one of us get around to writing it) the final chapter is devoted to the one thing that all autocrats would rather not think about but most will have to one day face: what to do when the game is up.

There are a variety of options. One can always take the coward’s way out and turn the gun on yourself (let’s call this one the Adolf option). Alternatively you can fight to the end, Gaddafi-style, dying in a ditch (let’s call this one the Macbeth option). Finally, of course, there is the middle ground, the third way, if you will, of dictator exits: going into exile.

It is both cowardly (running away rather than facing up to your crimes) and canny (the dictator will always dream that once their former subjects have got used to life in a democracy or, more likely, under the baleful rule of the replacement demagogue they will turn their plaintive eyes to the devil they knew).

Exile, though, is not the easiest thing to organise. For a start, all those places you and your wife like to go on expensive shopping trips (London, Paris, New York) will be off-limits once the international community has decided that you are no longer an acceptable strongman in a part of the world where democracy isn’t really that important and oh my god there might be Islamists or Communists who’ll take over if we let him fall.

No, the West is out. Instead you will need to turn to your less fair-weather friends – your fellow misunderstood intellectuals with a fondness for oppression whom history will absolutely view kindly. Think Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. Alexander Lukashenko or Vladimir Putin. Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi. Ah yes. There are, of course, far fewer potential boltholes for despots since the beginning of the Arab uprisings last year.

These days, it’s a sellers’ market. As Bashar al-Assad browses Google Earth from his secret location, searching for a place to call home, he knows that his choices are limited.

Saudi Arabia, a retirement home for ex-dictators since Idi Amin checked-in during the 1970s, is not really an option since they’re part of the coalition trying to oust him. Venezuela may look good on paper – sun, sea, etc – but Chavez is one of those trainee tyrants who still insists on holding actual elections: he could be out of office within three months.

So that probably leaves Russia, Iran and North Korea, though I can’t see Asma enjoying Pyongyang’s nightlife. But then she probably should have thought of that before she married that dashing, young opthalmologist from a dodgy family.


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