The List

Who's Next?

With Hosni Mubarak stepping down in Egypt, tyrants around the world may be anxiously wondering who will be the next to fall. Here are some gentle suggestions.

Kim Jong Il, North Korea
Sometimes called the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea has been ruled since 1994 by the ruthless and retrograde Kim Jong Il, who took over after his father's 46 years at the helm. Kim Jong Il holds numerous titles, but rules as the chairman of the National Defense Commission, the "highest office of state," since the presidency itself was permanently dedicated to Kim Il Sung in a 1998 constitutional revision.

The Kim family's combined 63 years of leadership has not been kind to the people of North Korea, creating the world's most fearsome state, where surveillance and famine are equally prevalent. To prevent its citizens from receiving news from abroad, the North Korean authorities forbid Internet use, jam foreign radio broadcasts, and monitor international calls. Meanwhile, the beleaguered population is deluged with Cold War-like propaganda through the Korean Central News Agency. A grim system of labor camps and detention facilities is used to forcefully control any dissent. Given the closed and secretive nature of the regime and the society it lords over, it is impossible to know precisely how many North Koreans are in the modern-day gulags. Some estimates suggest as many as 150,000 people are currently being held in detention.

Now ailing, Kim Jong Il is reported to have plans to install his son, Kim Jong Un, as the country's leader, likely prolonging the misery of the long-suffering North Korean people.

Photo by Korean News Service via Getty Images

Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya
Forty-one years ago, a young army captain named Muammar al-Qaddafi led a military coup against King Idris of Libya. Now 68 years old, Qaddafi has been in office since the first term of U.S. President Richard Nixon, who called him the "mad dog" of the Middle East. In Libya's long history of ruthless, ossified dictators, Qaddafi is in a league of his own.

Better known abroad for his long-winded antics than his governing style, at home Qaddafi is less amusing than fearsome. Although power theoretically lies with a system of people's committees and the indirectly elected General People's Congress, in practice those structures are manipulated to ensure the continued dominance of Qaddafi, who holds no official title. It is illegal for any political group to oppose the principles of Qaddafi's 1969 revolution, which are laid out in the Green Book, a multivolume treatise published by Qaddafi in the early years of his rule. (A flip through its pages will yield a bizarre mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and Islam.) 

After decades of Qaddafi's bizarre and repressive rule, key institutions -- to the extent that they operate at all -- are largely incapable of meeting ordinary people's needs. An estimated 500 people are currently being held for political crimes. Rife with corruption and without even the rudiments of a functioning modern state, Libya today is ill-equipped to succeed in the contemporary world.

Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
There was once a time when Robert Mugabe was the darling of the West among fellow African leaders. Having defeated the white-majority rule of Rhodesia to create his black-majority state, Mugabe looked at first like another Mandela. But even in those early days, he distinguished himself for his use of violence as a means to govern. His early targets in the 1980s were tribes that had favored other resistance leaders; his forces slaughtered as many as 30,000 members of the Ndebele minority.

In recent years, Mugabe has grown even more ruthless. His target of choice these days is the principal opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). His thugs have harassed and even attempted to assassinate high-level opposition figures, as well as regular voters (or presumed opposition voters). Others have felt his wrath too; a 2005 campaign labeled "Operation Drive Out the Trash" bulldozed the homes of 700,000 slum-dwellers. Equally devastating, Mugabe has overseen the complete destruction and impoverishment of what had been one of Africa's economic success stories. GDP growth was negative off and on between 2001 and 2008, and by the end of that period, inflation had hit a rate of tens of thousands of percent.

The past several months have brought another uptick in political killings -- perhaps because Mugabe has much to worry over: The MDC was the leading party in the most recent elections, and public discontent is growing toward Mugabe's murderous rule. If Zimbabweans take a hint from Egypt, the Mugabe dictatorship's days may be numbered.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The Castros, Cuba
In 1959, the revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba's former strongman, Fulgencio Batista, beginning a 50-year transformation of Cuba into a dismal communist state. Although medical issues prompted Fidel to formally hand over the presidency to his brother, Raúl, in 2008, Cuba remains a one-party state in which nearly all political rights and civil liberties are severely curtailed.

Start with political organizing, which is strictly banned outside the auspices of the state's Communist Party. Dissent can result in harassment and long prison terms. Freedom of movement, including the right to leave the island and the right to choose one's residence, are severely restricted. The government maintains strict control over all media outlets, these days also tightly controlling Internet access and content. Academic freedom is nonexistent, and any unauthorized gathering of more than three people may result in fines or imprisonment.

Today, years of economic stagnation have weakened the state services that once provided the regime its sole legitimacy. Under Raúl Castro, very limited reforms have taken place, including modest economic openings and the release of several dozen political prisoners in 2010. Nonetheless, the future of Cuba remains in the hands of an aging set of leaders for whom a true political opening remains anathema.


Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus:
Aleksandr Lukashenko has aptly been dubbed Europe's last dictator. And indeed, his 16 years of rule have left Belarus a political and economic wasteland. At heart, Lukashenko remains a man of Russia's Brezhnev era: His secret police even still use the acronym KGB. Lukashenko has used every trick in the authoritarian book to marginalize the opposition. His regime's vise-like grip on broadcast media ensures that the people of Belarus see only the parallel reality painted for them in the state-controlled media.

However ferocious, this political dinosaur's position is far from secure. Lukashenko "officially" received a ludicrous 80 percent majority in last December's presidential election, but the results were widely condemned as fraudulent. And when thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Minsk, the security forces made liberal use of their truncheons and arrested hundreds of protesters. Those detained include a number of opposition candidates, several of whom have been threatened with prison terms exceeding 10 years. Lukashenko sneered: "There will be no more mindless democracy in this country."

Dictatorships often falter when people recognize that freedom and prosperity prevail among their neighbors, while they enjoy neither. Belarus borders Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia -- all former communist states that are now members of the European Union, enjoying wide freedoms and vastly superior economies. Surrounded by success stories and unable to eliminate the opposition, Lukashenko may be in for some sleepless nights.

Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images

The List

I'm Outta Here!

Hosni Mubarak's exit is only the latest entry in the annals of awkward official departures. A look at the best, from the Shah's permanent vacation to King Farouk's abandoned porn collection.

Leader: Richard Nixon

Country: The United States

Political downfall: The Watergate scandal was more than a botched break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters -- it soon became a tale of corruption and conspiracy that reached all the way to the Oval Office. President Richard Nixon denied his involvement throughout, most notably in November 1973, when he told reporters "I am not a crook."

The facts told a different story. The revelation that the White House had taped sensitive discussions in the Oval Office led to a political struggle over control of the tapes. When the Supreme Court ordered that the tapes, which would show Nixon and his aides conspiring to cover up the Watergate scandal, be turned over to the special prosecutor, the president's days were numbered.

Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974. "I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation," he said in his farewell address.

As he departed the White House for a final time, Nixon paused at the doorway of the helicopter that would take him into ignominious retirement, spreading his arms wide to flash the famous "V" sign that had become his trademark.

Leader: Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

Country: Iran

Political downfall: Facing months of prolonged protests and general strikes in 1978, the Shah of Iran tried responding with a harsh military crackdown and then attempted to pacify the public with gestures at liberalization. Finally, on Jan. 16, 1979, he settled on self-imposed exile. According to official reports, the shah and his wife were only departing for Egypt on "vacation." But the fact that he took with him a jar of Iranian soil suggested otherwise.

His exit was greeted with mass celebrations around the country. Two weeks later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who encouraged and inspired the revolution and had himself been exiled by the shah, arrived in Iran. Two months after that, Iran had officially been declared, by referendum, an Islamic Republic.

The remainder of the shah's life was brief and spent in itinerant fashion, as he moved from Egypt to Morocco to Europe to South America and elsewhere in search of a permanent home. The shah had secretly been suffering from cancer for years and was in dire need of medical treatment. The political equilibrium in the nascent Islamic Republic decisively radicalized after the shah arrived in the United States for medical attention in late 1979: a group of young Iranians, under the (unfounded) suspicion that the shah was working with the U.S. government to organize a return to power, responded by seizing the U.S. embassy in Iran. The shah died in 1980 in Egypt and is buried in Cairo's al-Rafai Mosque.

Leader: P.W. Botha

Country: South Africa

Political Downfall: Elected prime minister in 1978, Botha changed the South African Constitution six years later to create the position of state president, which was given sole jurisdiction over matters of "national" importance, including military and security affairs. After serving less than one term, he was forced to resign from that office.

Botha used his authority to resist pressure from the international community to repeal South Africa's apartheid laws, which discriminated against the country's majority black population. Despite a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing an arms embargo and international disinvestment laws that began taking a toll on the country's economy, Botha continued to dispatch security and military forces to enforce his country's system of segregation. Disturbed by Botha's deepening militarization of government policy, his National Party (NP) took steps to oust him from power.

After Botha suffered a stroke in January 1989, the NP selected F.W. de Klerk -- a reformer not considered a Botha ally -- to replace him as party chairman. One month later, the party pushed to have de Klerk immediately become head of state, but Botha initially refused to resign. Several months later, however, Botha had become so marginalized that he had no choice but to step down.

Resigning in a televised address on Aug. 14, 1989, Botha refused to mince words or seek excuses for the nature of his downfall. "They replied I could use my health as an excuse," he said. "To this I replied that I am not prepared to leave on a lie. It is evident to me that after all these years of my best efforts for the National Party and for the government of this country, as well as the security of our country, I am being ignored by ministers serving in my cabinet."

As de Klerk immediately moved to recognize the country's black opposition, Botha withdrew to his estate in the aptly named town of Wilderness. He died there in 2006.

Name: Nuri al-Said

Country: Iraq

Political downfall: The charismatic and often brutal seven-term prime minister of Iraq's monarchical system, Nuri al-Said ruled during and after the British Mandate. His influence expanded dramatically following the death of King Faisal I in 1933, so much so that the remaining years of Iraq's monarchy are typically known as Ahd Nuri, or Nuri's era.

But Nuri's hold on power began to unravel with the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's pan-Arab nationalism in the late 1950s and increasing domestic anger regarding Britain's pseudo-colonial control over the Iraqi state. Nuri eventually met his end when the soldiers that he had depended on to sustain his rule turned their guns on him. A military contingent ordered to stabilize the monarchy in Jordan instead turned its sights on Baghdad. The 23-year-old King Faisal II and his entourage were executed by firing squad in the palace courtyard on July 14, 1958, and the monarch's body was wrapped in a carpet and smuggled out of the palace for a secret burial.

Nuri's grisly end is a case study on the danger for autocrats who cling to power too long. The day after the military coup d'état, he fled to the home of the sister of future Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, according to a profile of Chalabi written by Dexter Filkins. Nuri, veiled and dressed as a woman, was caught one day later trying to escape Baghdad. "Nuri was stripped of his disguise, impaled alive, and left on public view in the rotting sunlight," read a Time magazine article from the time.

Name: Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali

Country: Tunisia

Political downfall: Previously thought to be one of the Arab world's most secure autocrats, Ben Ali's grip on power began to falter following the December 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor tormented by authorities and driven to hopelessness by his inability to make ends meet. His act of desperation became a rallying cry for thousands of Tunisians frustrated by the lack of economic opportunity in the country. They took to the streets en masse in early January, winning the country's military over to their side. Sensing that the tide had moved decisively against him, Ben Ali fled the country on Jan. 14, eventually landing in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

In the days leading up to his ouster, Ben Ali tried to appease the protesters with a laundry list of concessions. On Jan. 10, he proclaimed that he would create 300,000 new jobs to curb rampant unemployment. When that failed to assuage public anger, he gave a public address in which he promised that he would not run for another term in office and would grant Tunisians complete political and media freedoms. It was too little, too late.

Still, the outgoing autocrat couldn't help but remind Tunisians one last time of how much he'd done for them: "I have felt deep pain for what happened. My pain and suffering are terrible, because I have spent more than 50 years of my life serving Tunisia," he said.

Name: King Farouk

Country: Egypt

Political downfall: Farouk came to power in 1936 at age 18. The inexperienced leader quickly alienated his main advisors by refusing their advice, often avoiding them altogether during a crucial period when the British military occupation was just ending. Seen as a partyboy and political lightweight, the king was widely criticized for a failing economy and continued British political influence in Cairo. Farouk's popularity was further damaged by an unsuccessful war against the newly established Israel in 1948. 

Following the defeat by Israel, a group of Egyptian Army commanders led by Col. Gamel Abdel Nasser formed the Free Officers movement, a clandestine cell dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy. The Free Officers received financial and logistical support from the CIA through a covert program known as "Project FF" (which reportedly stood for "fat fucker," in reference to Farouk). The officers overthrew Farouk and his government in July 1952, forcing the king and his family to flee into exile in Monaco. The system of military autocratic rule established by Nasser would last for the next five decades.

Even more interesting than Farouk's departure may be the things he left behind. Journalists who entered his palace shortly after the overthrow described a collection of oddities and junk that would have put Charles Foster Kane to shame, including hundreds of magic tricks, stamps, rare coins, and a massive collection of pornography.