The List

Stiff Upper Lip

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have shaved off his mustache, but it's going to take a whole lot more than that to convince the world that he's not a dictator. FP investigates the whiskers that autocrats wear.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

"The Kaiser"

Nearly every aspect of the father of modern Turkey's life was freighted with historical significance, and his upper lip was no exception. The soaring mustache Ataturk wore as a young army captain (above, in 1907) was popular in the Ottoman era, modeled on the grooming style of Kaiser Wilhelm II, which reflected the influence of German culture on the Turkish intelligentsia of the period. But by the time Ataturk took office as the autocratic ruler of the new Republic of Turkey in 1923, his mustache had been pared back to a conservative bristle; as he guided Turkey toward economic and political liberalization in the years that followed he shaved it off entirely, as a symbolic example of Turkey leaving behind its Ottoman past in favor of a modern future.

But the Turkish mustache was not so easily vanquished; it continued to advance and retreat, in both size and significance, in the decades that followed. In the 1970s, a walrus-style mustache became a popular accessory among Turkey's leftists. By the 1990s, it had evolved into a class symbol distinguishing the hirsute lower and middle classes from the clean-shaven urban elite. It returned to power in 2002 atop the lip of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a gesture of his populist appeal.

Francisco Franco

"The Generalísimo"

Of all the dictatorial mustaches of mid-20th century Europe, Spanish General Francisco Franco's was undoubtedly the least memorable, which perhaps explains why it does not carry the stigma today of its German and Soviet contemporaries. But the blandness of the Spanish model belies its influence: A Franco-style martial brush was a near-mandatory part of the Latin American military dictator uniform well into the 1980s. For years after Franco's death, his pilatory legacy adorned the faces of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Guatemala's Fernando Romeo Lucas García, and half the officers in Argentina's post-Perón junta, among others.

Adolf Hitler

"The Hitler"

When it first appeared on men's faces in the late 19th century, the mustache that Adolf Hitler made infamous was known as the "toothbrush." Not so much today. The Hitler mustache, Rich Cohen wrote in Vanity Fair in 2007, "did not only die with the Führer -- it was embalmed with him. It was his essence, and so it has been relegated to the black book of history."

All the stranger, then, that Hitler's signature facial accessory was originally of American, not German, extraction -- and that its arrival in Germany was at first greeted with some ambivalence. According to a 1907 New York Times dispatch from Berlin, German women hated the thing, vastly preferring the Kaiserbart that Ataturk had once coveted. "Man is naturally very ugly," one woman wrote to the Berliner Tageblatt newspaper at the time. "The only natural adornment he ever had was his mustache, and that he is now ruthlessly mutilating. Instead of the peaceful hirsute ornament of the past he is now marring his face with a lot of bristles." Of course, after April 1945, they didn't have that problem anymore.

Joseph Stalin

"The Cockroach"

Stalin's walrus mustache never quite achieved the status of shorthand for modern barbarity as Hitler's did, but it was an indelible part of his public image -- and a target for his detractors. "Stalin is known the world over for his mustache, but not for his wisdom," the smooth-lipped Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia's then-prime minister, remarked in 1951 as relations with his Soviet erstwhile mentor were fraying.

Stalin could be quite sensitive about these things, as the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam learned the hard way. In 1933, shortly after Stalin's agricultural collectivization policies plunged the Soviet Union into famine, Mandelstam wrote a short and searing poem titled "Epigram Against Stalin." Its contemptuous evocation of the dictator included a few unkind words about his facial hair:

His greasy fingers are thick as worms,
his words weighty hammers slamming their target.
His cockroach moustache seems to snicker,
and the shafts of his high-topped boots gleam.

Bad move. Stalin was not amused, and had Mandelstam arrested and sentenced to exile in the Ural Mountains.

Saddam Hussein

"The Desert Eagle"

Though the model that he sported in his prime was Stalin-esque in its particulars, Saddam Hussein's mustache was less a product of his own self-styled personality cult than it was of Iraqi tradition. Bushy mustaches had been synonymous with manhood in Iraq since the 16th century, a remnant of Ottoman rule in Mesopotamia. Disrespecting them was a grave insult; at a summit in Doha days before the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, Iraqi diplomat Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri lashed out at his Kuwaiti counterpart by shouting, "Curse be upon your mustache!" Rallying military officers in Baghdad the same week, Saddam invoked a tribal adage, telling them, "I don't need to say that Iraq is attached to your mustache, because after all it is your country."

In the early months of the war, U.S. soldiers played along; many units were ordered to grow mustaches as a nod to local culture. But as the war took a turn for the worse in 2004, the razors came back out. "We grew them for the Iraqi people," Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne told the Associated Press on the eve of the battle for Fallujah in April 2004. "We shaved them off for us." As for Saddam himself, he went to the gallows in 2006 not with his signature jet-black mustache, but with a salt-and-pepper beard.

Robert Mugabe

"The Hitler Lite"

The Zimbabwean strongman's mustache is easy to miss, cropped so closely within the confines of his philtrum that it could be mistaken for a shadow. But it's there nonetheless, the narrowest of toothbrushes -- and if it evokes a certain Führer, it may not be entirely by accident. Mugabe is an unapologetic fan: On the eve of a brutal reprisal against his opponents in 2003, he declared, "I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for."

Aleksandr Lukashenko

"The Apparatchik"

When a CNN reporter described Europe's last dictator in 2001 as "a man whose 1950s-style Soviet-era rule is echoed by his Stalinist moustache," he gave the Belarusian strongman far too much credit -- Lukashenko's trapezoidal soup-strainer is more mid-tier bureaucrat than world-historical tyrant. Nevertheless, Lukashenko's detractors have latched onto his mustache with aplomb. In 2005, student demonstrators were jailed for wearing fake presidential whiskers; and when Lukashenko arrived in Lithuania for an official visit in September 2009, he was met with protest banners reading, "No country for mustache!"

Bashar al-Assad

"The Family Heirloom"

The Syrian president's decision to shave the mustache he had sported for his entire political life prior to his March 30 speech promising an implausible array of reforms was no doubt intended to carry some symbolic weight in the Middle East -- a region in which the mustache has often been seen as the bristly line between tradition and modernity. But Assad's thin variant beneath his beak of a nose never made much of an impression to begin with (though it did inspire Christopher Hitchens to call him a "human toothbrush"). Like most other things about his presidency, it was a hand-me-down from his father and presidential predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who wore a considerably more robust version of the same during his nearly three decades of rule. Taking over a successful family business is never easy.

The List

What Else Happened This Week?

The Arab world's revolutions and the Japan's earthquake fallout weren't the only major developments.

Civil war in the Ivory Coast

After weeks of dancing around the fact, the world is finally saying it out loud: The Ivory Coast has returned to civil war. In recent weeks, as many as 1 million people have fled the capital, Abidjan; thousands of young men have taken up arms; and nearly 500 people have died in violent clashes. In the country's interior, armed groups are fighting to control swathes of territory, sending tens of thousands more fleeing into neighboring Liberia. The ongoing conflict stems from a political stalemate between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara. Following the coalition intervention in Libya, calls have escalated for the United Nations to invoke a similar mandate to protect civilians in the Ivory Coast. On Thursday, the African Union officially requested that the U.N. Security Council expand the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers in the country, allowing them to oust Gbagbo. France introduced a resolution in the Security Council on Friday calling for a ban on heavy weaponry in Abidjan. But with little geopolitical significance and a long history of protracted conflict, the Ivory Coast will likely remain on the international backburner.

KAMBOU SIA/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian government falls

It wasn't quite as dramatic as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's downfall, but the Canadian government fell on March 25 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost a no-confidence vote in parliament. Canada's three main opposition parties came together to defeat Harper, in power since 2006, after a parliamentary report found the government in contempt for failing to disclose the cost of a spending program. But the Liberal-led coalition's triumph may be short-lived. Elections are likely to be held in early May, and polls indicate that Harper is likely to win again.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Former Ukrainian president charged over murder

There was a major development in the investigation of Ukraine's most notorious post-Soviet crime this week when prosecutors charged former President Leonid Kuchma in connection with the 2000 murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze. The grisly killing of the 31-year-old reporter, a persistent critic of the president, shocked Ukraine, particularly after a tape emerged of a voice that sounded like the president's giving orders to "deal" with him. The incident was a major factor leading up to the 2003 Orange Revolution, which pushed Kuchma's allies from power. A former interior ministry employee has confessed to strangling Gongadze and beheading him with an axe, but authorities have, until now, been reluctant to investigate who gave the order for the attack. Prosecutors have stopped short of accusing Kuchma of actually ordering the attack, accusing him only of taking actions that led to Gongadze's death. In any case, Kuchma may not take the rap, even if he is convicted. The crime he is charged with -- "exceeding his authority" -- is subject to a 10-year statute of limitations.

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya reportedly invades Somalia

Early this week, members of the Kenyan military are reported to have crossed the border into neighboring Somalia to help fight the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab. For the last half decade, Kenya has supported the Somali government's military quest to put down the rebellion, although this would be the first instance of direct Kenyan intervention. Kenyan officials fear that a Somalia dominated by al-Shabaab could become a new haven for al Qaeda, as fighters flee Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Shabaab has already proven that it can carry out attacks outside Somalia; last July, it bombed several restaurants in Uganda where people had gathered to watch the World Cup. Yet even with Kenyan help -- if it is forthcoming -- Somalia's transitional government will likely continue to struggle to keep the Islamists at bay. Another round of heavy clashes between government and insurgent forces broke out in the capital on Friday.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Mexican ambassador recalled

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual became the latest casualty of WikiLeaks this week when he was recalled to Washington over some leaked cables in which he described Mexico's war on drugs as a failure. Mexican President Felipe Calderón had repeatedly demanded that Pascual be replaced, accusing him of "ignorance," particularly over comments describing Mexico's armed forces as "risk averse." Other cables describe corruption as "widespread" throughout the Mexican government and prosecution rates for organized crime as "dismal." Pascual also reports in one cable that Calderón "has openly admitted to having a tough year" and "has seemed 'down' in meetings." Pascual is the second U.S. ambassador recalled over WikiLeaks revelations, following Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, author of the now-notorious "voluptuous blond" nurse cable. Mexican officials had some doubts about Pascual from the beginning: The former Ukraine ambassador and Brookings Institution scholar is known as an authority on state failure.

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

Corruption woes continue for Singh

Already reeling from the impending indictment of a former telecoms minister on corruption charges, India's ruling Congress party suffered another blow late last week when a WikiLeaks cable was released containing allegations that MPs were bribed with "chests of cash" to secure their support during a crucial no-confidence government vote in 2008. The vote had been called by leftist parties to express disapproval of a controversial weapons deal with the United States. Singh took to the floor of Parliament to deny the allegation, saying the cable contained "insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion." This prompted a rebuke from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who called Singh's statement a "deliberate attempt to mislead the public." Singh has so far managed keep himself out of his party's myriad scandals, but it's unclear how much longer he can remain above the fray.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Portuguese government falls

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates joined his counterparts from Iceland, Hungary, and Ireland on the growing list of leaders taken down by the global financial crisis. Socrates tendered his resignation on March 23 after his latest austerity measures -- the fourth package of cuts in less than a year -- were rejected by parliament. Portugal has had its debt rating slashed by both Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings this week, bringing its credit close to junk bond status and making the prospect of an EU bailout -- like those accepted by Greece and Ireland last year -- more likely, a topic that dominated discussion at this week's EU summit. Socrates's center-left Socialist party will likely remain in power as a caretaker government until new elections can be held in May or June. 

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Former Israeli President jailed for rape

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict roared back into the headlines this week with Jerusalem's first major terrorist attack in years and escalating violence on the Gaza border. But the Israeli political world was also reeling over the March 22 conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on rape charges. Katsav was sentenced to seven years in jail for the rape of an employee while he was tourism minister during the 1990s, as well as other sexual offences while he was president. He stepped down from the largely ceremonial position in 2007. Prison officials are reportedly worried that Katsav, who broke down in tears as he was sentenced, may try to take his own life while in custody.

OLIVER WEIKEN/AFP/Getty Images

Google vs. China: Round II

In Google's latest run-in with Beijing, the search giant accused Chinese government censors of interfering with its email service. In a statement, the company said that recent glitches with signing on to Gmail in China were caused by "a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail." China's foreign ministry called Google's statement an "unacceptable accusation" and refused to comment further. The Chinese government has recently ramped up its online censorship efforts in response to the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and planned demonstrations in China. Earlier this year, Google announced that it would no longer cooperate with Chinese government requests to censor search results and moved its Chinese-language search engine to Hong Kong, which operates under different laws from mainland China.

LI XIN/AFP/Getty Images

Haiti awaits election results

Against long odds, Haiti's run-off election appeared to go well on March 20. The first round of voting last November ended in chaos and violence, but Sunday's contest between professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat and pop singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly was, according to international observers, "much more peaceful" than the last round. Tensions were heightened by the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Friday. The United States had requested that Aristide, who was deposed in two separate coups, delay his return from South Africa until after the election. But his presence doesn't seem to have been much of a factor. The run-off didn't go completely without incident, however: Rapper and onetime presidential aspirate Wyclef Jean claimed to have been shot in the hand on the eve of the vote.

HECTOR RECTAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

A new spill in the Gulf

Louisiana officials were confounded last weekend when a thin oil slick washed up on around 30 miles of Gulf shoreline. Initial tests sought to determine whether it might have been residual oil left over from last April's massive Deepwater Horizon spill, but it turns out that yet another offshore drilling accident may have occurred. Tests matched the oil with crude that Houston-based Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners had reported spilling from one of its wells. The latest accident comes at a bad time for federal regulators, who have just approved four new permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf -- not to mention Gulf fishermen and residents.

ERIC THAYER/Getty Images