“It’s good to be king.” is a famous line from the Mel Brooks movie “History of the World.” Clearly Brooks had special insight into the minds of monarchs, despots, and dictators as recent events in the world have shown None want to give up their power. Most are willing to fight for it. Some are willing to chose death over losing it.
Bashar al-Assad is the dictator of Syria. The Syrian people are currently revolting against his rule. While news reports are sketchy, it seems the people of Syria are fed up with his regime and are joining the revolution. There are reports of mass demonstrations and disruptions is certain cities. There are rumors that members of the army are defecting. For some reason the west is not helping the rebels like they did in Libya, so whether or not Bashar al-Assad can cling to power is an unanswered question. Either way, he seems intent on staying in Damascus until the rebels are crushed, he steps down, is arrested, or killed by his own people.
While not part of the Arab Spring, what happened in Iraq illustrates how much some rulers are willing to sacrifice to hold on to power. Saddam Hussein and his sons owned Iraq. The could steal, rape and pillage the country at will. They amassed billions in stolen loot. For some reason they wouldn’t allow the U.N. inspectors to look for weapons of mass destruction. Some say they actually didn’t know if the WMDs existed, but no matter. The inspectors would have ordered the weapons destroyed and Saddam could have gone back to watching his loyal followers run swords through themselves to show their allegiance. His sons could have continued racing the best cars through the streets of Baghdad looking for rape victims. Instead they are all dead.
As the Arab Spring unfolds, there have been small protests and demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan Western Sahara, and Mauritania, Bahrain, Yemen Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. So far the kings and dictators don’t seem seriously threatened. Some of the demonstrations didn’t amount to much. In some cases concessions were made. In the case of Saudi Arabia the rebels were paid off with oil money. If the rebellions grow, it will be interesting to see if the despots decide to fight to hold on to their kingdoms or flee to a comfortable life with their stolen billions.
The rebellion in Libya was part of the Arab Spring. Momar Gadhafi refused to give up power. There have been estimates of his personal wealth between 74 and 200 billion dollars. He had ample opportunity to leave the country as the rebels began to advance. Instead he retreated from small desert city to small desert city until it was no longer possible to escape the country. He was captured and killed by one of his subjects. Ironically he was killed by a young man using Gadhafi’s personal gold plated pistol. If this dictator had an I.Q. higher than that of a camel he could be living the good life in Paris. Or he could have taken one of his stolen billions, purchased several million acres of desert, built a fabulous tent palace, imported in his harem of goats, declared himself Grand Salami., and lived happily ever after. Instead he’s dead at the hands of his own people.
Who will be the king to face the wrath of the people? Any of the nascent rebellions in the Arab world may ignite. Another likely candidate is Kim Jong-un of North Korea. The obviously phony mourning at Kim Jong-il’s funeral showed there is little love for the regime.
What were the hapless despots in Libya and Iraq thinking? Had they convinced themselves that the people who turned out for their government planned rallies actually loved them? Did they surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men who told them only what they wanted to hear instead of the truth. Did they think their people would rally around them in the face of rebellion? History shows them wrong. From Charles I of England to Louis XVI of France, the past is littered with the bodies of despots who died clinging to power. If you are willing to sacrifice you life to keep the job, it truly must be good to be king.