The mind of the Arab tyrant

Although by no means reserved for Middle Eastern dictators, delusion and absolute rule have a long history in the region

The effect of terminal leadership on political behavior is never more serious than when a crumbling despot refuses to concede that his people can live at least as well without him.
The pinnacle was when one tyrant exclaimed to the parents of teenage revolutionaries that their children had been spiked with drink and drugs. Another tyrant spoke of external forces and hidden agendas. His counterpart warned of chaos should he relinquish power, and finally another warned of an explosion of sectarian and religious conflict instigated by foreign plots.
When the dissenting “crime” happens to be a protest for democratic change, one cannot help but consider the onset of delusional thinking.
Although by no means reserved for Middle Eastern tyrants, delusion and absolute rule have a long history. The likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, among many others, had careers in power that were synonymous with delusions that brought devastating consequences for their respective nations long after they were gone.
But the Arab world is a special case. It contains 22 countries, 360 million people, and the location of the largest combined concentration of oil and gas reserves in the world. The only inconvenience is that, with two exceptions, every country in the region has the dubious honor of being ruled by some of the most tyrannical rulers ever known.
AS RECENT events now sweeping the Arab world illustrate, it’s not the sheer magnitude of death and destruction to which the tyrants have descended, but the apparent indifference to the events that now threaten their rule – rule they believe is irreversible, immortal and only threatened as a result of foreign scheming.
Tunisia’s ousted dictator complained that “terrorists” were to blame for the unrest, yet simultaneously expressed very deep and massive regret over the deaths of protesters. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak threatened maximum deterrent sentences to those who persecuted the rebelling youths, yet he himself was accountable for ordering the crackdown. A prominent Saudi royal dismissed the “day of rage” protests as a “tempest in a teacup,” claiming that most of the people on the streets had flags out expressing their love for the king. Finally, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi vowed to die a martyr fighting the “cockroaches, cowards and traitors” who were serving the devil by revolting in his country.
Ostensibly, he suggested these “gangs” represented only one percent of the population, yet he expressed a surreal desire to seek martyrdom in eliminating them.
Surely one could argue that these are the signs of emotionally intemperate, frustrated and progressively deteriorating minds.
Deciphering the embattled tyrant, the acuity of his judgment and political defiance is not difficult when his impending defeat – and even death – is preoccupying him.
Talk of a 1,000-year war, the love the tyrant’s people have for him, and how he is the repository for the nation’s glory should not be viewed merely as self-confident eccentricity. These words emanate from the captive minds of absolute rulers.
The onset of defeat can manifest itself in a sense of both omnipotence and megalomania.
In this sense, the delusional mind is a victim of its own intuition.
So how should we tackle the delusional minds of these rulers? In short, the tyrant’s days are numbered when he himself becomes disillusioned with his own delusions. Even if the credo is “survival at all costs,” his world slowly descends into part mania and part paranoia.
Distorting the truth, blaming shortcomings on friends and foes alike, and lashing out over enemy conspiracies is typical of the mind of a crumbling ruler.
The endgame involves either escape, capitulation or becoming reconciled to a horrible death.
In a world that has entered an era of popular dispensations, where the collective will of the people is the only assurance of political power, the coercion by which the tyrant has long ruled has begun to erode. Tribal-like rule, repressive security measures, megalomaniac stubbornness, and the individual concentration of power to subdue the populace is a form of rule rapidly being relegated to the dustbins of history. These rulers cannot continue to function with persistent domestic and international isolation, a siege mentality and a diabolic attitude toward modern civilization.
Every Arab tyrant should watch events next door carefully. Their exaggerated self image, cognitive distortions and arbitrary decision-making is only going to put them further down the road of pervasive suspiciousness, betrayal and self-destruction. As the region’s people rise and the domino effect of toppling tyrants builds momentum, their insecurity will reach the point of full-blown sadistic paranoia; the killing of potential enemies to thwart actual ones.
In this scenario there will be no escape hatch; time will not be their companion in a world clearly on the side of the oppressed.
The writer is a PhD candidate in political violence studies at the department of Middle East & Mediterranean Studies, King’s College London.