Sunday, February 13, 2011

Go Gently

When Ben Ali fell, I heard arguments calling for him to be refused safe haven in other countries, and that he should be dragged before the Hague, or maybe a Tunisian court, and tried for his crimes. Now I'm hearing similar things said about Mubarak.

I actually disagree. Any reasonable notion of justice calls for these guys to be punished, but here I'm thinking of future movements in other countries. I'd be very nervous about setting a precedent that says that toppled Arab dictators will face the wrath of their people if they step down, simply because this will make dictators less likely to step down. They'll cling to power more tenaciously, and a lot more innocent people will get hurt, disappeared, or killed trying to get rid of them. I think there's real benefit to letting the world's dictators feel secure that they can step down safely and life a quiet life in the Gulf, or Paris, or in whatever country chooses to take them.

So too for letting Mubarak stay comfortably in Sharm el Sheikh. Let him. He can enjoy the sea and spend the rest of his days telling himself, and anyone else who will listen, that the world never understood him and that everything he did, he did for Egypt. I hope that all the region's despots come to believe that they, too, could have such a retirement, and I hope it inspires them to shuffle off the world stage all the more quickly and quietly.


  1. I'd think that would cut both ways. If a dictator expected nothing more than quiet exile upon being deposed, would he feel less restrained while in power? And in any event, how many dictators really spend their days in office wondering what life will be like after they have been pushed out?

  2. I guess my response is to say that the scenario I have in mind is one in which you have an embattled dictator (i.e. some kind of uprising has begun), and he's weighing his options for a next move. If right now Mubarak is stripped of assets, hauled before court, etc etc, in other words if people make an example of him, another dictator might think, "I don't want to end up like Mubarak" and double down on the repression.

  3. I pretty much agree entirely, which is why I wasn't entirely happy when they arrested Pinochet in London. Did he deserve it? Yes. Did he stop down mostly voluntarily? Yes as well. If dictators feel that if they pass a general amnesty for everyone and can step down safely, then they are more likely to step down rather than just wait for the revolution. I'll take the peaceful transition, thanks.

  4. I agree with snowflame. It's one thing if a dictator is captured by an angry mob or arrested in a coup, who cares about incentivizing his cooperation? Someone like Pinochet who could have pushed to remain in power but didn't, thinking he would be safe, is a different story entirely. Lots of scared dictators will remember what happened to Pinochet and hold out until the bitter end.