2011: A bad year for dictators

2011 has been, to put it simply, one hell of a mess. Browse any collection of memorable photos of the year and you’ll undoubtedly come across images of violence and struggle. But it wasn’t all in vain. Here’s a quick breakdown of leaders who were killed or ousted in 2011:

Ali Abdullah Saleh: Saleh ruled Yemen for 32 years and was often criticized for his corrupt government, human rights abuses, and lack of democratic reform. Saleh also had a history of cutting deals with Islamic militants and insurgents of many stripes in order to keep power, including Al Queda operatives. Earlier this year, Yemen’s parliament gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow Saleh, who has ruled for more than three decades, to stay in power past his constitutional mandate. The news prompted protests throughout the country, leading to clashes between Saleh’s military forces and protestors. On June 3 Saleh was severely wounded by an RPG attack on his palace, and in November he fled to Saudi Arabia and officially resigned.

Hosni Mubarak: Mubarak became President of Egypt in 1981 following the assassination Anwar Sadat. Declaring emergency rule, giving his state sweeping powers and curbing a number of basic freedoms. In his 30-year rule, Mubarak survived six assassination attempts. In recent years the United States pressured Mubarak to begin democratic reform, and in February this year Egyptians began protesting.  Mubarak is now living in exile at his resort in the Red Sea, unable to have any influence on the country’s politics.

Muammar Al-Qadaffi: Qadaffi seized control of Libya through a military coup in 1969. Blending Arab nationalism, revolutionary socialism, and Islamic orthodoxy, Qaddafi proceeded to run Libya’s government as a stridently anti-Western dictatorship. British and American military bases were closed in 1970. In the same year the property of Libya’s Italian and Jewish communities was confiscated. The ancient Qur’anic law of cutting off the hands of thieves was re-instituted, gambling and alcoholic beverages were outlawed, and all foreign petroleum assets were nationalized. He was nicknamed the “mad dog of the Middle East” by U.S. President Reagan. In 2011, he attacked protesters in his own country, leading an allied group of Arab and Western countries to attack Libyan air defenses and establish a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Rebel forces overran Tripoli in August. Qaddafi escaped, but two months later he was wounded in battle by rebel forces after being cornered near his home town of Sirte; he reportedly was captured and then died of his wounds shortly thereafter.

Osama bin Laden: When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, bin Laden joined the Afghan resistance. In 1989 he was considered a hero in Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. referred to him and his soldiers as “Freedom Fighters”. After the Soviet withdrawal, bin Laden formed the al-Qaeda network with the aim of creating a unified Islamic state and drawing the United States into war. They carried out global strikes against Western interests, culminating in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A CIA special forces team killed bin Laden on May 1, 2011 at a terrorist compound in Pakistan. In his announcement, President Obama said, “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali: Commonly referred to as “The Mafia” because of corruption, nepotism and extravagant spending, the Ben Ali family ruled Tunisia for 23 years.  Despite highly-censored media, Tunisian citizens, many of whom were out of work, got hold of a Wikileak report last year that showed photos of the Ben Ali family’s absurdly lavish lifestyle (pet tigers, frozen yogurt flown in from St. Tropez… you get the idea). In January, following a month of violent protests, Zine was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife Leïla Ben Ali and their three children. The interim Tunisian government asked for Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant, charging him for money laundering and drug trafficking. He and his wife were sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison.

Last but not least…

Kim Jong-il: If you read his official biography, it’ll tell you that Kim Jong-il’s birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, caused winter to change to spring, and was heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens. He also never defecates (he never defecates… that bears repeating), and shot an amazing 11 holes-in-one to achieve a 38-under-par game on a regulation 18-hole golf course – on his first try at golf. Oh, he was also the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea for over 17 years. Everything you need to know about that is in this infographic. According to official reports, he died of a heart attack while traveling by train two days ago, on December 17, 2011.

South Korea’s military has been put on alert out of concern that political jockeying in North Korea could destabilize the region. Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, will assume power and the local media says he’s to be known as “the great successor.” Of course.


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