If you want to see a classic example of a picture being worth a thousand words, consider the one of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, cancer-ridden in a prisoner cage and being exhibited to all of Egypt and much of the world. That’s the picture. The thousand words are those written by editorialists and other commentators demanding that Bashar al-Assad and Moammar Gaddafi do the right thing and step down. You can hear both dictators, as they look at the picture of Mubarak, exclaim, “What, and wind up in a cage?”
The cage in fact would be a benign outcome for both men. The greater likelihood is that loss of power would mean loss of life — and that would severely impact the business opportunities of their families and their tribes. Many of those, too, would fear for their lives.
In the United States and the West, when a politician loses power, there is a week or two of deep gloom followed by a year of affluence as a lobbyist or a television host. In other parts of the world, losing is not so pleasant. Assad, for one, is not fighting to stay in power. He is fighting to stay alive. He is a member of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Alawites, only about 14 percent of Syria’s population, took power under Assad’s father, Hafaz, who ruled pretty much as his son has. In the early 1980s, he ruthlessly suppressed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama, just about leveling the place. Afterward, this brand of Middle Eastern politics came to be called “Hama Rules,” a form of brutality that is often cited by Israelis making the somewhat obvious point that they live in a rough neighborhood.
Gaddafi, too, both plays by Hama Rules and will be governed by them should he lose. Already, he is persona non grata everywhere in the world so there is nowhere he could go. He almost certainly has to stay in Libya, where, should he step down, a departing cake and visit to HR to pick up his benefits would not be the outcome. He has killed his enemies, and he would expect no less from others.
My guess is that both Assad and Gaddafi canceled home delivery of The Washington Post and other newspapers some time ago and for this and other reasons are not likely to be persuaded to step down by editorials. They might be persuaded by someone offering them asylum, as — of all people — Gaddafi did for Idi Amin, the butcher of Uganda. Amin later moved on to Saudi Arabia and in 2003 died in Jidda, not exactly a fitting ending, but the idea was always to get keep him out of his country and out of politics. It’s hard to think of where Gaddafi could go — the Jersey Shore comes to mind — and there is similar problem with Assad, but it would be best for everyone involved if some government simply offered them sanctuary. If they live, so will countless others.