Sudden Illness Syndrome Strikes Once-Mighty Leaders

By Novar Caine

Turfed out of office, the world’s dictators’ immune systems suddenly fall victim to a peculiar type of condition that renders them stricken with varying types of life-threatening illnesses.

Whereas previously these great men strode the world stage in robust health, now they are reduced to shadows of their former selves.

Indonesia’s great dictator Suharto, who ruled without question for over three decades, was gravely ill for years before he eventually passed away. The state never was able to prosecute him for allegedly amassing billions in public funds.

This year we have witnessed Eygpt’s former strongman, Hosni Mubarak, turn instantly weak and feeble. His lawyer says he’s suffering from stomach cancer – “and the tumours are growing.” He may not be fit enough to stand trial in August over the killing of anti-regime demonstrators and corruption charges, the lawyer conveniently says.

The 83-year-old, who has always looked the picture of health, has been in hospital in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort, we are told, since suffering from heart trouble during interrogation in April.

Serb and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, on trial for war crimes, did it at The Hague. (But then he died.) And newly snared Ratko Mladic, currently incarcerated at The Hague, where he’s on trial for Bosnian-Serb genocide, is also deathly ill – however the UN court says the former general is fine.

Meanwhile, as the Arab Spring rolls on, who’s next? Presumably embattled Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi is keeping close watch as the domino leaders fall.

Like an aging actress still reliving her former glory years in her waning years, authoritarian leaders never know when to make an exit. Ensnared by their egos, they are blinded by the too-harsh reality that their people no longer worship nor adore them, but want them gone. Even as bombs rain down on their elaborately adorned palaces and kill their children, these undemocratic leaders still try to cling to power.

Of course we know the sudden ailments of deposed leaders are a ruse to try avoid prosecution. And especially in corrupt regimes where many will do the leaders’ bidding, it’s difficult to prove that a medical report is something entirely other than it claims.

But there are regimes built around one man and then there are power elites that are fashioned from entire extended families and cohorts, as witnessed elsewhere in the world. Uprising attempts in some Middle Eastern countries earlier this year were quickly quashed and protesters flung in prison and swiftly sentenced to long stretches, including life, as a deterrent to further revolution.

People will not be cowed for long, however, and swelling sentiment among the publics of countries dominated by iron-fisted rulers will rise up again. They have seen the successes of Tunisia and Egypt; they are seeing huge change in Libya, even as NATO continues its raids on the country.

Pulling the plug on external TV broadcasts and jamming overseas radio signals is no longer sufficient for despots’ blind attempts to cling to power. Today, information cannot be stopped from reaching the masses. China’s Great Firewall, which is intended to block what the Communist Party deems unfavourable – largely unfavourable comment about itself – is no match for the interconnectivity of the internet. Routers and proxy servers enable people in China to get past the censorial overlords, whose once-submissive citizens are becoming increasingly clued-in.

But if you don’t have the know-how to divert your internet connection in China, you still cannot use services like Facebook or Twitter, because they are not allowed. Unrest is the greatest fear of the rulers in Beijing. Give the people Facebook and they might start chatting from one end of the country to the other; they might even set up a revolutionary support page. No, that cannot be allowed. In China, to speak out means you’ll be locked up, as Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo has found to his cost.

Imagine, in the 21st century, that it is still possible to be jailed for voicing your thoughts, that as you are awarded one of the world’s greatest prizes, you’re kept behind bars, out of sight, as a subversive.

Taking a cue from other lands, China’s Jasmine Revolution is still embryonic. Its eventual success will greatly benefit the billion people of the world’s third-largest country. Freedom is not just an idea; it’s a way of life.

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