Crystal balls are dangerous objects in the Middle East. Mine have been broken several times. But there’s no reason why Donald Trump should be immune from the fate of so many of his predecessors
Middle East Correspondent
The Independent Voices
I have a prediction: it’s not Russia which will lead to Donald Trump’s eventual downfall ( EPA )
Middle East dictators, we like to believe, live in heaven. They have palaces, servants, vast and wealthy families, millions of obedient people and loyal armies who constantly express their love for their leader, not to mention huge secret police forces to ensure they don’t forget this, and masses of weapons to defend themselves, supplied, usually, by us.
These tyrants – autocrats or “strongmen” if they happen to be our allies – exist, we suppose, in a kind of nirvana. Their lawns, like their people, are well-manicured, their roses clipped, their rivers unsullied, their patriotism unchallenged. They wish to be eternal.
But this is our Hollywood version of the Middle East. Having not suffered our own dictators for a generation, we suffer from mirages the moment we step into the sand. Real dictators in the Middle East don’t behave or think like this. It is power and the risks of power and the love of ownership that obsesses them. The possession of untold wealth or an entire nation, and their own form of patriotism – and the challenges they have to face to sustain this way of life: that is the attraction.
Their countries — and their countries’ histories – are their personal property, to dispose of as they wish. They may lock up their opponents by the tens of thousands or drop barrel bombs upon them or chop up an unruly journalist. But they know – and it is true – that there must be residual support for the beloved dictator from all those millions who swear that they will sacrifice themselves – “our blood, our soul” – rather than allow harm to come to them.
How else would the majority of Egyptians go on supporting their field marshal-president when he has abandoned all forms of freedom? How else could the Syrian government survive if its army had not fought on for its country – and saved the regime – after tens of thousands of deaths? Attribute this to patriarchy, tribalism, minority fears or – in the case of Egypt – infantilism. Or straightforward love of country. But dictators cannot survive without some measure of genuine fealty from their populations.