How do dictators retain power, even when reviled and mocked by those they govern?

Modern-day despots wish to be blessed for their extravagant genius. But, Robert Fisk asks, what are we to make of this lunacy? And do they really believe their own hype?



Clockwise from left to right: Hosni Mubarak; Adolf Hitler; Colonel Gaddafi; Benito Mussolini; Saddam Hussein; and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ( Getty )

Alaa Al-Aswany is a good guy. Romantic – far too romantic – about revolutions. And almost facile in his willingness to believe that generals in sun-shades who depose elected presidents can at first be trusted. But I’m not surprised that Egypt’s master-writer has now decided that dictatorship is a syndrome, a medical condition that can even be diagnosed – but not, I fear, cured. Aswany, I should add, is also a member of that profession which I find most terrifying: he is a dentist. A good man, then, to work away on the decaying teeth of the Egyptian revolution.

His latest work, The Dictatorship Syndrome – albeit less powerful than his novels (read The Yacoubian Building, if no other), which froth with veracity – is thus going to further enrage President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who toppled Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood official, in 2013. Sisi was pretty fed up with Aswany after his previous book, The Republic, As If came out. “It’s about how a dictatorship looks ‘as if’ it is true,” he told me back in 2014. “With fair elections, [government] departments, and so on – ‘as if’.”

Not long after we met then, Aswany was banned from publishing his weekly column in Egypt …


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