Friday, October 21, 2011

What is the right way to treat unpopular former leaders

Today's newspapers are full of gruesome images of the late Cornel Gaddafi beside pictures of Libyan crowds cheering an celebrating. I know that he was an extremely unpleasant person, but at the same time I must say that it seems incongruous to see crowds enthusiastically celebrating such a sad end for any human being.

A few years ago I was talking to a friend from the Middle East about the prospects for democracy in the region. When I asked him if there were any democracies in the region, his answer was that there were some countries that pretended to be democratic but in no case was there a living ex-president. I thought that this was a very interesting way to judge whether or not a democracy is genuine.

In western democracies, former leaders are normally treated with quite a bit of respect. Although the level of respect varies somewhat depending upon their record in office, there is no reason for any leader to fear that they will not be able to enjoy a comfortable and peaceful retirement (in fact many people believe that the pensions provided to our former leaders are excessive - but this is a different topic).

I know the papers will often describe our politicians as "trying really hard to cling onto power", but none would ever fight quite as long and hard as Gaddafi fought to cling onto power. I can't help thinking that part of the reason why he fought so hard was because he knew what fate was awaiting him.

I am watching the trial of former President Mubarrack in Egypt with great interest. While some people doubt that it will be a totally fair trial, at least they are making some attempt to follow the rule of law. The current batch of Arab leaders will probably be more likely to facilitate a smooth peaceful handover of power when the time arrives if they believe that they can enjoy a peaceful retirement.

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