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Why Are Dictators So Weird? Here’s Five of the Maddest Tyrants in Town

Posted on the 16 May 2012 by Periscope
Sacha Baron Cohen as The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen as The Dictator

The background

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, The Dictator, sees a fictional North African leader – His Excellency Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen of Wadiya – coming to America. He’s clearly based (in part) on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had his troop of female bodyguards. Most dictators indulge their every whim whilst their people live in poverty. So why are dictators so weird, and why are we so obsessed with them? Scroll down for five of the maddest dictators.

“Dictators can become self-delusional in a way, and think ‘whatever I do is ok’,” says Fred Coolidge, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado, who has profiled Kim Jong-il, Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, quoted on the BBC.

Nature and nurture

In becoming a tyrant, it’s a bit of nature and a bit of nurture, said Professor Coolidge on the BBC. If you’re born into power, then your genetic predispositions are kicked into gear. You’re probably going to be quite narcissistic if you’re going to be a dictator, too, as well as being very charismatic – and ruthless.

But is it right to satirise dictators?

But why do we constantly satirise dictators? asked Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian. They’re hardly a difficult target. Cohen’s comedy has always been problematic. In The Dictator, the main character is “fascistic, misogynistic, Zionist-hating” – a mash-up of many dictators. The fact is, we “need” to find these evil men funny – we have to “repress” the “disgusting” things about them. In fact, by doing so we tame them – and is this the best way to deal with them? Perhaps Baron Cohen ought to satirise Israeli / Palestinian politics instead.

Five mad dictators

Saparmurat Niyazov

Turkmenistan’s “President for life” (until he died in 2006) made a gold-plated statue of himself that always faced the sun. He built an ice palace and wanted a lake in the middle of the desert. (Maybe he’d read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.) He banned smoking – not so bad; but also ballet, opera, and beards. He wrote a book, called Rukhnama, which you had to pass a test on if you wanted to drive. He also changed the word for “bread” to his mother’s name.  And he changed the words for two days of the week to his own name.

Kim Jong-il

The “Dear Father” ruled North Korea by perpetuating myths about himself. Apparently when he was born a double rainbow appeared in the sky.  He spent nearly a million dollars a year on Hennesy whisky, and claimed to have invented the burger.

François “Papa Doc” Duvalier

Haiti’s former president thought that on the 22nd of each month he had his own bodyguard – of voodoo spirits. So he only left the palace on that day. He banned the Boy Scouts, thinking they were  a threat to his rule.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi

He traveled everywhere with a troupe of female bodyguards; he made them swear an oath of virginity. He loved Condoleezza Rice. He had cosmetic surgery, and hair implants. He was afraid of heights, and was dependent on his “voluptuous” Ukrainian nurse.

Idi Amin

This chap called himself King of Scotland, as well as Conqueror of the British Empire. He was the ruler of Uganda in the 1970s. Allegedly, he kept severed heads in his fridge. Those dictators, huh?


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