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.