The Dictatorship Syndrome by Alaa Al Aswany

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time – Winston Churchill

You would think that in the 21st century most of the world would live in a democracy of some form or other, but it doesn’t seem that way. Of the 195 countries in the world, 39% of the world’s population in 87 countries are deemed free. Some are partially free and 49 countries make up around 25% of the population. However, there are still 49 countries with 2.6 billion people in the world that have some form of dictatorship or strict authoritarian government.

I was shocked when I read those facts, as it is something that I thought was ebbing away gradually. The people who live there are subject to injustice in all its forms, from the endemic corruption, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and when incarcerated a lot are subject to torture and often killed or ‘disappeared’. The methods that these dictators use to gain control are well documented, but the questions Alaa Al Aswany wants to explore here concern the nature of dictatorship? How does it take hold? In what conditions and circumstances is it permitted to thrive? And how do dictators retain power as the society that they have dominated starts to crumble?

Al Aswany has written a fascinating book exploring the answers to these questions and he gets right to the crux of what makes a dictator, control of the media and police and army and the way that their personality diffuses deeply into the culture and fabric of society of the country. In a lot of cases, the populace can start behaving like the acolytes of a cult, not questioning any of the often erratic behaviours of the dictator. It becomes a self-enforcing vicious circle as the majority of citizens make the deliberate choice to deny themselves their freedom; instead craving stability and will support this individual totally.

It is a very worrying but readable for a book about a fairly grim subject matter. He grew up in Egypt and was seen as a dissenter before taking the sensible decision to leave the country. He has a very personal grasp of his subject and he eloquently describes just how normal people in a democracy can become inadvertent enablers and supporters of this type of person.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Gosh, that is a shocking statistic! Might be a bit much for me at the minute but I can see this is a valuable and necessary book to exist in the world.

    • Paul

      Isn’t it. I knew dictators still existed, but that was shocking

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