Behind a politician’s lust for power

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
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There are key moments that determine the path of a politician and the future of a state. Once a politician sees one of these moments, he is guaranteed not only a place in history but possibly success as well. That moment occurs when the politician feels and acts, realizing it is time to leave before he becomes delusional.

The lure of power is attractive, particularly with a retinue telling him he is the savior and only possible leader. This is how illusion mixes reality, and the result is a great alienation between reality and the fairytale in the leader’s imagination. That seems a simplification of the political reality, but in fact it is the reason for countries being destroyed and for the killing and displacement of populations.


In history and also in the present day, the political leader’s loss of touch with reality signals the beginning of the end. Saddam Hussein once lived this illusion and held on to power despite dozens of opportunities to end his people’s suffering, protect the state’s institutions and give up power. He chose to be a tyrant, leading the country to internal and external wars that destroyed Iraq, led the state’s institutions to collapse and ended in his and his sons’ deaths. This politician who misses such opportunities does not realize that he has lost both legitimacy and life.

Qaddafi lived the dream to such an extent that he himself appeared surprised at the unrest in his country as indicated by his infamous question, “Who are you?” He believed that everyone loved him and that it was impossible to find even a single opponent.

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

Democratic institutions in developed countries such as the United States are meant to protect the country from the tyranny of politicians and distribute power among the state’s legislative and executive branches. Most importantly, they take vital decisions for protecting democracy, the most significant being that the president can serve for only two terms.

We remember that former U.S. President Bill Clinton was popular. If the constitution had allowed him a third term, he would have swept the elections. Americans wore shirts with his picture on them even though they were voting for a new president. It was funny and also showed people’s admiration for the president’s performance.

Respecting the constitution prevents emotions overriding political decisions. Rationality is thus the decision-maker rather than massive street marches asking the leader to remain in power and sacrifice himself for the people.

With great irony, we remember the Syrian Parliament when it changed the constitution to allow the election of President Bashar Assad for a second time. The Parliament, supposedly the legislative and regulatory authority, was turned into a puppet show in which members competed in applauding Assad. One even jumped hysterically off his chair as he shouted slogans in support of the president. It was nothing more than an embarrassing scene that seriously weakened the great people of Syria.

A real desire to protect the state

Thus, we reap what we sow. This transformation which many people thought would make Syria a developed and democratic country has produced one of the bloodiest leaders in modern history. Syrians are paying the price for their leader’s grip on power. The result has been millions of refugees, 300,000 dead, and the destruction of the pillars of the state as they have fallen into the hands of terrorists and militias.

Does any authority deserve all these sacrifices? Despite such justifications, how can a person accept this much damage just to stay in power? The leader missed the right moment and it passed him by. It is now too late for him to act.

The Libyan experience embodies a political leader’s mixing fantasy and reality. Qaddafi lived the dream to such an extent that he himself appeared surprised at the unrest in his country as indicated by his infamous question, “Who are you?” He believed that everyone loved him and that it was impossible to find even a single opponent. Any lust for such power is doomed and must be restrained in order to protect the politicians and their hold on the state.

The ousted Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was equally addicted to power although he was saved by a Gulf-sponsored agreement that gave him immunity. In the end, the lust for power triumphed, leading him to ally himself with his former enemies in order to return to power. The region’s experiences stress the need for powerful institutions that consolidate human rights and respect for a constitution in order to protect the state from the whims of politicians and their well-documented madnesses.

The devastation that has taken place in Arab states could have been avoided if politicians had possessed a real desire to protect the state rather than a simple desire to benefit themselves and their cronies. Despite their bloody mistakes, they have given a lesson to people today and those of coming generations, showing clearly that errors can and do happen. And falling into the same old patterns will be as disastrous today and tomorrow as it has been in the past.

This article was first published in Arab News on Oct. 21, 2015.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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