Today, the Human Rights Foundation is holding its “PutinCon” in New York. This is a one-day conference devoted to the Russian “president”: his origins, his rise, his deeds (both at home and abroad). Serving as chairman of PutinCon is Garry Kasparov, once the world’s chess champion, now a freedom-and-democracy champion.
We are told, always, that Putin is popular in Russia. He apparently doesn’t think so. He does away with his political opposition (sometimes permanently). He forbids a free press. He forbids genuine elections. This is not the behavior of a man who is confident of his popularity.
Dictators are traditionally afraid of their own people. Why shouldn’t they be? They know, as much as anybody, that they are illegitimate. So they use the apparatus of oppression to stay on top.
Today, I have many items in my Impromptus column. One of them is about Egypt, where a military dictator named Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rules. According to a report out of Cairo, Sissi “has waged a massive crackdown on dissent in recent years, and authorities have ratcheted up pressure ahead of the March 26-28 election, in which he faces no real challenge.”
If he faces no real challenge, why does he ratchet up pressure? That’s what dictators do. They can never be too sure. They run scared. The report continues, “All potentially serious competitors either withdrew under pressure or were arrested, leaving only el-Sissi and a little-known politician who supports him.”
Yes, this is classic. Putin has an “election” this Sunday. He arranged for an opponent named Ksenia Sobchak, a reality-TV star known as “the Paris Hilton of Russia.” (Unlike reality-TV stars in America, she is unlikely to make it to the top.) Years ago, Arafat allowed an opponent called “Umm Khalil” — a grandmother who was no challenge to him.
I have studied a few dictators over the years, and what impresses me is how similar they are to one another — whatever the continent, whatever the nationality, whatever the tongue.