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Trump is no standard strongman candidate
Trump is no standard strongman candidate
Carl-Johan Karlsson

-Essay-

PARIS — Every aspiring strongman must fulfill a number of prerequisites. He should be skilled at demonizing his opponents and intimidating his allies, manipulating the media and restricting free speech — all the while mixing different doses of serial lying, fear-mongering and nationalism to rile up the masses.

But, of course, the long-term success of all such endeavors hinges on the aspirant's ability to hold onto power. And so as Donald Trump has spent the last four years sliding toward "American strongman" status, he now faces his final exam.

And so far so good. Clearly losing at the polls to Joe Biden is a detail, as the incumbent has doubled down on his pre-election prediction of a rigged election; he has skipped the concession speech and bullied other Republicans into refusing to congratulate the winner; he's taking legal action to challenge the election results; and, he's now — with 68 days left of his presidency — stacking the Pentagon and the National Security Agency with loyalists.

All by the book. But still, as the so-called Leader of the Free World, Trump is no standard strongman candidate. Autocrats and democrats alike are watching closely. Indeed, there isn't really a precedent for how to become (or dispose of) an aspiring authoritarian ruler in the U.S. For Trump's opposition, it complicates the question: How do we kick him out?

Ibrahim understands the importance of putting emphasis on the "leaving" part.

One person who might have an idea is Mo Ibrahim. The Sudanese-British billionaire runs a foundation that awards the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The prize offers a $5-million payout, followed by a lifetime annual $200,000 installation thereafter, to a former African head of state who has worked to strengthen democracy, and — most importantly on a continent with a history of power-clinging — who has left office with a graceful, democratic transfer of power.

Mo Ibrahim runs a foundation to encourage democratic transitions of power — Photo: Imago/ZUMA

The 74-year-old Ibrahim understands the importance of putting emphasis on the "leaving" part: Africa has seen more than 2,000 country-years of dictatorship in the last seven decades, according to the calculation of a Princeton University study. Among more recent examples, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after losing his bid for a fifth term in 2016, eventually leading to an intervention by several West African countries to force him out.

Ivory Coast is again facing an over-extended reign, as President Alassane Ouattara just won election to a third term, even though the nation has a two-term limit. Trump may be shooting for something more along the lines of Robert Mugabe who, during 37 years as Zimbabwe's ruler — claiming contested victories in popular votes in 1990, 1996, 2002, 2008, and 2013 — became a billionaire by looting his own country.

Mo Ibrahim knows the math. His prize was not established to convince the natural-born strongmen that the payoff was a better deal, but to serve as an example for future African leaders that democratic institutions have their own value. And Trump? Sure, he likes a quick buck — but he's also done his math. That leaves it to the rest of the country, starting with other Republicans, to bet on democracy.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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