Five leaders sitting less comfortably post-Egypt

Posted on February 11, 2011


UPDATE 26 April 2011: I’ve since finished work on my latest book covering the revolutions sweeping the region, called ‘The Revolution Will Be Tweeted?’. If you’d like to find out more about the downfall of successive dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, or more details on how to buy the book, simply visit

In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the mass of coverage on television, online and on all sorts of social networks including Twitter, Hosni Mubarak is no longer President of Egypt, bringing to an end a dictatorial rule of 30 years. I saw a comment somewhere else saying that “geopolticial people aren’t looking at Egypt – and haven’t been for a while – they’ve been looking at Saudi Arabia and a whole host of other countries to try and figure out who’s next”.

The implications for the world are huge: the majority of the dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East (which Egypt happily sits slap-bang between) also happen to be massive oil producers (something which I discuss in more detail in African Lions, my new book). So wherever is next to fall to the tidal wave of revolution that’s sweeping this part of the world could well cut off a significant amount of our oil supply in the near future – and unlike most people’s thinking, that won’t purely affect the price of petrol at our pumps. It’ll have a knock-on effect on food, airline prices and a whole wealth of other things. Here, then, are five people sleeping a little less easily tonight as Hosni Mubarak tries to find a retirement home to spend the rest of his days…

1. King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz

Saudi Arabia’s King may well be the most concerned. And because he’s concerned, though it’d be a good thing for him to be deposed, we have to be concerned too. That’s because Saudi is the world’s largest oil exporter, at any one time handling 10% of the entire world’s supply of oil. Such a large oil economy means that – as with many such oil-rich nations – there is a massive gulf between rich and poor, and an in-built corruption that concerns the west because it’s a perfect reason for the population to revolt.

Here’s an example of how pivotal Saudi Arabia is to the world’s economy (and a taster of what could happen if the people decide they’ve had enough of their king). On Wednesday, the price of oil on the Brent index fluctuated wildly because of unfounded rumours the King had died. There are precious few people in the world that can so significantly affect the world’s biggest commodity. 86-year old King Abdullah is one of those people. The question is, does he have the fight in him to contest his place if the people decide his time has come?

2. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos

The President of Angola is definitely breathing heavily tonight. The country has ostensibly been independent from colonial rule for 35 years, but in reality Dos Santos rules all. It has the second-largest reserves of oil in Africa, and 90% of all that oil goes to export (which could dry up if protestors decide to shut down the country in anger against their leader). It’s also got the 15th largest reserves in the world, making it yet another country where the rich get rich from black gold and the poor get poorer. The average Angolan GDP is just $8,400. Add multiple zeroes, and multiply the whole thing by itself, and you have a ballpark figure of the wealth of the leader.

It’s a young population (the median age is 18) and 23.74 of every 1,000 people die, so the average Angolan has very little to lose – and potentially a lot to gain. Learn more about Angola, and Dos Santos, in African Lions, available now.

3. Muammar al-Gaddafi

Colonel Gaddafi. He’s survived more uprisings than most, and weathered the storm admirably (for a dictator), but even he has to be worried that the revolutions of 2011 are something different. After the Tunisian public managed to oust their President, Gaddafi told the Tunisians “you’ve a suffered a great loss. There is none better than Zine [El Abidine Ben Ali] to govern Tunisia.” He might be regretting those words now that Tunisia was proven not to be a fluke by the Egyptians.

Perhaps most insanely, Gaddafi rang Hosni Mubarak last night after his speech to the nation to wish him good luck and offer his support. Little did he know, it seems, that he was aligning himself with a has-been and someone who would be kicked out little more than 12 hours later.

4. Omar al-Bashir

Talking of words people might regret, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir may well be one of the weakest leaders clinging on to power tonight. He could very well suffer a one-two punch of losing half his country (and the lion’s share of oil reserves and the wealth that stems from it) to a democratic referendum and the other half to a populist uprising within little more than a month. South Sudan, which held more than 80% of the country’s oil reserves, has just been granted independence from Khartoum (and Bashir) thanks to 99% of its people voting to secede. He said on the eve of the vote that “if they choose unity, we are ready […] to give up our full share in the oil in the south to the government of the south.”

Penniless and powerless, while the media’s attention was focused on Egypt Bashir managed to put down a small uprising in Sudan through unabashed violence. Now that the world is looking to wherever falls next, he might not be able to act so ruthlessly next time, and could well be pitched out. To read more about Sudan, South Sudan and the future of the region’s oil, including how China has muscled into Africa, buy African Lions today.

5. Bashar al-Assad

Syria’s leader might not make it through his 10th year in power. He took power when his father died – he gained power through a military coup, managing to stabilise a country which often had overthrowings of government like most people have birthdays. Today that fear might be back, and Syria might well return to the old ways.

The average Syrian isn’t very happy with Assad’s leadership, and they seem likely to stand up in the shadow of Egypt and Tunisia. Whether he remains in power in the coming days, weeks and months, may well (like Egypt) be up to the whim of his secret police than anything within his own power.

To find out more about the potential hotspots that could fall next in Africa, and why the blame for establishing such areas of dictatorship lies at western doors, as well as the geopolitical backlash which could stem from such events, visit to purchase African Lions: the colonial geopolitics of Africa’s gas and oil.

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