There are deep rumblings at the highest levels of the International Dictators’ Club. Although the Club has seen its membership decline in recent years, the art of dictatorship is still alive in several key countries — notably Burma, Zimbabwe and Iran. But the last of the dictators must now be seriously worried about their future viability.

There’s upheaval at the Burmese branch of the Club, where an estimated 100,000 demonstrators have been marching through Rangoon over recent days in the biggest public uprising against the country’s hated military dictatorship in almost two decades. With the US publicly attacking the Burmese junta, and China offering it no support, there is the real prospect of light at the end of the tunnel for Burma’s suppressed 47 million people.

Over at the Harare branch Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, the Club’s longest-serving stalwart, is also watching a spot of chaos on the streets. Which is hardly surprising because, as CBS News reports, “the fields are barren, the grocery stores and market stalls nearly empty. Life expectancy for males in Zimbabwe has fallen to 37, for women, 34. Infant mortality is soaring. More than a third of Zimbabweans have HIV.” Oh, and the state broadcaster is “a propaganda outlet that would have made Josef Goebbels proud.”

In New York, meanwhile, another leading Club member, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been spreading his wings (and his bile). Yesterday he informed a hostile audience at Columbia University that his country didn’t discriminate against gay people because “in Iran, we don’t have homos-xuals like in your country”. In a further historical observation, he questioned whether “sufficient research” had been conducted into the Holocaust.

The Club is right to be concerned about its future. Dictatorship just ain’t what it used to be.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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