It’s been a bad year for dictators, especially in the Middle East. There they were, cruising along comfortably for 30 or 40 years, terrorising their subjects and stashing billions in Switzerland, and suddenly it all fell apart.

2011’s Arab Spring began in Tunisia in January with a popular revolt that toppled Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his ex-hairdresser wife, Leila, who had ruled the country for more than two decades.

Within a month, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was also gone, and almost every other Arab leader was under pressure, including the King of Bahrain. By the end of the year, four had been deposed or killed, and Syria’s strongman, Bashar al-Assad was also struggling to hang onto power.

Further afield, Ivory Coast dictator Laurent Gbagbo was violently removed by a civil war in April, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il popped his clogs from a heart attack this week at the age of 69. Here’s our guide to the ten dictators you need to know about: who’s gone, who’s going, and who’s still going strong into 2012.

Here’s a sneak peek of the five recently-deposed despots (visit The Power Index for the full Top Ten):

5. Ali Abdullah Saleh: After 10 months of violent protests, several hundred deaths and fierce fighting between rival army units, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally agreed in November to step down within 30 days. But one month later, he’s still in charge and the killings continue. — (read the full story here)

4. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali: After 23 years as Tunisia’s hard man, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out in January by a massive popular uprising. The Jasmine Revolution began when 26-year old fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police harassment. — (read the full story here)

3. Hosni Mubarak: Neither the Egyptian army nor his Americans allies could keep President Hosni Mubarak in power once the protesters took over Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square in February. After three decades at the top, it took just 18 days and 850 deaths to force him out. — (read the full story here)

2. Muammar Gaddafi: Bedouin-born Colonel Gaddafi seized power in 1969 in a bloodless coup against Libya’s King Idris and terrorised his people for the next 42 years. But the Middle East’s longest-lasting despot — who dubbed himself ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Leader of the Arab leaders’ — finally got the bullet in October from his own golden gun, after a long civil war. — (read the full story here)

1. Kim Jong-il: Kim Jong-il, who died this week, was a founding member of the Axis of Evil and arguably even worse than Gaddafi. Not only did he run a brutally repressive regime, with 250,000 political prisoners in concentration camps, he also turned the North Korean economy into a basket case, with regular food shortages and famines. — (read the full story here)

Peter Fray

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