After weeks of tumultuous protests, embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak
is widely expected to step down as soon as tonight. Will other "democratically elected" presidents-for-life across the globe soon face similar fates? Now that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has announced plans to run for re-election and could see his power extended until the end of this decade, Newsweek's Mac Margolis wonders if Chavez is next. Update: As soon as we published we learned that Mubarak has refused to step down.
"There are striking parallels between the Middle Eastern despots and the self-styled heir of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar, who has ruled virtually unchallenged since 1999," writes Margolis. "Like Egypt's House of Sharm El Sheik and the Ben Ali dynasty, Chavez's 'boligarchy' has purloined the wealth it hasn't squandered."
Interestingly, Chavez hasn't had much to say either in support of Mubarak or the protesters, but in true Chavez style only took the opportunity to characterize the United States as the devil.
"See how the United States, after using such-and-such a president for years, as soon as he hits a crisis, they abandon him. That's how the devil pays," he told a newswire.
Late last month protesters briefly took a hold of the Egyptian embassy in Venezuela in a show of solidarity with protesters in Cairo. Though, Chavez quickly had Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro diffuse the situation.
So, will these protesters ever start similar protesters against their own authoritarian leader?
Caught in a deep recession, Venezuela is also facing steep inflation and out-of-control crime. The country seems ripe for some sort of popular uproar.
Though Margolis writes that Chavez doesn't have anything to worry about ...yet.
He believes Chavez exercises his power in such a way as to deflect any sort of uprising.
"Chávez jails and hounds critics, but keeps no gulag of political prisoners. Independent media are silenced (Radio Caracas) or harassed (Globovision), although ordinary Venezuelans may freely assemble and say just about what they want. The government does rig elections, but slants the outcome through gerrymandering as it did in September when the opposition won a majority of the popular vote but failed to gain control of the legislature."
Coupled with his occasional self-deprecation, "man of the people" image and Venezuela's lax political culture, the substance of the Chavez and Mubarak regimes may be similar, but the style is completely opposite.
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