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Arab uprising: What to do with dictators?

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The choice between amnesty and accountability is not easy. As a carrot to push out a dictator, amnesty offers a chance to end years of brutality and corruption. Granted to a former dictator, it might allow a country to focus on more pressing needs – such as building a new state.

But following up on prosecution allows the opportunity of justice for victims. If done fairly, it builds a foundation of lawfulness for a future state.

Either choice can perpetuate divisions in society, however. Letting a dictator off the hook lights a fire of resentment under those hurt during a reign of terror. Yet a politicized prosecution, perceived as unjust – such as the trial of Saddam Hussein that ended in execution – can also deepen schisms.

So far, neither Mr. Saleh nor Mr. Qaddafi are budging. They may fondly wish for the days when Uganda’s Idi Amin lived a life of exile undisturbed in Saudi Arabia, or when East Europe was kind to many of its ex-communist dictators (not to Romania’s ruling Ceausescu couple, who were executed). But these two Arab holdouts are probably much more aware that in recent years, the trend with former dictators has favored prosecution.

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