Despots Emeriti

The uprisings rocking the Middle East have forced many of the region’s tyrants to explore the merits of living abroad, a long-running tradition for all-powerful rulers who are suddenly not. As history shows, their form of involuntary retirement can be a comfortable life of embezzlement-fueled opulence—or a brief detour on the way to being arrested and/or shot.


Hosni Mubarak (February 11, 2011)
Said to be holed up at his home in Sharm el-Shaikh, a resort town on the Sinai Peninsula; reportedly rejected an invitation from Saudi Arabia.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (January 14, 2011)
Taken to a palace that belongs to the Saudi royal family; suffered a stroke and fell into a coma—many believe he’s already dead.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev (2010)
Lives in Minsk under protection of Belarusian president.

Alberto Fujimori (2000)
Moved in with 38-year-old girlfriend, a karate expert; later arrested and returned to Peru, where he is imprisoned.

Mobutu Sese Seko (1997)
Had estates all over Europe, but Morocco was the only country to grant him and his 50-member entourage asylum.

Raoul Cédras (1994)
Moved into an apartment complex called the Emperor.

Mengistu Haile Mariam (1991)
Lived until recently in a Harare villa, where neighbors said his trash bins overflowed with empty whiskey bottles; 2009 rumors had him possibly fleeing to North Korea to avoid extradition.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier (1986)
At first spotted frequently driving expensive cars around the Riviera; later, after divorce, lived in modest Parisian apartment. (Recently returned to Haiti, where he was arrested.)

Idi Amin (1979)
Lived in a Saudi-provided villa and often took morning swims at a nearby Hilton pool.

Jean-Bédel Bokassa (1979)
Lived outside Paris, where he owned four châteaux and a hotel; returned to face trial and jail time; was eventually released; later declared self the thirteenth apostle of Christ.

Anastasio Somoza (1979)
Lived in Asunción in a high-walled compound patrolled by bodyguards—but was still assassinated in 1980.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1815)
Set up court, started a campaign of public works, and conducted daily drills of his small army and navy.

King Charles II (1651)
Lived in Louvre Palace with his mother. Fathered several illegitimate children.

King Wladyslaw III (1444)
According to a new book, the king—thought killed by Ottomans—may have in fact survived, fled to Madeira, changed his name to “Henry the German,” married a Portuguese noblewoman, and fathered Christopher Columbus.

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Despots Emeriti