Madmen at the Helm: Pathology and Politics in the Arab Spring

Muriel Mirak-Weissbach


“No, no one against us. Against me, for what? – They love me, all my people with me, they love me all. They will die to protect me, my people.” Ghaddafi, February 27, in an interview with Christian Amanpour, ABC News. Are dictators mad, or are they smart people who don’t know when to quit? Do dictators know that their people hate them, or do they have a mixture of narcissistic, paranoid, delusional, hysterical and sociopathic personality disorders? The author of Madmen at the Helm tries to answer these questions. The Arab Spring was a watershed in Arab history, which gave young protesters the impetus to challenge established and entrenched dictatorial regimes for the first time, and to demand democracy. In this unique book, Muriel Mirak-Weissbach reviews specialist literature and provides a profile of a mixture of personality disorders – narcissism, paranoia, hysteria and sociopathy – displayed by five Middle Eastern leaders (Mubarak, Qaddafi, Ben Ali, Saleh and Assad). She argues that the responses of these leaders to the challenges they faced indicate that they were psychologically incapable of facing reality, and indeed displayed pathological symptoms in clinging fanatically to power in the face of revolt. Mirak-Weissbach considers each of the five leaders in turn, examining their behavior during the upheavals as expressed in their public statements, speeches, interviews and courses of action. Thus she identifies patterns and similarities of behavior that serve to prove that the five ‘stony-faced old men in power’ displayed specific pathological personality types in their responses to the political and cultural circumstances in which they were operating. A postscript to the book widens this context by identifying two cases of narcissism in contemporary American politics: George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. This highly topical, accessible and relevant book provides a psycho-historical insight into the actions and responses of the deposed dictators, viewed from a unique clinical psychological perspective.

Muriel Mirak-Weissbach is an Armenian-American who grew up in New England. She has been a political journalist specialising in economic, political and cultural development in the Arab and Islamic world for thirty years. She worked with an international press agency for many years and published hundreds of articles in various political and cultural journals.She is the author of Through the Wall of Fire, Armenia – Iraq – Palestine: From Wrath to Reconciliation, which is a reflection on her family history and how that shaped her humanitarian and political work in Iraq and Palestine.