Egyptian President Mubarak has responded to his country's demands for his ouster by announcing he will not run for reelection, but he has shown little indication of plans to leave the country any time soon. Foreign Policy's Scott Horton wonders if Mubarak's hesitation reflects recent international efforts to investigate and convict fleeing dictators for their crimes. "Time was when a dictator like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, watching his hold on power crumbling in the face of an uprising, had plenty of retirement options," recalls Horton. He could retrieve the money in his foreign bank accounts, take some more from the state's treasury, and spend it all on a luxurious home in a European beach town. But, Horton points out, "exile isn't what it used to be." Over the past 30 years, fleeing dictators have been regularly prosecuted by their successor regimes and investigated for stolen money.
"More menacingly, human rights lawyers and international prosecutors may take a close look at the tools the deposed dictator used to stay in power: Did he torture? Did he authorize the shooting of adversaries? Did he cause his enemies to 'disappear'? Was there a mass crackdown that resulted in dozens or hundreds of deaths?" Once ignored, such actions can now land a former dictator at a tribunal such as the Hague, where Slobodan Milosevic was on trial when he died. Horton predicts Mubarak is already frantically trying to avoid this scenario by searching for asylum from a friendly government. The problem is that such a country may quickly conclude that "its old friend just isn't worth the effort and the damage to reputation associated with sheltering him."
Mubarak attempted to secure protection from Egypt by installing "foreign intelligence chief and CIA confidant Omar Suleiman as vice president and constitutional successor," but Suleiman has already been blocked and it is unclear whether Mubarak will be able to insure a successor who can be relied upon at all. Since 1990, 69 heads of state have been prosecuted for international crimes and "Mubarak's regime, with its well-documented record of torture and brutal methods of repression, is a prime candidate."
If Mubarak leaves, he will need a safe haven: a government that will protect him from lawsuits and criminal charges. It is increasingly difficult for any Western state to make such promises. And that leaves him with few and generally unappealing exit options. He may find a welcome in Saudi Arabia or under the roof of an equally unstable dictator in the region. But his troubles are not likely to end when the wheels go up on his jet from Cairo.