We all have our premonitions about who dictators are; ruthless, brutal, despicable beings, who promote autocracy and clamp down in any way possible on any form of free speech. Whilst these may be through about the most – if not all – dictators, many famous dictators in history have had softer sides. Indeed the world may be divided about whether or not they should be classified as the best dictators or unimaginably, best leaders of our time. Yet the dictators listed below are worthy of attention. These famous dictators gained recognition for a thing or two and should be remembered.
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After leading Tunisia’s push for independence from France, Bourguiba became he first President of the Republic of Tunisia. He ruled for 30 years from 1957 to 1987 when a team of doctors pronounced him unfit to rule. Bourguiba is amongst the famous dictators best remembered for granting women the right to vote and rejecting polygamy. Also, Tunisia moved from a one party to a multi-party state during his time in office.
9. Francisco Franco – Spain
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Franco came in became the youngest general in Europe in 1926 and leader of Spain from 1939 – 1975. Francisco Franco was never to be considered one of the best dictators of our time. Franco infamously acquired a cruel reputation as a leader having been responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 prisoners during his time. In 1947, Franco established a referendum which guaranteed that he would spend the rest of his life in power. He died in 1975.
8. Chiang Kai-shek – Taiwan
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Chiang Kai-shek ruled Taiwan from 1950 – 1975 after the Chinese Nationalist Party were defeated by the Communists in 1949 during the Chinese civil war. After fleeing from China to Taiwan, Chiang ruled the exiled government in Taiwan until his death in 1975.
7. Juan Vincente Gomez – Venezuela
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Juan Vincente Gomez’s rule lasted from 1908 – 1935. During his strict reign Venezuela’s GDP grew as a result of an increase in coffee and petroleum exports. It was also this period that saw the rise of a new urban middle class in Venezuela. Juan Vicente Gomez ruled until his death in 1935 and was never marred.
6. Park Chung-Hee – South Korea
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Park Chung-Hee led South Korea from 1961 when he took over power, to his death in 1979. Park brought about economic development to Korea albeit a very dark side. Park who himself was once sentenced to death before being pardoned and later assuming power, survived an assassination attempt that killed his wife. He was later assassinated by his close friend.
5. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi – Iran
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Shah Pahlavi was turning 22 years when he assumed the throne in Iran making him the youngest of the famous dictators in history on this list. He then married an Egyptian princess. This was to be the first of four marriages. Though Iran’s GDP per capita grew over 3x during his reign, the Shah was known for quite a few absurdities. He crowned himself the King of Kings in spite of the immense opposition and replaced the Islamic calendar. The Iranian revolution of 1979 ended his rule and he died a year later in exile.
4. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar – Portugal
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Of all the famous dictators in history on this list, Salazar had an interesting rise to power. Originally a student in a seminary school, Salazar later switched and graduated with a degree in economics. He would later pursue his academic career and become a professor. Salazar’s articles were the reason behind his rise to fame and eventual leadership of Portugal. During his time Portugal’s doubled its GDP per capita. Salazar later suffered a stroke and coma and died in 1970, unaware that his position had been replaced in 1968.
3. Fidel Castro – Cuba
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Fidel Castro was totally against the imperialist and discriminatory regime he found himself in. This was the motivation behind him taking over power in the first place. But, as is a common trait in most people who fight oppressors, they most end up imbibing the same characteristics they so detested in their oppressors. Far from being one of the best dictators of his time, Fidel eventually regretted his errors, especially during the early years of his rule. This does not stop him from being considered the monster (albeit slightly exaggerated) the world views him today.
2. Mao Zedong – China
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One of the most remembered dictators in history is Mao Zedong. Also pronounced and spelt Mao Tse Tsung, Mao was the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, which he governed as its chairman from 1949, when it was established, till 1976, when he passed on. Classified by many Chinese historians as a hero or one of the “best dictators” there ever was, Mao showed initiative. Mao introduced numerous economic policies that spurred China’s growth into the world economy it is today.
1.Lee Kuan Yew – Singapore
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America may have spent the better part of the 20th and 21st century promoting democracy and insisting that their way of life is the shortest route to development. Other leaders have gone out of their way to show that democracy is not necessary to kick start development. Lee Kuan Yew is one such example. After leading Singapore’s push for separation from Malaysia in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew helped Singapore’s GDP grow over 6 folds during his 31 year reign. He was also responsible for Singapore having the best health and education systems in Asia. Lee stepped down from his position aged 87.
This is our list of the top 10 dictators in history. These dictators may or may not have been the best dictators of our time. However, they left an indelible mark in history and are as such, worth remembering.