A colleague of mine who has recently come back from a trip to Libya said she was amazed by the number of people—particularly among the poor—who still harbor loyalty, respect and love for former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
It took seven months to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, despite the help of a NATO air-campaign. Why are dictators so hard to oust?
Regime change and promoting democracy—especially if it sought by an outside force—face unexpected difficulties because they fail to understanding human nature.
If there is one thing people hate more than a brutal dictator, it is a foreign occupation.
Here is my amateur attempt at explaining this from a sociobiology perspective:
There is a strong biological basis for being suspicious of invaders; there is no strong biological basis for resisting a brutal dictator. In fact, there is a strong social instinct that drives people to rally around their leader in times of war, even if he is a tyrant.
Dictators who practice brutal aggression often gain reverence among their people. This aggression is often followed by acts of kindness and generosity, which nurtures the "Stockholm syndrome."
It is human nature to appeal to a higher power, whether it is a deity or a leader, since humans are primates that have evolved to look up to the alphamale for protection and guidance; someone who is a symbol of the group's identity and unity.
This might also explain why so many people are greatly offended when God's name is desecrated, even though they are taught that God is omnipotent and omnipresent.
On the other hand, democratic behavior seems rare in the animal kingdom--and among humans for that matter. Dictatorship is a die-hard trait and it is still prevalent, even in countries that call themselves democracies.
By democracy, I don't mean choosing a leader through social consensus. What passes for democracy is often collective complacency. I mean the ability of individuals in a group to criticize the leader, hold him accountable and prevent him from misusing his power.
The status of the alpha in animals is usually achieved by means of superior physical strength, but this also applies in human democracy, since groups want the strongest and fittest to be their leader.
The presidential debates mirror animal behavior where individuals competing for the alpha position challenge each other to a fight, and in some species, to the death.
On the other hand, biologists are now realizing that shared decision making is not unique to humans and is probably widespread in social animals. The alpha status is also achieved through social efforts and alliance building.
The attempt to oust the last brutal dictators today should be approached with the understanding of why humans have an instinct to cling on to them.
Also, the attempt to build democracies should be approached with the understanding that democracy is an acquired human social trait that doesn't come naturally and requires a reprogramming of social values, which takes time and a string of setbacks.