Some are still in power (and seek more), some have been toppled, some are no longer living. All have ruled with a heavy hand and suppressed the rights of their people to further the goal of what they think is the correct way to govern.
The young Kim, reportedly his late father's favorite, comes to his grand position as dictator of North Korea with little in the way of ruling experience. His uncle Jang Song-thaek, husband of Kim Jong-il's sister, was switched from a business suit to military uniform after Kim's death and has reportedly been tasked with guiding the younger Kim through his first years in power. In early 2011, the Chosun Ilbo reported that Jang, once powerful in Kim Jong-il's regime and running day-to-day affairs after the dictator's 2008 stroke, had kept a "respectful distance" since the son began being groomed for leadership. Still, some 200 senior officials with ties to Jang and O Kuk-ryol, a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, were executed or arrested in an apparent effort to stymie any future challenge to Kim Jong-un's rule. J
While enjoying the luxuries in life and watching his vast collection of some 20,000 movie titles, the rule of North Korea from 1994 until his death in December 2011 left his country starving yet armed with nuclear weapons. Internationally isolated, everyday North Koreans are denied free speech, freedom of religion and free access to media. They can be sent to forced labor camps at the whim of the party apparatus, for "penalties" such as trying to escape across the border in search of something to eat. Kim's legacy is a scarred country where the life expectancy for men is just 61 years.
The Supreme Leader of Iran is the last word on all dealings in the Islamic Republic, even the confirmation of an elected president, and an international mouthpiece for the Islamic Revolution as the second ayatollah to serve as the conservative figurehead since 1979. The ayatollah has gone as far as to suggest that the post of an elected president may not be needed someday. While the mullahs stoke tension with the West, morality police in Iran enforce a strict Islamic law including crackdowns on those wearing "Satanic" (un-Islamic) clothing.
The dictator of Libya since 1969 was the third-longest serving world ruler until he was forced on the run and killed in his hometown in 2011. The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was born after Gadhafi staged the coup that brought him to power, ushering in an era of repression for the Libyan people. Journalists and others exercising free speech were arrested or disappeared, and political parties were banned. In Gadhafi's Libya, it was a crime to speak against the dictator but not against Allah.
Mubarak was Egypt's president from 1981, when, as vice president, he took the reins of the government following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, to 2011, when he stepped down in the face of intense anti-government protests. The fourth Egyptian president came under criticism for human rights and a lack of democratic institutions in the nation, but was also seen by many as a necessary ally who has kept extremists at bay in that critical region. Thus, challenges to his rule were generally not supported until the popular uprising that filled Tahrir Square.
The president of Syria took power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 29 years. The Syrian parliament lowered the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 40 to 34 years of age so that Bashar could run, unopposed, for his late father's seat. He promised to enact reforms when he took power but those have not been realized, with human rights groups accusing Assad's regime of imprisoning, torturing and killing political opponents. State security is strongly intertwined with the presidency and loyal to the regime.
After twice attempting to pass a constitutional referendum to extend presidential terms indefinitely, Chavez succeeded on the second try. But the campaign produced allegations of buying votes and other irregularities, and the referendum exposed the chasm between the pro- and anti-Chavez forces in the country. Declaring that he has a mandate for a socialist transformation in the country, Chavez has continued to dismantle free media and nationalize various industries. Rising crime and unemployment also threaten his rule, but Chavez has concentrated on forging alliances from Iran to other leftists in Latin America.
President of Zimbabwe since 1980, he attained his job after leading bloody guerrilla warfare against the white colonial rulers of what was then Rhodesia. Under Mugabe's rule, human rights abuses mounted -- including torture, gangs terrorizing the oppposition and forced evictions -- and the rule of law disintegrated. Under his rule, the unemployment rate peaked to 95 percent and inflation soared to 100,000 percent.