Dictators' Retreats

AP Photo

AP Photo

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

The day before he officially stepped down as Egypt’s president after nearly three weeks of protests, Mubarak made a run for Sharm el-Sheikh, a glitzy city on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Situated on the Red Sea and just a short hop from Europe, Sharm el-Sheikh is popular for its year-round good weather, stunning beaches, coral reefs, and thousands of species of tropical fish. It made headlines in 2010 for its unusual string of shark attacks. Mubarak remained in his compound in Sharm el-Sheikh after his assets were frozen and he was banned from traveling. Mubarak was hospitalized in the town in April and he remained there until his trial began in Cairo in July 2011.  After he was transported from Sharm el-Sheikh for the trial, it was determined that Mubarak would be held at the Police Academy hospital for the entire trial, instead of being flown back to the resort town. Mubarak was found guilty of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to life in prison.

AFP / Getty Images

Ben Ali Family of Tunisia: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

After taking power in a bloodless coup and reigning for 30 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of office in January 2011 by violent protests in Tunis. Tunisia’s former colonizer, France, refused to allow Ben Ali to hide out there, but his spendthrift relatives, whose outrageous consumption sparked the revolution, made a getaway to the hotel at Disneyland Paris. (Ben Ali’s wife, Laila, helped herself to one and a half tons of gold before going on the run.) After Ben Ali stepped down, the whole clan was welcomed into Saudi Arabia, a popular destination for felled dictators, and set up in a heavily guarded palace in the cosmopolitan city of Jeddah. He was tried in absentia for the murders of several protestors and sentenced to life in prison in June.


Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier of Haiti: St. Vallier-de-Thiey, France

Baby Doc’s family had ruled and looted Haiti for 28 years before the people finally sent him packing to France in 1986. His family launched their exile in a lakeside luxury hotel until French authorities moved him to a 10-room villa in St. Vallier-de-Thiey, a pastoral community just minutes from the Côte d'Azur, where he was kept on a lax form of house arrest. He also drove a Ferrari Testarossa and hung out in a château in Théméricourt, near Paris. But his 25 years in France weren’t all bontemps: In a bitter divorce, his first lady made off with a huge portion of Duvalier’s money, raising questions about whether he even had the $8 million he pledged to donate to Haiti. Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011 after a massive earthquake and ensuing cholera outbreak killed more than 250,000 people, saying he went back to help his country. The view shown here is of nearby Grasse.


Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, “The Shah” of Iran: Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Egypt

As the protests against his regime grew increasingly violent in 1979, the shah of Iran fled with his family to Aswan, Egypt, for “vacation and medical treatment.” Before he died, the shah had moved to the Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, and finally the United States for treatment of his lymphatic cancer. He died in Cairo in 1980 as one of the most important figures in Iranian history. Though reviled by his people, he was still considered a leader who pushed the country toward modernization and secularism by some. His youngest daughter, who committed suicide in 2001, said she “hated” having to live outside of Iran after the revolution turned the country to an Islamic dictatorship.


Juan Péron of Argentina: Madrid, Spain

To this day, Juan Péron and his second wife, Eva, are considered rock stars by many Argentineans. (Their fame inspired the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Evita, and the Pérons were played by Antonio Banderas and Madonna in a 1996 film version. But Péron eagerly studied the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler, and later made his country a haven for Nazi war criminals. In 1955, he barely escaped a Catholic-led coup that ended his regime. After trying fruitlessly to control his political party from other South American nations, Péron settled in Madrid, Spain, where he engineered his comeback. He returned in 1973, and took back the presidency until his death the next year.

Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo

Saddam Hussein of Iraq: Hole near Tikrit, Iraq

Less than a year into the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the country’s dictator was found hiding out across the Tigris River from two of his opulent palaces in Tikrit. Hussein was discovered in a narrow hole underneath a two-room mud shack on a sheep farm in al-Dawr, a small agricultural town. A Styrofoam plug covered the hole. Hussein had given up traveling with security forces in order not to attract attention. But when U.S. soldiers nabbed him, he was ragged, exhausted, and “resigned to his fate.” An Iraqi court convicted Hussein of crimes against humanity in November 2006 and sentenced him to death. He was executed a month later.

John G. Mablango / Getty Images

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines: U.S. Military Bases in Guam & Hawaii

The former president of the Philippines and his glamorous wife were some of the most famous embezzlers in history. Not only did Marcos rule the Pacific island nation with an iron first, but with Imelda’s help, swindled billions of dollars from the United States, Switzerland, and major corporations. When their rule ended in 1986, Imelda’s closet of 2,700 pairs of shoes made global headlines. The Marcoses set off on a exile tour of U.S. military bases in the Pacific, running up personal expenses of $207,000 to lay at the feet of U.S. taxpayers. Among the expenses were $2,552 for shoes, $18,952 for clothes, and $19,971 for long-distance calls.


Idi Amin of Uganda: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Amin was the president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, and his regime ended at almost the same moment as that of the shah of Iran. He had established military rule in the African country, and killed hundreds of thousands in ethnic and ideological purges. After his regime collapsed, he took the same route as Tunisia’s Ben Ali family, fleeing to Jeddah. The Saudi royal family welcomed him and paid him a generous subsidy to stay out of politics.

Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Adolf Hitler of Germany: The Führerbunker, Berlin

Like Saddam, the world’s most infamous mass-murderer spent his final days hiding out underground. But the Führerbunker gives “hole” a whole new meaning: It was more like an elaborate subterranean office building beneath Hitler’s main palace in Berlin. Originally created as a refuge during air raids, it was expanded as a permanent hideout as the Soviet army stepped up its shelling of the city. Hitler spent the final five months of his life there with his mistress Eva Braun and his six children, who lived in the upper level of the bunker, before he committed suicide on May 1, 1945. The three-hour 2004 war epic Downfall was set entirely in the Führerbunker.

Robert Ghement / AP Photo

Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania: On the run in Romania

If they’re bad enough, some dictators never make it into exile. After the regime of Communist Party leader Nicolae Ceauşescu collapsed in 1989, he and his wife hopped around the country in a helicopter, pursued by the Romanian army. They had ruled the country with an iron fist, employing 700,000 informers in a nation of just over 20 million people, all while enriching themselves on public largesse. Eventually they were captured and executed by firing squad, the last people to be executed before Romania outlawed capital punishment in 1990.

World History Archive / Newscom

Napoleon Bonaparte of France: Saint Helena

Not every dictator gets to pick his place of punishment: After his defeat at Waterloo, the British government sent Napoleon Bonaparte to the far-flung island of Saint Helena, 1,200 miles from any other land mass. He lived at the Briars estate, the home of an English merchant whose 14-year-old daughter he befriended. Amid many false rumors of his escape, Napoleon dictated his memoirs and enjoyed gardening. He died in 1821, and his remains were paraded down the Champs-Élysées in Paris.