When they were kings

How times have changed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top lieutenants have applauded the fall of an aging generation of Middle East and African autocrats, swept from power by a wave of uprising spurred by popular discontent. In the months leading up to this year’s U.N. General Assembly which kicks off on Wednesday, ...

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549513_110920_Opner109327447bb2.jpg

How times have changed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top lieutenants have applauded the fall of an aging generation of Middle East and African autocrats, swept from power by a wave of uprising spurred by popular discontent. In the months leading up to this year's U.N. General Assembly which kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Ban has openly encouraged NATO's military efforts to topple the likes of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of reneging on his promise to halt military operations against unarmed demonstrators.

But in previous General Assembly sessions -- indeed as recently as last year -- U.N. officials and foreign dignitaries treated these very same leaders like diplomatic royalty, perhaps seeing them, wrongly, as bastions of stability in an otherwise unstable part of the world.

How times have changed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top lieutenants have applauded the fall of an aging generation of Middle East and African autocrats, swept from power by a wave of uprising spurred by popular discontent. In the months leading up to this year’s U.N. General Assembly which kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Ban has openly encouraged NATO’s military efforts to topple the likes of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of reneging on his promise to halt military operations against unarmed demonstrators.

But in previous General Assembly sessions — indeed as recently as last year — U.N. officials and foreign dignitaries treated these very same leaders like diplomatic royalty, perhaps seeing them, wrongly, as bastions of stability in an otherwise unstable part of the world.

How swiftly a leader can turn from being an honored guest at U.N. headquarters, to a defiled rogue. Still the absence of these players may portend a duller General Assembly session this year. While the attendance of the ever-controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who once made headlines in New York for declaring his country free of homosexuals, can likely be counted on to liven the agenda, his own standing is diminished in Iran and the novelty of his provocations is wearing ever thinner. Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez who, in 2006, famously compared former President George W. Bush to the devil before the U.N. podium, is undergoing cancer treatment and will not attend.

Read the rest of the list here.

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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