If global politics had an annual awards show, the segment devoted to eulogizing those statesmen we lost in 2011 would be long and impressive. From deposed international despots to sexually reckless U.S. politicians who were forced to leave the political sphere, it was a bad year to get caught on the wrong side of revolutions and popular revulsion. Here, seven of the most dramatic, unexpected falls from power in 2011:
1. Hosni Mubarak
Egypt's president for 30 years, Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11, after 18 days of mostly peaceful protests centered in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Mubarak was hardly sent into a comfortable retirement: International banks froze billions of dollars of his and his family's assets, and Mubarak — reportedly in grave health — was locked up to face murder and corruption charges. Mubarak's downfall is right up there with "the fall of communism 20 years ago" as a "validation to all those around the world who believe in democracy, the power of peaceful protest, and the right of all people to seek redress of their grievances," said The Baltimore Sun in an editorial.
2. Moammar Gadhafi
The Libyan strongman ruled for 12 years longer than Mubarak, but his end was more gruesome and more final. After months of battle with rebel forces aided by NATO airstrikes, Gadhafi went into hiding in late August when he lost control of Libya's capital, Tripoli. Then, on Oct. 20, Gadhafi was discovered by enemy forces in Sirte, where he was beaten, humiliated, and killed. "Libyans suffered terribly under Gadhafi for decades," said Amy Davidson in The New Yorker. But, in the interest of justice, clearing up the murkiness surrounding the dictator's brutal death "matters, even for him."
3. Silvio Berlusconi
By the time Italy's colorfully controversial prime minister was forced into retirement on Nov. 12, nearly two decades after taking office, he had achieved a profound unpopularity. Berlusconi presided over his country's slide toward insolvency, and he was long plagued by allegations of corruption and myriad sex scandals, including charges that he slept with an underage prostitute. The real surprise isn't that "the undisputed clown of international politics has finally been forced out of the circus," said Alex Fusco in Britain's The Independent. It's that he wasn't "led out of office in handcuffs."
4. Dominique Strauss-Kahn
The International Monetary Fund chief and early frontrunner in France's 2012 presidential race was arrested in New York City on May 15, after hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo accused Strauss-Kahn of raping her. New York prosecutors dropped the criminal charges on Aug. 23 after doubts emerged about Diallo's credibility, but Strauss-Kahn's IMF career and presidential prospects were already in tatters. The collapse of the New York case "doesn't mean that Strauss-Kahn is innocent, of course," said Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, but I think he has a right to ask "where he goes to get his reputation back."
5. Anthony Weiner
In one of the oddest sex-related scandals of the year, Rep. Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned from Congress in disgrace on June 16 after he was caught sending sexually suggestive or lewd photos of himself to a group of women he never met in real life. Weiner was busted by a conservative blogger on May 27 when the congressman accidentally posted a photo of his underwear-clad erection to his public Twitter feeed, then clumsily tried to cover his tracks. Finally, Weiner tearfully admitted to being a serial sexter. "Weiner can be described, I think, as Twitter’s first major political casualty," said Greg Sargent at The Washington Post.
6. John Ensign
Though more old-school than Weiner's mess, the Nevada Republican's sex scandal was perhaps equally "salacious." Ensign resigned from the Senate on May 3, barely dodging the Senate Ethics Committee's scathing report, which was released on May 12. The report detailed Ensign's affair with his campaign treasurer, his attempts to buy her silence and that of her husband — another longtime aide — with his parents' cash and a lobbying job, and Ensign's potentially illegal attempts to cover that up. The committee's made-for-TV retelling of the affair is "astounding and a hell of a read," said Taylor Marsh at her blog. "Ensign is actually lucky he resigned," because the Senate would have expelled him after this bombshell.
7. Herman Cain
The one-time Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination effectively dropped out of the race on Dec. 3, after badly mishandling several documented accusations of sexual harassment and an alleged extramarital affair. Cain also faced widespread criticism for breezily fumbling routine foreign policy and economic questions. The Cain campaign will "go down as one of the most hapless and bumbling operations in modern presidential politics," said Jonathan Martin at Politico.