A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Longevity of Arab Rulers

While writing my post about Ja‘far Numeiri, I started thinking a bit about the very long rule of some Arab leaders. Numeiri once seemed a permanent fixture, but once deposed, he was largely forgotten; that doesn't happen all that often in the region.

Back in the 90s it was fashionable to write articles about the coming succession crises in so many countries, but for most, the successions have now occurred. Of the men who led the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, few remain in power or even survive. Saddam is gone (executed), Hafiz al-Asad (natural death), Sadat (assassinated), Bourguiba (natural death after deposition), Hasan II (natural death), King Hussein (natural death), and most of the Gulf rulers: Kings Khalid and Fahd, Sheikh Zayid of the UAE, the old guard in Qatar and Bahrain and Kuwait.

There are exceptions. Husni Mubarak survives in his 80s; Qadhafi is still a fixture, and despite his WMD conversion still a bit untamed; Sultan Qaboos of Oman of course, whose lack of a clear successor bothers some; and ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih in Yemen. A few of the Lebanese godfathers like Walid Jumblatt or Michel Aoun. ‘Ali Khamenei in Iran. King ‘Abdullah of Saudi Arabia of course was a powerful figure in those days, but not the ruler then.

The dean, I guess, is Qadhafi (1969), then Qaboos (1970), Salih in Yemen (1978), and Mubarak (1981). As an intellectual exercise let's name the US Presidents since Qadhafi led the coup of 1 September 1969: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the elder, Clinton, Bush the younger, Obama. Eight US Presidents. I guess it's a good thing it's a "Jamahiriyya" and not a monarchy.

And of course now the republics are as likely to be hereditary as the monarchies. Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father; had Saddam remained in power ‘Udayy or Qusayy would have probably succeeded; we all know about Gamal Mubarak, and ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih and Mu‘ammar Qadhafi seem to be planning for their sons to succeed them.

And even in Lebanon, where there are fairly regular elections, it still helps if your name is Gemayel or Frangiyeh or Chamoun if you're Maronite, Tueni or Murr if you're Orthodox, Jumblatt or Arslan if you're Druze, Hariri or Karami if you're Sunni. Oddly enough the rise of Amal and Hizbullah mean that among the Shi‘a, the hereditary factor is somewhat reduced. But Lebanon is more feudal in its approach than monarchical.

I don't really know if this post has a point: most people familiar with the region already know this, but perhaps someone will find it useful.

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