Edition 44 Volume 6 - November 27, 2024

Non-monarchical family succession

From revolution to counterreformation -   Ammar Abdulhamid

This is simply the logical end of an era that witnessed failure and betrayal at every level of governance.

Monarchies are easier to reform - an interview with  Amr Hamzawy

Note that no one leaves office in Arab politics.

You cannot have a civilian president in Egypt - an interview with  Hisham Kassem

There are no Mubaraks in the armed forces; there is no clan presidential guard.

Succession scenarios still unclear -   Dana Moss

The departure of Qaddafi the elder will constitute the end of an era and present significant opportunities for Libya.

From revolution to counterreformation
 Ammar Abdulhamid

The rising phenomenon of "non-monarchical family succession" in the Arab world, affecting countries like Syria, Libya and Egypt where official ideology would be expected to preclude such a possibility, continues to baffle analysts.

But what can you really do if you are an Arab dictator who rose to power through a coup d'etat organized by a group of army officers who didn't just belong to the same ideological movement but also, for the most part, to the same social class, and more importantly the same geographical location in the country, perhaps even the same religious sect and/or tribe or clan?

What can you really do if you have spent decades in power already, and have personally supervised the expansion of the patronage system that you use to maintain your hold on power while shrinking the circle of your trusted advisors to include, for the most part, immediate family members and friends?

What can you really do when your victory was so complete that you have become the undisputed ruler of your country, having killed, exiled and/or caused the disappearance of all real and potential rivals around you, and having found yourself surrounded only by yes-men who would gladly accept your authority, but would never accept any of their number as more than equal? After all, in your attempt to preempt any potential coup, you have managed to sow enough discord among them to create this situation.

What can you do when you feel the final hour fast approaching, and all those around you expect you, and only you, to decide on the right way for ensuring the survival of the house you have built?

What can you do when you have managed to devastate civil society in your country so utterly that public opinion no longer matters? At best, the streets will be quiet as the succession proceeds (as happened in Syria and will likely happen in Libya), while at worst some localized riots might take place but without ever posing serious problems to the stability of the order you created (as is expected in Egypt).

Indeed, what does the whole issue of succession eventually boil down to when you take all these observations into account? What choice is such an Arab dictator left with at the end of the day?

Not that the idea of anointing one's eldest son as one's would-be successor is so abhorrent to the dictator involved. After all, if the last few decades have proven anything, it is that the self-appointed messiahs of modernization in the Arab world have never been as "modern" as they had once thought and claimed to be. Indeed, their greed and lust for power have long combined with the enduring appeal of patriarchy to ensure their fast transmogrification into antichrists of counterreformation and re-feudalization.

As such, the rise of non-monarchical family succession in the Arab world is simply the logical end of the era that witnessed social, political and economic failure and betrayal at every level of governance.

Meanwhile, the powers-that-be in the world as a whole are too invested in manipulating this situation so as to maximize their advantages in their various games of alignment and realignment--from the great game to the cold war to the haphazard push for a new world order and, more recently, to the global war on terror--to worry about the potential long-term ramifications of their activities for the peoples of the region.

Still, the situation may not be as bleak as it might seem at this stage. For by setting the clock so far back in time, the Arab regimes involved have shed all their fig-leaves and masks and have inadvertently recreated the same revolutionary potential that existed of yore, and which they themselves had tapped at one point to propel themselves to power. They have thus paved the way for the emergence of new prophets of change, some of whom might yet prove genuine and capable.

The region's new prophets, however, have only three choices available to them:

a) join the ranks of the various regimes and be content with small, meaningless "reforms" that will never be enough to appease a real kicking conscience, but which can nonetheless assure some measure of safety and perhaps fame;
b) join a terrorist cell and get that quick adrenalin fix that involvement in such endeavors does, unfortunately, provide; or
c) plan to lead a real popular revolution and not merely a coup, seeing how often coups have failed us in the past.

As an Arab dissident and democracy activist I long ago made my choice. That is why it seems appropriate somehow to conclude by saying, "welcome to the revolution".- Published 27/11/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian dissident and democracy activist, currently exiled in the United States. He is the founder and director of the Tharwa Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to facilitating democratic processes and improving inter-communal relations across the broader Middle East and North Africa region.

Monarchies are easier to reform
an interview with Amr Hamzawy

BI: How do you explain the phenomenon of family-based succession in Arab republican regimes like Syria and possibly Egypt and Libya?

Hamzawy: You can add Yemen to the list. Syria has already moved in this direction and Libya, Yemen and Egypt may follow suit soon.

There are two explanations. One is the failure of Arab republics to establish in an institutional sense a political tradition and modern mechanisms that might lead to a "normal" managed succession instead of father-son succession. In some republics, like Egypt, we do have a constitutional arrangement that is seemingly democratic and pluralist. However, in reality these regimes have managed systematically to exclude potential candidates and push them aside, basically leaving family members of the president to play key roles. Another example is Tunisia, where the president's wife and brother-in-law play a significant political role.

Secondly, the ruling establishment in these countries is composed of different factions, e.g., military and civilian, the business community that has allied itself with the rulers, the state bureaucracy and security apparatus. Since they have diverse interests, it's convenient for these factions to maintain their interests by keeping the status quo. Here a father-son succession model guarantees the status quo at a moment of potential instability and avoids inner conflict within the ruling establishment.

BI: Yet not all these republics are alike.

Hamzawy: Indeed, Egypt and Yemen are republican regimes that have been trying to adopt democratic reforms in order to govern politics in a way that seems to lead to pluralism. In Egypt, we had constitutional amendments in 2024 and 2024. Article 76 concerning presidential elections was amended in a pluralist sense to introduce more than one candidate. In Yemen, constitutional reforms have also introduced multi-candidate presidential elections. Yet in spite of this pluralist framework, the ruling establishment is still resorting to father-son succession.

Another important variation concerns Egypt. President Husni Mubarak's term expires in 2024--or earlier if he decides to resign. If there is father-son succession between him and his son Gamal, we will be moving from military rule to civilian rule. So while father-son succession is a sign of the failure of the regime in terms of pluralism and the same ruling establishment would remain, nevertheless this would signify a shift from the legacy of 1952 and the officer's movement. For some four or five years now, Gamal has been included in a way that makes him acceptable to the ruling establishment in Egypt, where there is an alliance between the military-security complex and the business community.

BI: And Syria and Libya?

Hamzawy: Syria and Libya are different from Egypt and Yemen in the sense that they have no established pluralist political tradition. In Libya, those close to Colonel Muammar Qaddafi form the political establishment; in Syria, the Baath party rules alongside minor political parties that the state dominates.

A second difference is that in Syria and Libya we also have no established arena for freedom of expression and political association. In contrast, these exist in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia.

BI: What lessons can you draw in terms of the potential for change?

Hamzawy: The legacy of Arab regimes in general is that it seems that monarchies are easier to reform in terms of introducing political pluralism and institutions. In the monarchies, the question of the highest office in the system is not debated. This cannot be said with regard to the republics, where the establishment fears a break in political continuity.

There is no way to get out of this situation for managing succession without introducing more pluralism. The republics have to remove restrictions on political movements and legalize them constitutionally, while Arab democrats and activists have to figure out ways to induce the regimes to introduce real political reforms on the ground. Also, the Arab opposition movements that are committed to democracy suffer from schisms [that weaken them].

Finally, note that no one leaves office in Arab politics. We have to revisit that legacy.- Published 27/11/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

You cannot have a civilian president in Egypt
an interview with Hisham Kassem

BI: What are the chances for Gamal Mubarak to succeed to the presidency of Egypt?

Kassem: I do not believe there are any plans for a succession by Gamal Mubarak . This never was the case; I don't think any civilian at this point can be the president of Egypt. Before we move to that stage we have to rebuild the four estates of infrastructure for a democracy. That transition period could last up to 10-15 years.

BI: And then Gamal Mubarak could become president?

Kassem: After that, when a civilian could come to power, Gamal is not qualified. The bulk of his achievements have been as the president's son. We have not seem him perform on his own; his meteoric rise within the ranks of the National Democratic Party can only be credited to his father. Nothing he has said or done merits his meteoric rise.

BI: Can you elaborate on rebuilding the four estates for a democracy?

Kassem: Until you basically have a clear hierarchy of the courts that puts an end to political intervention in the judiciary under the guise of administrative measures, and until the day when a court can settle a dispute similar to that of Bush and Gore in 2024, you cannot have a civilian at the head of state [in Egypt]. Until you have a proper functioning representative parliament that can support a civilian president in the difficult decisions he has to take; until the media is credible and not commandeered by government or private entities, a media that helps people participate in the political process; and until you have an executive branch capable of making policy and not simply implementing it, as is now the case--you cannot have a civilian president.

BI: So Egypt's next president will come from the military?

Kassem: I have no doubt the next president will be General Omar Suleiman, assuming he outlives Husni Mubarak. Suleiman is the most qualified to succeed Mubarak.

BI: Would President Mubarak agree with this assessment?

Kassem: I have no doubt this is what he's planning. He understands he would only jeopardize his son's safety if he were to push him into the presidency. There is too much at stake for an unstable Egypt to hand over the leadership to someone with as little experience as Gamal.

BI: How would you compare the situation in Egypt to that in Syria?

Kassem: Parallel to Gamal Mubarak's entry into politics in Egypt, we saw Bashar Assad elected in Syria. Nobody in Egypt sees this as comparable. In Syria, the presidential guard command is either the Assad family or those who have married into it and the bulk of the guard is Alawite. That's not the case in Egypt. There are no Mubaraks in the armed forces; there is no clan presidential guard. In Syria, they could have made Hafez Assad's mother the president if they wanted. In Egypt, we have a disciplined army without any nepotism and seniority is respected.

BI: Are there lessons to be drawn from democratization experiences in other Arab countries besides Syria?

Kassem: Over a year ago, after the coup in Mauritania, there were free elections there. At that time, I wrote and reminded people of General Swar al-Dahab, who ousted Jaafar Numeiri in a coup in Sudan in 1984, then held free elections and handed over control to democratically-elected civilians. Three years later, the military came back to rule Sudan and since then we have a catastrophe called Omar al-Bashir in power in Khartoum. So I said about democracy in Mauritania, don't be optimistic, without an infrastructure for democracy you will fall back under military rule, and that's what happened.

BI: What recourse is left to human rights and democracy advocates like yourself to influence the way leaders are chosen in Egypt?

Kassem: As vice-president of the al-Ghad party, I campaigned with party leader Ayman Nour in the last elections so we could stand up and point out the failings of the president's policies--but without any hope of winning. We were basically paving the way for generations to come, creating a tradition of campaigning for the presidency.

Right now my concern is rebuilding an infrastructure for democracy. At age 49, I have no hope to live under democracy in my active political life. All my effort is to be part of the transition. Maybe in 15 years or so we'll see the transition. I don't think Mubarak is working to build that infrastructure, but I have accepted the fact that if I am genuinely pro-reform then I have to work on the transition.- Published 27/11/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Hisham Kassem is a newspaper publisher and human rights activist in Egypt.

Succession scenarios still unclear
 Dana Moss

In a region rife with authoritarian leaders, Libya's Colonel Muammar Qaddafi has managed to outlast them all. But the 66-year-old "Brother Leader" has now been in power for close to 40 years and questions of succession are coming to the fore. It's likely that a member of Qaddafi's immediate family will assume a leadership position, but what this will entail is unclear, as Qaddafi--at least in theory--is merely the "guide of the revolution". Qaddafi himself has not yet articulated his plans, not does it appear that he has made up his mind. Speculation so far has focused on two of his sons--Saif al-Islam and Moatessem Billah. Libya watchers note that much that occurs during transition will depend on timing as neither son has established a solid enough base in the various informal networks that make up the Libyan polity to emerge as unquestioned leader.

Saif al-Islam is the most visible of the colonel's sons. He rose to international prominence as something of a diplomat through his position as head of the allegedly independent Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. As head of this organization, he took part in sensitive negotiations, such as the Lockerbie deal and with the Philippines-based Abu Sayaf group. Like his father, Saif has argued that he has no official position while nevertheless playing a substantial political and economic role. Oddly, he withdrew from politics earlier this year, though this November he visited Washington to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials. Despite assertions to the contrary, Saif's role appears to be both regime emissary and senior advisor to his father, as well as a messenger through which to float reform plans and government criticism (no doubt approved by Qaddafi) and a friendly face to the business community and the West.

Saif is seen as a reformer in the West, in part because he sees Libya's future as tied to economic reform and engagement with the US and Europe, a vision articulated in his 2024 program "Libya al-Ghad" (tomorrow's Libya). His plans for political reform include his role in developing a constitution for Libya and greater respect for human rights. Last week, he stated in an AP interview that he aims to bring about a federal style government by September, with a "constitution, democracy, elections, like any other country". This, in typical Libyan fashion, has sown confusion, as it conflicts with previous statements, such as when he argued that Libya's political model is Morocco and that, "we are entrenching our existing democratic system but we will implement it in a better and more effective way." A variety of other indicators as to the ultimately conservative nature of his championed political reform have also emerged; in recent interviews, he alleged that there were no political prisoners in the Great Jamahirriya. Likewise his much-vaunted promotion of independent press resulted in the launch of the OEA newspaper--owned by Saif himself.

In any event, Saif does not have absolute freedom of maneuver--he is no shoo-in. Although Qaddafi's son doesn't announce projects opposed by his father, Saif must tread carefully to avoid alienating his father and other vested interests. While Saif's promotion of economic reformer Shukri Ghanem to the post of prime minister heralded that his star was on the ascendant, Ghanem's dismissal indicated the reverse. The slow pace of the more specific reforms he has announced, such as creating a constitution--announced in August 2024, but yet to come to fruition--may also, in part, be indicative of the limited enthusiasm of Qaddafi the elder, whose Green Book opposes the idea of a constitution. How rapprochement with Europe and the US develops also reflects on Saif and his place in the succession hierarchy: should Libya be disappointed, his stance will be weakened.

There may also be institutional opposition to Saif's ascendance. Indeed, rumors abound that Saif is opposed by some of the old guard members of rijal al-Khaimah (an informal power network advising Colonel Qaddafi) such as Ahmed Ibrahim. Given the advanced age of this cohort, the longer succession takes the fewer of these figures will be around to exercise an influence.

Currently, central figures in the military/security field such as Colonel Abdullah Sanusi, head of military security, are said to be closer to Moatessem Billah, making him a likely candidate. As an advisor to the National Security Council and commander of his own brigade, Moatessem wields some political power though he does not have complete control over the security services. He has also been increasingly participating in high level meetings, accompanying his father to Russia in October and meeting with US officials (including Rice) to discuss security issues in 2024.

Because Moatassem has refrained from Saif-style public pronouncements, it is harder to speculate on his political world-view. Reportedly, Musa Kusa, head of the external security apparatus, serves as his mentor, and he is close to the Old Guard and less economically reformist than his brother.

The departure of Qaddafi the elder will constitute the end of an era and present significant opportunities for Libya. It will bestow greater international legitimacy on the country. The regime will change too--as a founding father departs, and a new, weaker leader takes his place, greater internal debate and contestation will likely emerge. It's unclear what elements of Libya's quixotic political system will remain, other than an authoritarian nature. Stripped of Colonel Qaddafi's mercurial personality, Libya's foreign relations are likely to abandon the "United States of Africa" idea and refrain from provocative statements and destabilizing actions against other heads of state.

Qaddafi may announce his successor during his lifetime, which will make the transition process easier. The flipside is that the sooner and more suddenly a changeover takes place, the bumpier the process will be. A broad consensus among Libya observers has emerged that neither son has sufficient support from the six tribes of the Qadadfa tribal community, as well as related tribes, not to mention the Revolutionary Committees and rijal al-Khaimah. Nor do they yet have in place the complicated patronage networks necessary to ensure support. Therefore, should a changeover be immediate, speculation rests on two scenarios: The first is that of Syria in the 1960s, where coup follows coup until there is a consolidation of authority. The second is that those figures that have most sway and expertise within the system reach an agreement and govern via a consensus candidate. It is by no means clear who would in the end be the top figure and how much power that person would have. In either case, a post-Qaddafi Libya will in all probability continue to see limited and inconsistent economic reform, as well as closer relations with the US and Europe.- Published 27/11/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

Dana Moss is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Email This Article

Print This Article