MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life

By Hudson, Michael C. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life


Hudson, Michael C., The Middle East Journal


MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life, by Roger Owen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. 272 pages. $24.95.

Reviewed by Michael C. Hudson

In this intriguing book on Arab authoritarianism Roger Owen brings to bear a lifetime of scholarship on the modern Middle East. One approaches it with high expectations, and indeed there is much to like in these reflections. Owen is commendably modest in his speculations about how these long-ruling presidents think and behave, frequently noting that crucial information is simply not available. This is not a study based on primary research but, as he says, draws on the work of other scholars (mostly Western) and on his own long experience and extensive networks. Fair enough, because what we most want and need, especially in light of the so-called Arab Spring, is a seasoned synthesis to help us understand the volatile and complex realities of contemporary Arab politics.

The book begins with an account of the political vacuum leftby colonial rule which led to the establishment of populist authoritarian regimes underpinned by the military and the subsequent emergence of populist "strong men" - Egypt under Nasser being the archetypical example. We are then presented with a description of the structures of presidential power - the well-known mukhabarat security state - and its "cronies" in the business sector. Owen rightly observes that concern for their hollow ideological legitimacy led the presidents to contrive constitutional and electoral rituals to justify their ongoing rule and to devise statist economic policies to provide tangible material benefits for the people. Unfortunately, these policies became ever harder to sustain. "Second generation" presidents, instead of moving in a democratic direction (as early modernization theory proposed), sought to strengthen their domination by allying with a small group of crony capitalists to accommodate global economic liberalization pressures; and they also worked to enhance their personal legitimacy by gradually taking on some of the trappings of monarchy.

In chapters 4 and 5 Owen differentiates between the relatively centralized presidential systems in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Syria and the "managerial" presidencies in the relatively tribal, fragmented societies of Sudan, Yemen, and Libya where the state has been historically weaker. Nevertheless, the essential features of the presidency remain broadly similar and increasingly "monarchical." He then turns to what he calls "weak presidencies" in Lebanon and Iraq. However, the juxtaposition is awkward, despite the "Lebanonization" of post-Saddam Iraq. After all, Iraq's deposed tyrant was hardly weak. His successor (prime minister, to be sure) seems headed in a similar direction. Meanwhile, the Lebanese presidency has devolved into nearly feeble condition.

In a chapter on the politics of succession, Owen tries to make the case that "father-to-son" is the norm in these presidencies, which would justify Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim's designation of these systems as gumlukiyas. He marshals anecdotal evidence that this is in fact the way things work in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Yemen. But only in one of these cases-Syria - did it actually occur, and even there it was carefully cloaked in constitutional, not hereditary terms. In all the other cases there was, among many observers, merely an expectation that the sons would succeed to office; in fact, none did. As for the principle of "president for life," unless I have missed something, there is only one actual example: Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia.

This leads to the question of the degree to which Arab presidencies are like Arab monarchies, where "in the family" succession (not necessarily primogeniture) is the rule. Does it really matter? Conventional political science wisdom has it that monarchies are more stable than presidential systems because the monarch enjoys legitimacy and is above politics.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.