Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Nature of Succession in the Gulf

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Nature of Succession in the Gulf

Article excerpt

The unfolding crisis of succession in the Middle East has received considerable attention in recent years. This is particularly true in the Gulf where four of the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are led by aging rulers and the other two rulers, younger and recently enthroned, have chosen to take their small states on unprecedented and somewhat radical courses. It is disturbing that the mechanisms for the transferral of power remain disconcertingly vague and ambiguous. Effective leadership depends on having the right personalities in charge, and this is never an easy task in a hereditary system. As the Gulf regimes complete their transformation from shaykhly systems to monarchies, the question of succession will become an increasingly difficult problem.

The unfolding crisis of succession in the Middle East has received considerable attention in recent years. Succession is a problem faced by nearly all Arab states, regardless of type of political system. Hereditary succession is of course a defining characteristic of monarchies but the Arab republics, as autocratic regimes weak in institutionalization, also face serious dilemmas as the current generation of leaders reach the end of their careers. While recent instances of succession in the region - King Husayn to his son `Abdullah in Jordan, King Hasan to his son Muhammad in Morocco, and President Hafiz al-Asad to his son Bashar [Bashshar] in Syria - appear to have progressed smoothly, a plethora of question marks remain for other countries.

This is particularly true in the Gulf where four of the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are led by aging rulers and the other two rulers, younger and recently enthroned, have chosen to take their small states on unprecedented and somewhat radical courses. Despite widespread awareness of the problem confronting the GCC states, there is little detailed written consideration regarding succession scenarios and problems in the GCC, with the partial exception of Saudi Arabia.' The following pages provide brief sketches of the situation existing in each of the six countries.

SAUDI ARABIA

Much concern has been expressed by outsiders over King Fahd's poor health in recent years because of the attendant question mark for them over succession. In fact, the peril of suitable succession has troubled the Saudi state since its initial emergence in the 18`x' century. This has been true as well of the Third Saudi State, i.e. the renewed regime founded by King `Abd al-`Aziz (commonly known in the West as Ibn Sa'ud) after he recaptured the ancestral home of Riyadh in 1902. Despite paying lip service to the "traditional Arab" principle that a ruler had no right to name his heir but that succession should go to the strongest claimant who simply seized power, from the early 1930s at least King `Abd al-`Aziz in fact prepared his eldest surviving son Sa'ud to succeed him, naming him as Heir Apparent and securing family allegiance to Sa`ud's succession.2 This set in train two related phenomena. First, the principle was established of succession through the sons of King `Abd al-`Aziz in chronological order, albeit with some exceptions. Second, because these sons display varying qualities as rulers, a pattern of rivalries between sons has been a feature over the last sixty years.3

The introduction of a Basic Law in 1992 laid down some principles regarding succession but did not answer all outstanding questions. The Basic Law stipulated that succession must go to the next oldest and most fit candidate (emphasis added). By requiring that succession remain in the line of the descendants of King `Abd al-`Aziz, the way is paved for the grandsons to assume the throne in due course. But the Basic Law, probably deliberately, does not explain what methods should be chosen when succession reaches that point.

It is clear that the accession of Sa'ud on the death of King `Abd al-`Aziz in 1953, instead of his far more capable brother Faysal, came close to destroying the kingdom. …

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