A new scientific fad, not disimilar to to the current craze about genetically-modified food, has taken hold of Arab dictators. Ailing and ageing and encouraged, if not inspired by the ruthless transfer of power to the late Jordanian monarch’s eldest son, king Abdullah II, and the impressive display of western support for him they are all preparing to stage similar performances in their own countries.
Syria’s president Hafiz al-Assad is leading the team of political scientists anxious to clone themselves, before it is too late, by appointing their eldest sons as their successors, while the Libyan leader, Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi, is a willing and able assistant. Saddam Hussain of Iraq, though isolated and under attack by the west and its proxies, shows no sign of being outdone, displaying great professionalism in the preparation of a successor as unspeakable as himself.
Even Yassir Arafat, who has no son of his own, is apparently yearning for a successor. He announced, soon after king Hussain appointed his eldest son as Crown Prince, having humiliated his brother Hasan first, that he ‘hoped to be succeeded, and soon’. His three-year-old daughter, Zahra, is too young to be groomed for the job, and he is too ill to hang on long enough. But his wife Suha, barely half his age, is young enough to take over from him and keep the line of dynastical succession open.
Suha, who converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Islam before the wedding, is certainly showing strong signs of political ambition. She has begun a campaign of vilification against members of the Palestinian authority (particularly those hoping to become chairman after Arafat), dismissing them as ‘a corrupt bunch of yes-men’. She has also openly attacked the ‘peace-process’, asserting that it robs Palestinians of their ‘dignity’. She told the London-based Sunday Telegraph on February 7 that Arafat ‘encouraged me to find a public role for myself’. ‘I felt I could contribute most by representing those in the camps who have no voice of their own,’ she said.
Hear! Hear! But enough of amateurish Arafat and Suha, and back to more professional operators such as Asad and Saddam, who are engaged in supervising more authentic genetic-engineering experiments in well-hidden and closely-guarded laboratories. The first clone is expected to turn up in Damascus, the capital of Syria, in the shape of Bashar Assad, 35- year-old son of Hafiz, who is diabetic, 70 years old and anxious to hone his son’s political skills. Bashar, who was trained in Britain as an ophthalmologist, has already emerged as his father’s deputy and represents him at state functions abroad.
The cautious Assad senior, who has ruled with an iron fist for 30 years, is not likely to load the burden of power onto his son too abruptly. He has arranged for his term of office to be renewed at a referendum next February, no doubt with about 99% of the vote, and plans to take his time to install Bashar firmly in the corridors of power before he bows out. Bashar returned to Syria from Britain after his brother Bassel died in a car-accident in 1994. Bassel had held high office in the armed forces and appeared to enjoy their loyalty. Assad has now put Bashar in the army, the bedrock of power in the Middle East. Like king Hussain, he has also removed his brother from any position he might use as a stepping-stone to the succession.
In Libya, likewise, Qaddafi is also grooming his son, Saiful Islam, to succeed him. The ‘Sword of Islam’ was despatched to Amman to represent Qaddafi at king Hussain’s funeral, and to congratulate the new king. Abdullah himself went to Bahrain shortly afterwards to offer condolences to Sheikh Hammad of Bahrain after the death of Sheikh Isa ibn Salman Al-Khalifa. In Iraq, meanwhile, Saddam has given his son Uday full authority to behave as if the country belongs to him. Uday has become a despot without waiting to inherit.
The ailing dictators all share one belief: that the biggest obstacle to their sons’ succession is ‘political’ Islam. That partly explains why they are sworn enemies of the Islamic movement and why they are determined to eradicate Islamic activism in their lands. And the sons being groomed for power all share their fathers’ love for fast cars, fast women, night-clubs and casinos.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1999