Middle East's long serving rulers

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Khalil Marwan

Jumada' al-Ula' 10, 1419 1998-09-01

Occupied Arab World

by Khalil Marwan (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 13, Jumada' al-Ula', 1419)

‘Till death us do part’ may be a Christian marriage expression long out of fashion but it applies most aptly to rulers in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the constitutional monarchies of Europe which as mere show-pieces exercise little or no executive authority, the Middle Eastern monarchies have been at it the longest. The putative king of Jordan leads the pack with 46 years at the helm although his cancer may at last bring his rule to an end.

The top seven rulers - not exactly the magnificent seven - between them have clocked 193 years in power. If one were to include the Saudi dynasty instead of king Fahd’s rule alone, it would add up to 250 years. That is quite a lot of years by any standard.

King Husain of Jordan with 46 years on the throne is followed by the Moroccan king Hasan with 37 years. The eccentric colonel of Libya, who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in June, has clocked 29 years, while Hafiz al-Asad of Syria has been in power for 27. Only the Iraqi megalomaniac Saddam Husain has lasted only (!) 20 years with Husni Mubarak of Egypt and Fahd bringing up the rear with 17 and 16 years each.

Barring Fahd and Husain, who are on their deathbeds, others do not appear to be making a graceful exit anytime soon. None of these men has ever been elected by the people. Mubarak and Saddam both periodically go through the ritual of elections in which they are sole candidates and habitually secure 99.9 percent of the vote. With such ‘popularity’ they have naturally come to assume that they are indispensible for their country, indeed for humanity.

We also have rulers of the tiny Shaikhdoms of the Persian Gulf but they do not count for much. Also, some of them, like Qatar, have had noisy palace reshuffles in recent years with the son telling his father to stay in Switzerland. Sultan Qaboos of Oman did the same thing to his father; all very civilized. Dad had gone senile; soft in the head and large in the belly, you know!

Beyond elections looms the larger question of performance. Have they done anything in all these years to improve the lot of their hapless subjects? Such questions are not raised in the west where these rulers, apart from Qaddafi and Saddam, are viewed as friends. Even the latter two are not real enemies, only soft targets who facilitate projecting the west’s macho image every time some western leader needs to act tough.

This brings us to the question of leadership in the Middle East. It would be a grave mistake to call these people leaders; they are rulers. The word leader confers legitimacy on the person and suggests that he has the support of the masses. When no reference has been made to the masses, the question of speaking on their behalf does not arise.

Suharto of Indonesia may be envious that he has been ousted only after 32 years when he had done so much for the people. Why should it matter if his own family had become rich. Is capitalism not about making wise investments where the return is good? His family is smart and made a fortune. Others were simply jealous.

Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1998

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