NEPOTISM, CRONYISM, AND WEAKNESS IN ARABDOM
MER - Washington - 7/9/98:
Among the major weaknesses of Arab States in the nepotistic and
sectarian nature of politics, even in so-called "progressive" and secular
regimes. Rather than realizing that repression and nepotism bring weakness, regimes
in Damascus and Baghdad nevertheless rely on blood relatives and cronies to keep
themselves in power. The end result is that a once thriving civilization is today divided
into more than 20 nation-states, many more feuding sub-groups, and all together remains no
match -- militarily, economically, or politically -- for the little state of Israel.
The neo-tribal monarchistic "client regimes" -- like those
in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait -- are even worse of course. There loyalty to the King
and blood relationships nearly completely determine who will have meaningful power and
wealth. In recent years these regimes have grafted on practically powerless
"consultative" institutions attempting to present themselves in new and
deceptive ways (along with purchasing and controlling the media of course). But real power
and wealth remains with the tribal family that rules and those it bestows its favors upon.
Not surprisingly, non of these states dares build a strong military for fear the regime
itself would eventually be overthrown -- another major reason the Israel has been able to
rule the region constantly defeating all the Arab armies singly or together.
In the more "secular" states like Egypt, Syria and Iraq,
it is the military from which power flows; but even then those who take power resort to
neo-tribal ways of governing and in many cases attempt to push their sons to power after
them. In the process much of the energy and political capital available to these societies
is drained off into sectarian feuding while the serious social and economic problems that
plague modern-day Arabdom are left largely unresolved.
The following article describes what is today going on in Syria as
long-time strong-man (and former General) Hafez Assad attempts to prepare the way for his
remaining son Bachar.
ASSAD PREPARES SON TO RULE SYRIA
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
On the posters in Damascus, the legend is simple. "Basil, the
Example: Bachar, the Future." But the message on the walls of the Syrian capital is
now made manifest, as President Hafez Assad prepares the way for his son, Dr Bachar Assad,
a British-trained ophthalmologist, to become his successor.
In advance of Bachar Assad's appointment as head of the Regional
Command of the Baath Party - and full colonel in the Syrian army - President Assad has
pensioned off his chief of staff and fired his head of intelligence. Basil Assad was the
beloved son of the 78-year-old Syrian president, a genuinely popular horse riding
champion, who was chief of presidential security while running a powerful anti-corruption
campaign within the regime.
In 1990, President Assad allowed himself to be called "Abu
Basil" - father of Basil - a sure sign that the presidential mantle was supposed to
fall upon the 31-year-old soldier.
In January 1994, driving his own Mercedes at speed through fog to
Damascus Airport, Basil Assad collided with a motorway roundabout and died instantly.
Bachar, a more reticent and less public figure, was projected as a scientist rather than a
soldier, fascinated by computer technology, he is head of Syria's computer science
department. But by 1994, at the age of 28, he graduated as a captain at the Military
Academy at Homs after a course as a tank battalion commander.
Within two months he was a major in the Presidential Guards,
continuing his brother's campaign against corruption. By May of 1995, he was visiting
President Elias Hrawi of Lebanon, where Syria keeps 22,000 troops, accompanied by two of
Syria's top generals.
The way was cleared for Bachar in February when President Assad
dismissed his wayward brother Rifaat from the vice-presidency. Rifaat Assad had ordered
his T-72 tanks on to the streets of Damascus in 1984 after his brother had a heart attack.
In full uniform, and accompanied only by Basil, Hafez Assad drove in his private car to
confront the tanks. Rifaat's men left the streets and the Basil-Bachar dynasty was
Officially, President Assad's successor is chosen through the
constitution, but the army remains a frighteningly powerful institution. Last week,
President Assad got rid of his allegedly corrupt head of civilian intelligence, Major-
General Bashir Najjar, and retired 67-year-old General Hikmat Shehabi, who had been chief
of staff for 24 years but who did not get on with Bachar.
General Shehabi has been replaced by General Ali Aslan, an
interesting figure whose reticence has tended to obscure an important military career. In
1973, it was Aslan's Syrian 5th Division which almost recaptured the Golan heights from
Israel by driving Israeli troops from the southern and central plateau.
Major-General Mahmoud Al Saqqa, who commanded the Syrian contingent
to the Allies in the Gulf War, has been appointed to succeed Najjar.
The Syrian regime may, however, suffer from a
sectarian divide. President Assad is an Alawi, as is Bachar. So are General Ali Aslan and
General Ali Douba. General Shehabi, meanwhile, is a Sunni as is General Najjar, his
successor, Major General Al Saqqa, and the Defence Minister, General Mustafa Tlass. The
regime's enemies will no doubt be working on that equation for years.