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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 22:30 GMT

World: Middle East

The succession in Jordan: Regional implications

At the White House: Arafat, Hussein, Clinton and Netanyahu

By Middle East Analyst Roger Hardy

Jordan's sorrow
There are two main reasons why the end of King Hussein's reign is a regional, not just a Jordanian, issue.

The first is that, although Jordan is relatively weak compared with its neighbours, it is strategically important.

Under King Hussein's rule, Jordan played a crucial role in both Arab-Israeli and inter-Arab relations. It's hard to see how any successor would be able to manage the country's affairs with the same degree of skill and courage.

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But there is a second reason why people in the Middle East have cause for concern. King Hussein was by no means the only leader who had been in power for a long time, and Jordan is not the only country in the region which faces a potential succession crisis.

A generation of Arab rulers are reaching an age where they could pass from the scene. They are, for the most part, autocratic - and in virtually no case is there a clear mechanism for ensuring a smooth transition of power.

In the Saudi case there has at least been a gradual transfer of power to Crown Prince Abdullah over the last two or three years, owing to the prolonged ill health of the king.

But given the Saudi Prince Abdullah's age, 75, many observers are already starting to look ahead and wondering who would succeed him, and how smoothly.

Many Arabs are conscious of the comparison between themselves and their neighbours.

Elections rare

Turks and Israelis elect their leaders. Two years ago the Iranians elected a reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, a figure whom many Arabs admire.

But elections are rare in the Arab world, and clean elections rarer still. It may be that the situation in Jordan will serve to stimulate debate within the region about an issue that has long been virtually taboo.

Many observers feel it is only a matter of time before a succession crisis is ignited in one or other Arab country, with potentially destabilising implications for the region as a whole.

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