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Saturday, July 24, 1999 Published at 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK

World: Middle East

The new Arab rulers

From father to son: The new king (left) has been carefully groomed

Regional analyst Tarik Abdel Magid considers how the new generation of rulers is coping in the Middle East

King Hassan II of Morocco was the third elderly Middle Eastern ruler to pass away this year.

The enthronement of his son Mohammed VI, less than three hours after the announcement of the death of the king was a very clear signal. In Morocco, there was going to be a calm, smooth and swift succession.

The new king was carefully groomed to succeed his father. He has been widely seen at official functions and represented the Moroccan monarch at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan earlier this year.

In politics, King Mohammed VI is untested, though many analysts expect him to continue the political reforms begun in recent years by his father.

[ image: Jordan's King Abdullah (right) has focused on domestic affairs]
Jordan's King Abdullah (right) has focused on domestic affairs
If the experiences of Jordan and Bahrain are anything to go by, modernising ways and a focus on domestic issues should serve him well.

Scepticism surrounding the assent of King Abdullah to the Jordanian throne has been largely dispelled.

Just before his death, King Hussein dismissed his designated heir of 34 years, his brother Prince Hassan, in favour of his son Abdullah.

A political unknown, with close ties to the United States and a military background, King Abdullah has confounded doubters.

In contrast to his father, whose energies were consumed by the pursuit of peace with Israel, King Abdullah has concentrated on domestic issues and on rebuilding strained ties with the Arab world.

[ image: Sheikh Abdel Amir al-Jamri was freed by the new leader of Bahrain]
Sheikh Abdel Amir al-Jamri was freed by the new leader of Bahrain
The new Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad, succeeded his father in March this year. He tackled the mixed legacy of his father, political unrest led by a discontented Shi'a majority, head on.

Sheikh Hamad has allowed Shi'a into the army where previously they have been spurned and distrusted. He has also released hundreds of political prisoners, including the country's leading dissident, Sheikh Abdel Amir al-Jamri.

Fears remain

These examples are no guarantee against chaotic and damaging successions in other countries.

There is also the fear that one disputed succession, and the ensuing vacuum of authority or struggle for power, could have a ripple effect throughout the region.

[ image: Who will succeed Yasser Arafat?]
Who will succeed Yasser Arafat?
The most important and potentially volatile Arab states are also still led by the old generation.

In Syria, Hafez al-Assad is clearly grooming his son Bashar to take over.

However President Assad is at the same time hedging his bets. He is pursuing a settlement with Israel, the major foreign policy issue concerning Damascus, with an urgency that suggests he is aware that his son will not have the personal authority or skills to conclude such an agreement.

Saudi Arabia, another crucial regional power, should experience a smooth succession. Crown Prince Abdullah has already taken over most of the official duties of ailing King Fahd.

The real wild card is perhaps the Palestinian Authority. Yasser Arafat is yet to designate an heir apparent and the Authority looks vulnerable to domestic opposition and weak in negotiations with Israel as it tries to transform itself into a state.

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