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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Syria joins Arab drift to dynasties
A Syrian mourner carries a portrait of the late president's son, Bashar
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

On paper Syria is a socialist republic, but in practice power is passing from President Hafez Assad to his son, Bashar.

Syria's ruling Baath Party unanimously nominated Bashar for the presidency on Sunday, in a move that was clearly in accordance with his late father's wishes.

If he successfully succeeds to the presidency, Syria will become one of the first of several Arab "republican dynasties" in the making.

Of the 21 Arab states, 13 are republics, but some of their rulers have begun to adopt the habits of those they overthrew in the 1960s and 1970s.

crowds fill the streets
Hundreds fill the streets of Damascus to mourn the death of President Hafez Assad
In the republics, just as in the monarchies, democracy is usually weak, with severe limitations on free speech, and deeply flawed elections - where they take place at all.

Parliaments, if they exist, act mainly as a rubber-stamp for the leader, and referendums are sometimes organised to create the illusion of popular support.

Supporters of the hereditary principle argue that it prevents a destabilising struggle for power - though there is no guarantee that this will be the case in Syria.


The example Syria is setting is an undemocratic one. Countries set to take the same route include:

  • Iraq
    President Saddam Hussein has given top jobs to both his sons, apparently grooming one or both of them for leadership. The younger son, Qusai, heads the Republican Guard, an elite army corps, and the security and intelligence agencies. Prior to this his elder brother, Udai, had been made head of the Olympic Committee - a position on a level with a government minister - as well as head of the Journalists' Syndicate and the Iraqi Writers' and Artists' Union. Earlier this year he was elected to parliament. The two brothers are expected to compete for the leadership of the country should anything happen to their 63-year-old father.

  • Libya
    Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi, also has two sons, Seif al-Islam and Al-Saadi. Seif al-Islam, a prominent businessman with links to the lucrative oil industry, has been tipped to inherit power.

    Salesmen sell posters of the late president

  • Egypt
    President Hosni Mubarak recently made his younger son, Gamal, a member of the secretariat of his ruling National Democratic Party. It may be significant that Mr Mubarak has never appointed a vice-president - the position he himself occupied before his elevation to the presidency.

  • Yemen
    Yemeni President Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh's son, Ahmed, is an army colonel, and has been a member of parliament since 1997. He is a strong contender to succeed his father.

There is no chance for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to pass from Yasser Arafat to a relative because there is no-one in Mr Arafat's family who would be suitable. He does not have a son, his daughter is only six years old, and his brother, a doctor, has no political constituency.

Other Arab countries where power has passed in recent years from father to son include:

  • Jordan
    King Abdullah II came to power in 1999 following the death of his father, King Hussein.

  • Morocco
    King Mohammed VI succeeded his father, King Hassan II, in 1999.

  • Bahrain
    The emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, was succeeded in 1999 by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

  • Qatar
    The current Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, ousted his father, Sheikh Khalifa in a palace coup in 1995, which was followed by a bitter and protracted legal wrangle over control over state funds.

  • Oman
    Sultan Said Bin Taymur of Oman was ousted in palace coup in 1970 by his son, Qaboos.

In Saudi Arabia power has passed from one son of the state's founding father, Ibn Saud, to another. Over the last few years power has been gradually passing from King Fahd, the fifth son, to Crown Prince Abdullah. Although Ibn Saud had at least 70 children, many of them are elderly. Crown Prince Abdullah is in his 70s.

See also:

07 Feb 99 | Middle East
22 Jun 99 | Middle East
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