Why Arab leaders’ Sons make lousy dictators

October 29, 2018 Middle East , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Ahmed Tharwat



One of the most astonishing supporters of Mohammad Bin Salman, known as MBS, as the Guardian reported, is Ali Shihabi, head of the Arabia Foundation, a think tank lobby group, basically a Saudi Royal family operative, its main job to wash off Saudi dirt in the US. Mr. Shihabi, an ex banker, once said “MBS has ‘balls’, but is still young.” Incidentally, Thomas Friedman, in his latest love letter to the Crown Prince, tells us that MBS the reformer now has the ‘ball’ in his hands – I hope it’s not one of the ‘balls’ that Ali Shihabi was talking about.


The love affair with the Saudi Royal family didn’t just start with those overpaid cheerleaders however. Saudi Arabia has been run by successive brothers for more than 80 years, ever since King Faisal in fact, and according to the New York Times, all were reformers. The brotherly clans more or less kept Saudi Arabia afloat and their citizens content, the Saudi governing style being leave politics to us and just enjoy your hefty pensions. King Salman however decided to change all that, violating the Saudi Royal brotherly narrative, promoting his own son Crown Prince MBS to power.


Now MBS is running Saudi Arabia like a frat boy who is playing out of boredom. The gruesome and savage mafia-like killing of Saudi citizen and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi shows the brutality of Crown Prince MBS and the direction Saudi Arabia has been going in since he took the throne, running the family business ‘mafia style’, MBS the hard-headed Sonny of the Corleone family.


This is not just in Saudi Arabia though, it is rampant throughout the whole Arab world as Ahmed Fathi, Managing Editor of American Television News told me in a Skype interview. Egypt, Jordon, Algeria, Syria, the Gulf countries – those Arab dictators stay in power too long, gain absolute power, destroy what it means to be a country, and in turn become the country itself, weakening institutions, justice systems, free press, civil societies; the police and military become the dictator militia, their main job to save and protect the dictator. When the Arab dictator’s term ends, usually by a call from god, the son inherits the throne, with nothing much left of a country to stop him (always him) from becoming a ruling dictator.


In Egypt Mubarak stayed in power for 29 years, keeping the country afloat, flirting with democracy in his later years; a tolerated dictator by most Egyptians. But once he started grooming his son Gamal for the presidency, his son also acted like Sonny in the Corleone family, abusing his power, getting rid of any possible contenders or opposition, having his father’s dictatorial temperament combined with abrasive youth. Egyptians took notice and they toppled him, his dad and the whole autocratic system in the Jan 25, 2011 revolution. Now Egypt’s current president, dictator el-Sisi, doesn’t appear to have learned from this and is grooming his son to take over after him, 30 years from now god willing.


In Syria, Hafez al-Assad’s son, Bashar, formerly an eye doctor, came into power after the death of his father with lots of promises of reform, then took the country to the dark ages, a complete destruction and colossal disaster. In Libya, Gaddafi, with all his craziness, ruled for almost 40 years, his flamboyant son, the second of nine children, Saif al-Islam once having been groomed to take over his father’s throne. Saif al-Islam, which means ‘the sword of Islam’ in Arabic, was extremely brutal against his and his father’s opponents, the Arab Spring and the bombing of NATO changed all that; his father was savagely killed and Saif al-Islam was captured. Now he has the audacity to play a role in Libya’s future with the help of European sensitivities.


King Hussein ran Jordan from 1952, staying in power until his death in 1999. He had the skills and cunning to survive turmoil and pressure from all sides, then his son Abdullah took over, the flamboyant King who, after ISIS killed one of his pilots (burning him), promised to fight ISIS by himself, (he is a fighter by training), actually taking his fighter jet and unloading a few bombs in a remote desert, returning victorious.


Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen wasn’t as lucky, and running a country as he once put it is “like dancing on the head of snakes”, shifting his alliance and enriching himself in the process until one snake bit him and was put out of his misery. His son Ahmed Abdullah was the head of the National Guard, but that didn’t save him. As for Saddam Hussein’s sons, Qusay and Uday Hussein, Uday was the most brutal, with a history of rape, torture and killing, both sons killed a few months after the US invaded Iraq.


Dictators’ sons make bad leaders, even a young reformer like MBS, who has now allowed Saudi women to freely drive to the funerals of their killed family members.






Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America, www.ahmediatv.com and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.

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