Arab autocrats have become quite skilled in public relations, mastering the language of democracy, human rights, and free markets while preserving old and arbitrary means of decision making. In the last ten years, Arab regimes have fallen into what could be referred to as “dynastic republicanism”—a form of government that translates roughly to an oxymoron: “monarchical presidency.”
Whatever outward appearances they project inside Arab regimes, republican governments come with no legal or historical guarantees. Family domination of Arab governments reduces states to vehicles for the advancement of private and particular interests rather than public ones. Arab states with limited political institutions are often beset by tribalism, and tribalism in turn results in skewed and undemocratic political institutions.
In Egypt, the stage is set for Gamal Mubarak to be the National Democratic Party’s sole candidate for succession. The likelihood of Gamal’s succeeding his father is high if succession happens while his father is still alive. Without Hosni Mubarak, Gamal is on his own, as there is no shortage of dark horses that could potentially and literally make a good showing in the race to the presidency.
In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi has designated both military and political heirs; thus nothing is unpredictable about Libya’s hereditary succession. What is unpredictable is whether Qaddafi’s tribe puts its weight behind a political or a military successor.
In Yemen, political succession is based on an implicit pact between President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Hashed tribe and the military, and only a member of the tribe is eligible for the country’s presidency. Saleh appears to be grooming his son Ahmed to take over, facilitating his meteoric rise through the military ranks and charging him with command of the deadliest forces in the land.
A banker (Gamal), a civil engineer/architect (Saif), and two military commanders (Ahmed Saleh & Mu‘tasim Qaddafi) constitute the litmus test of Arab republicanism and Western democracy promotion. Their succession could spell the death knell of all republican pretences or what is left of them.