In addition to the destabilizing "Peace Process" being forced upon Israel, there are other forces unsettling the volatile Middle East. Rulers who have ruled the Muslim world for decades are growing old, embattled, and in poor health--and the experts are unclear as to who the likely candidates are that will replace them.
The looming succession contests, from Morocco to Oman, are a growing threat to stability in the Middle East. Intelligence is difficult to obtain, since expression of speculations about a ruler's death is tantmount to treason in the world of Islam.
- Syria's Assad, 65, has had a history of diabetes and heart disease.
- Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, 73, is expected to convalesce for a considerable period from his stroke last November.
- Egypt's Mubarak, 67, who was nearly murdered in Ethiopia last summer, continues to dodge plots of the radical Muslims attempting to dislodge the existing government.
- Iraq's Saddam Hussein, 59, is reviled at home and abroad; his future is anyone's guess. But he is somewhat of a "balance wheel" between Iran and Syria, and attractive alternatives have not been identified.
In Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman, Candidate heirs lack the popular support of their long-serving elders.
King Fahd decreed on New Year's Day that his half-brother Crown Prince Abdullah, 71 should take power. Their father, King Abdulaziz al-Saud (ibn Saud), had 44 sons from 22 wives and some 35 sons survived him when he died in 1953. The Saudi throne has passed to four of his 44 sons: King Saud (1953-1964); King Faisal (1964-1975); King Khaled (1975-1982); and King Fahd. While Crown Prince Abdullah is son number 13, in royal family terms he is an only child: his mother bore only one prince.
King Fahd's mother, in contrast, bore seven surviving sons, who now make up the dominant bloc of the royal family. To bolster his stature, Crown Prince Abdullah has courted the Bedouin tribes. But acrimony among the rivals continues. (Provactively, in Ezekiel 38, Saudi Arabia ["Sheba and Dedan"] is on the sidelines, neither attacking nor defending in the forthcoming invasion of Israel.)
Assad was Syria's defense minister in 1965, became president five years later, and has run one of the most effective police states in recent history. Utterly ruthless, he is respected for establishing stability and for his tough stance toward Israel. Assad's passing would expected to precipitate a blood bath in Syria, since his eldest son and heir apparent, Basel al-Assad, died in a car crash in 1993. Having failed to appoint a vice president in 14 years in power, Assad has created an ominous vacuum below him. His second son, Bashar, an opthalmologist-in- training in London, is not regarded as ruthless enough to succeed. Tensions continue.
Assad's most trusted chieftans are from the Alawite clan, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam prevalent in Syria's mountainous northwest. Though only 23% of Syria's 13 million are Alawites, they run the country. Although Sunni Muslims occupy the major posts (Minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Army Chief of Staff), they are but a front for the Alawites. Ethnic resentment is building.
While adhering more closely then either Syria or Saudi Arabia to the rule of law, the question of succession in Egypt is equally unclear. If Mubarak dies without a vice president, the speaker of the parliament takes over for 60 days while the ruling party chooses a successor whose nomination is ratified in a public referendum. In reality, however, the senior military officers will decide who takes power--as they have for many years. The odds-on favorite would be Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, now in his late 50's; however, his surgery last year has left some concerns about his health status.
Another potential condidate is former Defense Minister Abu Ghazala, who presided over their military's plushest years in the mid-1980s. He remains popular with western officials. Polished, informed, and no longer in the military, he would have the support of the army and the U.S.
While Egypt is the initiator in the scenario of Daniel 11 (the apparent "Armageddon Scenario" that climaxes the 70th Week [See our Briefing Package, Daniel's 70 Weeks), it is conspicuously absent in the Ezekiel 38 engagement, which, we believe, precedes the 70th Week.
For a complete briefing on the forthcoming Biblical unrest in the Middle East, see our audio briefing package, The Magog Invasion.
- Islamic Affairs Analyst, Intelligence Int'l Ltd., The Stoneyhill Centre, Brimpsfield, Gloucester, GL48LF, U.K.
- The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 1996.
- Chuck's private sources.