Measuring Performance

In addition to the difficulties of predicting what a succession will look like, as well as the second step of whether or not the recipient of power will be able to retain it, it is equally as difficult to predict the political performance of the new head of state. The skills needed to attract power may differ from the skills needed in order to retain it.

And the longer an individual is in power, the more skilled he is likely to be in retaining it. Thus, longevity may permit a leader to adopt bolder positions than someone whose position is insecure, or who believes that his position is weak. This is a crucial perspective for Arab-Israeli peace making and although this is discussed above in terms of an individual’s ability to seek and retain power, we also must consider the ability of an individual to be bold in the exercise of it. Here there is no issue more salient than that of Arab relationships with Israel.

The quintessential example of what is described above is the political behavior of Anwar Sadat. Sadat vivified many of the principles outlined throughout this paper, as few thought that he would be the political successor to Gamal Abdel Nasser. Fewer still believed that he would be able to remain in power as long as he did. It was generally assumed that Sadat was a flash in the pan, an untalented, if lucky political opportunist who happened to be in the right place at the right time and thus, who fell into power rather than seized it. It was furthermore thought that he had no genuine interest in heading the Egyptian state and that he simply accepted this role because of a confluence of inchoate forces. All of these facile assumptions about Sadat were proven to be incorrect.

Anwar Sadat was not only able to assume power and to retain it, but also to exercise it with, at times, breathtaking boldness, innovation, imagination, and courage. His ability and willingness to drag Egypt away from the mainstream Arab position premised on continuing war with Israel, was thought at the time to be foolhardy and self-destructive. We now realize that Sadat gave us a glimpse into the political future for the entire Arab world and not simply just for Egypt. Indeed, the Sadat experience, as well as the subsequent success of his peace making with Israel, should convince skeptics about the ability that some heads of state might have to be innovative. The Sadat experience also provides a useful lens for analyzing processes of regime succession in the Arab world. It should force us to reassess basic assumptions, which, when applied to Sadat, were consistently incorrect and may be no more accurate when applied to current leaders in the Arab world as well. The basic principle to be remembered here is that no amount of prognostication prepares us to gauge, in an effective sense, the political performance of leaders in the Arab world (or anywhere else for that matter). Thus, for the purposes of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, particularly from Israel’s perspective, the certainty of dealing with leaders who are in place is preferable to the uncertainty of dealing with their untested successors. Put differently, the unpredictability of both Arab leadership succession and subsequent political performance should accelerate and not slow down Israeli, American, and Arab attempts to expand the peace process.

From a Western political perspective, at least, Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan was widely regarded as not only an appropriate, but also a highly desirable successor to his brother, King Hussein. Apparently, King Hussein did not share this view and, thus, Hassan was moved out of the line of succession. At the same time, Anwar Sadat was the object of ridicule and scorn, both within Egypt and without, by many who felt that he was lacking in political skill, imagination, and leadership abilities. Nonetheless, Sadat confounded all of this critics by emerging as a far more nuanced and sophisticated leader than anyone had anticipated. Indeed, his triumph at making peace with Israel may be regarded as one of the most significant achievements of any Arab head of state in this century.

Whether Jordan’s Hassan could have lived up to expectations of him would only have become clear had he ascended the throne. We can never know what kind of monarch he would have been. And as our analysis above suggests, although we can draw a direct line between political succession in the Arab world and Arab-Israeli peace making, it is difficult to draw actual conclusions or to make predictions about the linkage until the succession has taken place and the new leader is firmly on the throne and in control.