In my assessment, the arrest of Seif al-Islam Qaddafi is more than just the arrest of a Libyan figure whom the Libyan people were enraged with, because of the crimes he committed against them. What is more important here is the idea of the “special favors” granted to the sons of Arab presidents, a phenomenon that must be considered a nail in the coffin of a number of leaderships, including those of Muammar Qaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Ali Abdullah Saleh, even if it was not the direct cause.
This is the highest degree of disrespect and disdain committed by leaders who handle their countries as personal fiefdoms. Those leaders, by degrading their own people, are stimulating hostility and strengthening the ranks of the opposition.
Unfortunately, these leaders never imagined that the lure of power bequeathal, as adorned by the beneficiaries around them, would eventually force them out of power even before their sons could succeed them.
Those leaders thought that by tightening an iron fist around their people’s necks, they could implement this despotic practice, although the very idea of the succession of power in a republican system, even if the son is exceptionally qualified, is a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment.
This is clearly what happened during the era of Hosni Mubarak, who only realized after he had fallen that the bequeathal of power was a deadly mistake that cost him his reign. The same mistake was realized too late by Ali Abdullah Saleh, after a torrent of fury equivalent to the collapse of the Marib Dam was unleashed upon him and his son Ahmed, who was preparing to be crowned the next president of Yemen.
Thus, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Qusay and Uday Hussein all share the same attribute, namely that their fathers were preoccupied day and night trying to convince their people to accept the principle of succession.
They exploited their prolonged periods of rule and were deluded into thinking that their people, who had endured them for decades, would also accept the rule of their sons after they were gone. The first leader to actively turn the principle of power bequeathal from a mere theory into practice was Hafez al-Assad, having groomed his military-orientated son Bassel for power, who later died in a car crash. He then sought to pass power on to his other son Bashar, an eye doctor, in an act that displayed his underestimation of the educated and conscious Syrian people. Hafez al-Assad’s underestimation of his own people reached a climax when he amended the constitution so that his son could be installed as president. Hafez al-Assad’s plot was ultimately successful, which watered the mouths of other Arab presidents, giving rise to a new corrupt Arab system that was distinct from both republics and monarchies; the “republarchy.” However, this system was soon to be buried forever.
Here a question arises: Is the bequeathal of power a necessary trait of authoritarianism? The answer is no, as President Gamal Abdul Nasser, despite ruling Egypt with an iron fist and his immense popularity in Egypt and across the Arab world, he was markedly different to the present day collapsing Arab leaderships, in the sense that he never considered passing power down, although his eldest son had the minimum required qualifications, and he had even completed his post-graduate studies.
This also applied to Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, the Algerian President Houari Boumediene, the Sudanese Prime Minister Muhammad Ahmad Mahgoub, and the Yemeni President Ibrahim al-Hamdi. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that power bequeathal is an Arab attribute par excellence. Even the blood-thirsty leaders of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, or the dictators of Latin America never thought of granting favored positions to their sons, let alone the ridiculous idea of bequeathing power to them.
Seif al-Islam, Qaddafi’s favorite son, has fallen into the hands of the Libyan revolutionaries. With him, the ideas of “special privileges” and the bequeathal of power have fallen down forever.
(Dr. Hamad al-Majid is a journalist and former member of the official Saudi National Organization for Human Rights. This article first appeared in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 22, 2011)