by Jeffrey Fleishman
Egypt President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia King Abdullah, both in their 80s, have long played leading
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are in their 80s, durable U.S. allies whose governments have crushed political dissent at home while playing leading roles across the Middle East. But these days, talk of succession reverberates as
The men have given no indication that they will step down. Mubarak's term runs until 2011 and the king's reign lasts for as long as he sees fit. But Mubarak and Abdullah are frail.
A senior State Department official said the
But the official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter, added that the eventual absence of Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, and Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005 but has run Saudi Arabia since 1996, when the since-deceased King Fahd suffered a stroke, raises concerns about the future of a jittery Middle East.
The imprints the aging leaders have left are indelible. Mubarak has kept peace with
The pair have brushed aside historical animosities between their nations to cooperate in confronting what they regard as major threats to the Sunni Muslim Arab world: the prospect of a nuclear-armed Shiite Iran and the violence sparked by Islamic militancy extending from North Africa to
Their overall strategies, which complement
It is likely that
But Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian ambassador to the
"I'm not as worried about the change of leadership as many in the West are," he said.
Topping the list of potential successors in
Suleiman has the institutional pedigree of Mubarak and previous Egyptian presidents and, as a chief mediator dealing with the Palestinians, has close ties with
"President Mubarak and George W. Bush didn't have great personal ties, but that never affected the strategic, military and security relations between the countries," said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in
The successor scenario in
Following him could be Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz, 76, the Saudi interior minister, whom Abdullah elevated this year to second deputy prime minister. Nayef is close to fundamentalist Wahhabi clerics who have resisted the king's attempts at modest reforms to ease religion's grip on schools, courts and other institutions.
"With the kingdom facing the prospect of enthroning a new king every two or three years (or even at closer intervals), the U.S. president faces the prospect of having to work with several Saudi monarchs during one term alone," noted a policy paper written by Simon Henderson, an expert on Saudi Arabia and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Mubarak and Abdullah, and what awaits their successors, can be viewed best through the prism of domestic pressures. Mubarak rose to power after the assassination by Islamists of Anwar Sadat, who shortly before had made peace with
Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment said that if the Egyptian regime can't agree on a post-Mubarak candidate, and economic and social anxieties spread, the country could enter a "chaotic succession . . . that the Muslim Brotherhood could exploit by using the street to demonstrate their influence."
Abdullah was named crown prince in 1982 and largely ran
The oppressed of
It is these sentiments -- expressed by laborers striking in the Egyptian textile city of El
"Predicting what will happen in
"You live in an oil bonanza. The country is flush with money, but you have unemployment and 30% of the people living in poverty. Only 22% of families own their own homes.
"It's a gloomy picture. The regime is losing its credibility."
Times staff writer Paul Richter in
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.