Military coups plagued the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1970s, however, regimes have been remarkably stable; leaders in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere have been in power for decades. This paper assesses how this leadership stability has been sustained, describes its costs in terms of military capability, and looks at the prospects for change across the region as the current generation of ageing leaders gives way to the next. Leaders use a variety of methods to maintain political 'control' over their militaries: At the broadest level, they seek to maintain popular support for their rule and cultivate prominent social groups to offset the influence of the military establishment. They provide private benefits to senior officers and protect the military's corporate interests. They create alternative security services to counterbalance the military. They fill important positions with privileged minorities which have a vested interest in perpetuating the regime. They use institutional techniques such as politicised appointment criteria, command rotations and purges to prevent the growth of factions and challengers within the military.
By using these methods, political leaders have kept themselves in power. However, leadership stability has often come at the expense of conventional military capabilities. Many of the techniques of political control run counter to the principles of efficient military organisation. Centralised command, irregular rotations, the emphasis on political loyalty over merit in key appointments, encouraging corruption, providing lavish benefits and maintaining a specific religious or ethnic composition all undermine the combat effectiveness of the region's militaries. This paper argues that a comprehensive assessment of the regional military balance must account for these qualitative factors. In coming years, leadership transition will become an increasingly important policy issue, raising the prospect of profound change. The military will play a key role in shaping these successions. Even where designated successors exist, new leaders will have to consolidate power in their own right. Their success will depend on how well they build popular support, cultivate the backing of key social groups, remove potential challengers and maintain a steady flow of resources to the military.
This paper evaluates succession questions in three key states, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.