Sons of the Desert


Since Biblical times, the stories of fathers and sons and their quests for power have been the story of the Middle East.

It's no different today. While the modern contexts for these stories of power are still unfolding, the recent — and imminent — generational handovers in several key countries will shape Middle East for years to come.

The family names are familiar to anyone who has watched, most often in horror, as one cycle of violence leads to the next and one dysfunctional monarchy or hostile dictatorship leads to another.

They are the Mubaraks of Egypt, the Hashemites of Jordan, the Assads of Syria, the Gadaffis of Libya, the Harriris of Lebanon, and the House of Saud.

They are the sons of Middle East dynasties — kings, presidents, prime ministers and dictators — and their destinies, if and when they choose to follow them, seem assured.

In this special report, edited by Freya Petersen, GlobalPost profiles four sons who have not yet succeeded their fathers but are clearly being groomed to do so: Gamal Mubarak of Egypt; Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya; Saad Aleddeen Hariri of Lebanon; and Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. The series also examines two sons who have already been handed the reins of power by their late fathers: King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and President Bashar Assad of Syria. 

The series aims to demystify the men behind the family name and discover what typifies the modern Middle Eastern leader.

With the distinct exception of the gerontocracy of Saudi Arabia, these "sons of the desert" are young, ranging in age from 36 to 47. They are modern and confident. They are privileged and sometimes arrogant. In some cases, there are allegations of corruption and brutality that is not much different from their fathers. In all cases, they see themselves as bringing a new vision to a land that is too-often trapped by ancient hatreds.

The sons are described by GlobalPost correspondents Ben Gilbert, Tom A. Peter, Theodore May and Caryle Murphy who give a glimpse of the complex identities behind each of these leaders or leaders-in-waiting.

If democracy does take hold in the Middle East, the "sons of the desert" may well be the ones to thank. If violence erupts anew, they may be the ones to blame. But no matter what fate unfolds in the Middle East, they are the ones to watch.