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Policy Analysis


Sudden Succession Essay Series

Martin Kramer, Alberto Fernandez, Simon Henderson, and others

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April 2019 ongoing

The Washington Institute has recently been sponsoring a series of discussions about sudden succession in the Middle East. Each session focuses on scenarios that might unfold if a specific ruler or leader departed the scene tomorrow. Questions include these: Would the sudden change lead to different policies? Would it affect the stability of the respective countries involved, or the region as a whole? What would be the impact on U.S. interests? Would the manner of a leader's departure make a difference? The discussions also probe how the U.S. government might adjust to the new situation or influence outcomes.


Martin Kramer • April 2019

This essay, first in a series resulting from these sessions on sudden succession, sets the scene by asking whether a major leader’s departure is necessarily history changing. Martin Kramer examines past cases of unexpected departures of twentieth-century regional leaders, in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. He suggests that the impact depends mostly on where the hand of fate interrupts the leader’s career. Paradoxically, the more successful a leader has been in realizing his larger goals, the less consequential his exit.....

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Alberto Fernandez • April 2019

This essay, second in a series resulting from these sessions on succession, looks at the extremely fluid situation in Sudan, where on April 11 the military ousted longtime president Omar al-Bashir. The move followed months of peaceful protests, and appeared to mark a major turning point for the country. Still, what comes next remains uncertain, even as an interim military council has promised that the new government will be civilian run. A surprise to some will be Sudan’s tradition of democracy and vibrant civil society, possibly offering hopes for a more pluralistic, open country that could inspire similar movements elsewhere in the region.

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3 | A Fifty-Year Reign? MbS and the Future of Saudi Arabia

Simon Henderson • April 2019

This essay, third in a series resulting from these sessions on succession, shifts the lens to Saudi Arabia, rather ‎well known for eccentric leadership transitions since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932. One ‎monarch, Saud, was forced to abdicate in 1964 under family pressure. The next, Faisal, was assassinated in 1975 ‎by a nephew. King Khalid followed, but he was just a figurehead. And so on until the thirty-three-year-old ‎phenomenon known as MbS, a modernizer who has quickly gained notoriety for his reckless administrative ‎style. Whether he ultimately ascends the throne will entail plenty of plot twists, but it also holds serious ‎implications for the kingdom, the future of the region, and U.S. interests‎.

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