After years of leadership by octogenarians, the Gulf Arab states are getting younger rulers. On February 10, the ruler of Dubai announced a new Emirati cabinet that includes eight new ministers with an average age of 38. The youngest appointee, appropriately heading the Ministry of Youth Affairs, is just 22. A few weeks earlier, the 35-year-old emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, named a fellow member of Generation Y to lead the nation’s foreign ministry—Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who is also just 35. The face of Gulf leadership is changing, and it is getting decidedly younger.
Although most regional heads of state are long in the tooth, gone are the days where Gulf leadership is entirely the domain of the aged. Now, it is not uncommon for the Gulf states to name crown princes and key ministers who are in their 40s and 50s And since the age gap between rulers and crown princes is growing—in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia the crown princes are a full twenty years younger than the heads of state—the generational logjam is beginning to clear. This means when the Gulf’s remaining senior incumbents pass from the scene, the region could emerge on the other end of the age continuum altogether—exceptional for the youth of its leadership rather than for its advanced age.
YOUTH (NOT) IN REVOLT
These new ministers include many technocrats that embrace an analytical approach to public policy. The crown princes, all but one of whom is 55 or younger, bring different outlooks to regional and international politics than their predecessors. All lived through the invasion of Kuwait and the 1990–91 Gulf War that followed. Some, including Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, spent more time living within the region than their older counterparts, who spent formative years studying abroad. And of the new leaders who sought outside educations, many attended university in the United States, rather than the former rite of passage of studying in Cairo, London, or Paris. Gulf politics, they should be careful not to conflate youth and experience with political reform.
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