In This Review

The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life
The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life
By Roger Owen
Harvard University Press, 2012, 272 pp

This study of seven Arab presidents for life was written largely before the Arab uprisings began in late 2010. It involves no original research but reflects decades of close analysis of Arab politics and economics. Beginning with Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, who came to power in 1970, the Arab world has produced not only presidents for life but also would-be dynasts. No other place, save North Korea and perhaps Central Asia, has exhibited this phenomenon. Owen points to some familiar factors to explain it: oil rents, conflict with Israel, intervention by outside powers, and brutal police states. Owen suggests that like Mafia dons, Arab presidents for life observed one another and learned from one another’s experiences and argues that the Arab League has provided a loose supportive framework for their ambitions. Although the shadows of monarchical presidents will be cast long into the future, Owen is confident that the uprisings have brought their era to an end.