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Assad's death puts new Mideast politics in spotlight
WASHINGTON -- Bashar Assad, the 34-year-old ophthalmologist picked to succeed his late father as Syria's president, will become the latest addition to a new generation of leadership in the Middle East.
"You have a generation that is younger, yes, but the most important part is this is a generation born into a new Middle East, a generation that defines its political interest in different ways," said Middle East specialist Sibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.
The changing of the guard began last year -- with the death in February of Jordan's King Hussein, a major force in the Middle East for 46 years.
Hussein was succeeded by his 38-year-old son Abdullah, who has worked ever since to integrate Jordan into the Western economy.
"We're asking our friends to, you know, help us," Abdullah said during a recent interview with CNN's Larry King. "Let us succeed. Let us be a model and a symbol for others."
Upon the death of King Hassan of Morocco last summer, his son, 36-year old Mohamed, assumed the throne and like King Abdullah has focused his attention on domestic issues.
Now Hafez Assad has left a somewhat uncertain future for his son. Known to Syrians as "Dr. Bashar," the young Assad seems to be West-inclined and already has taken the lead in getting the Internet into Syria.
Smooth transition reassures U.S.
Privately, U.S. officials worry this next generation of Mideast rulers could spell more trouble for the region.
"All these transitions have elements of instability and uncertainty because there are too many reconfigurations of forces taking place," Telhami said.
Unlike the fathers, who ruled for decades and were familiar to one another, the sons all have much to prove -- to themselves, their countrymen and the outside world.
In Bashar's case, U.S. officials are reassured by how smoothly his ascension to power is proceeding.
As evidence of an "organized succession," the officials point to how quickly the Syrian constitution was changed to make Bashar eligible for the presidency.
In addition, officials note that within recent days there was a shake-up among some of those in President Assad's inner circle who might have posed a threat to Bashar.
"They did their homework," remarked one senior U.S. official who deals with Middle Eastern issues. "It appears this was pre-figured or pre-positioned. There was an awful lot of wiring. It's as if they're stage-managing the succession."
"It's as if a game plan is being followed," a Middle Eastern diplomat said.
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