Cult of Personality 101: The Arab Leader Name Game
July 20, 2009 § Leave a comment
To a large extent the cult of personality flourishes in many Arab states. I am hesitant to use the word “flourish” only because these cults of personality are mocked by many, and successful only to the extent that it allows the current governments to remain in power. In many ways, it’s the CoP of the past that people continue to idealize. (Ex. Hafez al-Assad’s rule is viewed as the glory days and Nasser still embodies the characteristics of Leader of the Umma.)
For every CoP, there is normally a grandiose title or stern moniker that must precede the name of the beneficent leader, or in many cases the title becomes synonymous with the leader himself. Here’s a breakdown of Arab presidents and their titles, which on one hand indicate the depth of the figure’s narcissism while on the other indicate a leader’s desire to gain legitimacy through a pretense of the democratic process, which of course, only the title President could denote.
Muammar al-Qaddafi AKA The Leader/Commander (al-Qa’id) or The Colonel (al-‘Aqeed)
Qaddafi is everything a CoP was meant to be, but in recent years he has shown us that the CoP refuses to age gracefully. 4-hour-long ramblings on whether or not Obama is African get tiresome and purple taffeta suits only detract from his credibility. But Qaddafi is confident and thus took the ambitious route by following in the footsteps of other historical “leaders” such as:
Il Duce Mussolini Der Fuhrer Hitler Widaehen Jidoza (Dear Leader) Kim Jong il
Yet with his separate but equally prevalent title “The Colonel” Qaddafi highlights his military cred and triggers memories of the militaristic CoP as embodied by the numerous field marshals that led the wave of revolutions in Africa in the 60s and 70s. Military experience optional.
FM Idi Amin of Uganda FM John Okello of the Zanzibar Revolution in 64
Note: Okello didn’t really have a CoP, but he did arbitrarily give himself the title of Field Marshal, so that counts.
The King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz AKA The Guardian of the Two Holy and Noble Sanctuaries (Khadim al-Haramain al-Sharifain)
Probably the loftiest of all Arab titles, the “two holy and noble sanctuaries” is a reference to the Saudi cities Mecca and Medina which are home to some of the most revered sites in Islam. This full title is written out in most all newspapers in Saudi Arabia and in newspapers financed by Saudi Arabia, most notably London-based al-Hayat. Former editor of al-Hayat Jihad al-Khazin admitted that the newspaper began to use the official title after the paper was bought out a while back.
Since the King’s title is the grandest of the grand, I’ve put him in the same category as another figure whose eyes you probably couldn’t look directly into as well.
Haile Selassie of Ethiopia whose name is his title and it means Holy Trinity.
Yet the Guardian/Protector aspect of King Aziz’s title could place him in the category of other historical father figures, like:
Charles “Papay” Taylor of Liberia and Ho Chi Min AKA Bac Ho (with Bac meaning Elder)
President Bashar al-Assad AKA Mr. President Bashar al-Assad (al-Sayid al-R’ees)
Really nothing too startling here. When referencing Assad in official newspapers, he is simply called Mr. President Assad. Still, the CoP in Syria is more deeply rooted than in Saudi Arabia. Yet while the CoP reigns at home, the Syrian government is striving for legitimacy abroad and shies away from titles that would make Western presidents appear to be negotiating with a dictator and/or megalomaniac. Hafez al-Assad is referred to post-mortem as the Immortal/Imperishable Leader (al-Qa’id al-Khalid).
I’ll put Assad in the category of leaders who possess real power, but who opted for more subtle and less doting titles, such as Chairman Mao. Another similarity between Mao and Assad is that the latter is also referred to as the chairman of the Baath Party.
Chairman Mao (I don’t know the Chinese translation)
King of Jordan Abdullah the Second AKA His Majesty King of Jordan Abdullah the Second (Jalalat al-Malak)
I suppose there’s nothing excessive about adding in a little “your majesty” to your King title. The official Jordanian newspapers consistently add the Majesty preface when referencing his Highness.
It gets a bit redundant after this.
There’s the sole Arab Sultan in Oman, Presidents in Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, and even a few Princes in the Gulf, but to be honest, their CoPs are not as strong as the ones heretofor mentioned (Egypt excluded).