The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: cousins

A killer twist to the Syrian civil war

by fpman

It is probably worth watching out for developments in the Latakia area in Syria these days. One of the last few strongholds of the Assad regime, it is simultaneously under attack from rebels and developing mixed feelings towards the Syrian leadership that has so far been the unquestionable protector of this Alawite-majority region.

This comes after Suleiman al-Assad, a first cousin once removed of President Bashar al-Assad has, on August 7, killed a Colonel of the Syrian Air Force, Hassan al-Sheikh in what is varyingly described as “a traffic dispute” or “a road rage accident.” Suleiman al-Assad shot Colonel al-Sheikh dead either “because he overtook him at a crossroads” or “because he did not give way in a traffic jam.”

The son of Hilal al-Assad, commander of Latakia’s defence up till his death in battle last year, has thus killed an officer of the force that is still able to give a bit of an edge against rebel forces where it matters.

The killer has by now been arrested. Locals are demanding his execution. Bashar al-Assad promised there would be punishment but will surely have second thoughts as to how he should mediate between the interest of justice (and sane governance, you might add) and the interests of his powerful family.


The Wine, Whisky and Song Society

by fpman

Pakistan is one of those countries where there is a limited set of dominant political families as such — a subject which we will surely return to one day.

For now, let this brief look at Sidi Mohammad Muzzafar Mustafa Khan suffice. Mr. Khan is a relatively non-political member of a pretty significant political family (the Bhutto family). He is a nephew of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a cousin of the late Benazir Bhutto, both former Prime Ministers of Pakistan, both eventually killed in Pakistan’s internal political struggles — one hanged by the Army, the other assassinated.

Mr. Khan is already contemplating a legacy-building great undertaking to leave his mark on this world in a different way. A significant member of the United Kingdom’s Pakistani diaspora, he is also the owner of nightclubs and hotels in the UK (and had a son grow up beside Benazir for the latter thought his managerial duties and the nature thereof would not permit him to be the best father). He has lived a playboy life or did a very good job of creating the semblance of that and is now interested in passing on the torch to 252 single men carefully selected through a methodical vetting process; young males whom he hopes to socialize into gentlemanhood. This would be his Wine, Whisky and Song Society. Mr. Khan is taking steps to provide for adequate female company, too, of course. And his plan is to throw some great parties in the near future on his luxury yacht and in other convenient venues.

His summary of his personal reasons for all his noble efforts just begs to be quoted here:

“The main reason I’m doing this is I’ll have 250 pallbearers at my funeral and they’ll say ‘this man taught us how to live’. My dear cousin Benazir had a million people at hers so I’ll still be some way behind.”

A Gaddafi renaissance?

by fpman

With former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s family now “scattered around the Middle East from Egypt to Oman,” and two of his sons in jail in Libya, there is a sensible attempt to regain some lost initiative on their behalf by one of Muammar Gaddafi’s cousins, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam. “Gaddafi cousin hopes to participate in Libyan peace talks,” says a Reuters headline from two days ago, and this being a Reuters headline it may just be that this is not a bridge too far.

Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, cousin of Libya's former president Muammar Gaddafi, talks during an interview with Reuters at his apartment in CairoAhmed Gaddaf al-Dam (photo: Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)

Post-Gaddafi Libya may need a Gaddafi, apparently. Militias are fighting each other, feuding for control of chunks of territory – the luckier ones feuding also for a share in oil revenues to be made utilizing the part of the infrastructure that is still intact after so much turmoil.

Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam is one of those members of the Gaddafi family who opted to stay as close to these chaotic events in Libya as possible: in Egypt. This brought arrest for him under former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi’s rule. The reasons are rather simple, in the end: Morsi’s was an Islamist regime that took power democratically, in the wake of the rule of a secular autocracy not altogether too dissimilar to Gaddafi’s (though Gaddafi’s relationship to Islam was to no small degree more complicated). So in broader regional terms Morsi was a new kid on the block, while Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam was from the old guard. Clash inevitable. As soon as Morsi was removed from power, however, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam was once again unrestricted, or perhaps even encouraged, in his political activity.

On September 24, the General Court of the European Court of Justice struck down sanctions still in place against him, and a day before that Asharq al-Awsat began publishing a series of articles on him, the first part of which focused on what a great mediator he was in the Egyptian-Libyan disputes of the 1970s…

He may well be telling himself “Ready, Steady, Go” now, and he is doing so with some wind in his sails. How far that allows him to move in the quicksand of Libya… alright, I’ll just stop using cheap metaphors. We shall see, shall suffice, in the end.

The Cousinhood of Humanity

by fpman

So apparently it is very popular these days to be looking for one’s distant cousins, and a pioneer of this is popular author A. J. Jacobs.

In this case, by “cousin” one does not mean people whom one would really think of as relatives in the sense of being closely related.

In its more distant sense, A.J. Jacobs is “cousins” with Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Bloomberg and others, among 75 million cousins of his that he managed to identify so far. In fact, they may be “n-degree cousins x times removed” – where n may be a fairly large number and x may be zero or larger, to be scientifically accurate.

This is possible given how there really were not that many ancestors in previous generations to provide every living person today with their very own neat blood lineage. Instead, we all carry mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes from a rather narrow group and thus share in our DNA heritage. Our most recent common ancestors (who are descendents of earlier common ancestors of course) can thus be found through both matrilineal and patrilinial descent. “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam,” respectively. Given the science of this, Eve might have lived a mere 2,000 years ago (if we assume enough blending of teh peoplez since the beginning of comprehensive globalization) whereas Adam roamed the wilderness about 60,000 to 90,000 years ago.

From the point of view of politics, it may seem interesting to reflect on how Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders and Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or, say, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange may be distantly related. Not only with each other but with each and every one of those listed.

Having said that, one remembers how British King George V, German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russian Tsar Nicholas II were actually cousins and yet it still didn’t work out all that well between them.

They were related through George V who was first cousins with both (as cross cousins, i.e. as the offspring of opposite-sex children of shared grandparents).

Wilhelm and Nicholas were thus not first cousins (sharing grandparents) but were only third cousins in fact, sharing great-great-grandparents in the Romanov family (though at the same time Nicholas was also second cousin once removed from Wilhelm’s point of view, through their shared ancestors in the Hohenzollern family).

The image below, via the Brookings Institute, is worth having a look to develop an understanding of these nuances.


Given such a prominent instance of intra-family feduing as World War One it is hard to argue with A. J. Jacobs’ pessimistic assessment when he says:

“I don’t think KKK members will be singing Kumbaya with African Americans.”

And unlike Jacobs, we do not even expect, as a result of his considerable efforts at finding cousins, a significant decrease in what he refers to as the “elitism” of those proud of their descent. People who were simple-minded enough to think that being born into a family or where and when they were born constituted a merit of theirs can’t, shan’t, and won’t change their minds about this.

The Cousinhood of Humanity will likely remain a utopian idea – beyond being scientific fact of course.

Borderline cases, from Libya to the Philippines

by fpman

From a research perspective, a great thing about studying the role of family ties in politics is how there are so many borderline cases related to the fuzzy concepts that are thrown around in the discourse – concepts such as “nepotism” or “corruption.” Say, if a President appoints his own son to be head of the country’s anti-corruption bureau, that would be a relatively unambiguous case of nepotism. And if a foreign company were to decide to give a job to a President’s son, that would be a relatively unambiguous case of illicit influence-seeking, or corruption, to use another word.

But the two cases I can reference from the day’s newsload I’ve just read through are not like that.

In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III has recently appointed a 2nd-degree cousin, Emigdio “Dino” Tanjuatco Jr. to run Clark International Airport Corporation (serving the airport of Angeles City, northwest of Manila). “Dino” is the son of a first cousin of the President’s mother, the late President Corazón Aquino. During Corazón’s time he was close to the corazón of power, too, entrusted with managing government-owned residences. He does not have prior experience in the field of aviation, and some experts, including from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), are questioning if he thus has the qualifications to be CEO of the company.  The reaction by CAAP’s Director-General to the news was a none too polite “I have no idea who he is.” An anonymous source at Clark International Airport Corporation voiced acceptance of the deicision, however, saying:

“All of us serve at the pleasure of the President. He is the ultimate appointing authority.”

Emigdio Dino Tanjuatco Jr’s appointment may not be a clear-cut case of nepotism, but this quote above could clearly be an example of adulation. And it’s also telltale sign of something wrong that apparently so many people were made angry by this story.

RapplerEmoFeedbackWe like the idea of this form of feedback over at Rappler’s.

In other news, US regulators are continuing investigation of Goldman Sachs’ record related to Libya under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime (which fell in 2011). They remain interested in why Goldman gave a paid internship to Haitem Zarti, a younger brother of the deputy chief of the Libyan Investment Authority, Mustafa Zarti who was once declared by the government of Austria, related to the freezing of his assets there as “a close confidant of the (Gaddafi) regime” (an allegation he contested).

Haitem Zarti was about 26 years old at the time, paid internships at banks are normal, and even though his internship period eventually lasted for up to a year (beyond the standard 3-month period), others have before him seen their internship extended, too. But who would say such a connection is not interesting? Haitem was working at the company’s investment-banking division, though never on matters related to Libya according to the company itself.

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