The Middle East will join the modern world only when a new generation of leaders replaces the aging collection of generals and political schemers who have wreaked havoc on the region. But even the next generation is going to have a tough time.
Just look at the travails of Jordan's 40-year-old King Abdullah. If the U.S. decides to bring down Saddam Hussein, Abdullah may find himself caught between the need to remain in Washington's good graces and his own people's sympathy for their Iraqi neighbors. Continued fighting in the West Bank is a worry as well. A majority of the Hashemite Kingdom is Palestinian and horrified by the battles raging next door.
Abdullah didn't expect to be Jordan's leader. Educated in the U.S. and Britain, he spent his career in Jordan's military, rising to commander of its Special Forces. King Hussein, on his deathbed in 1999, unexpectedly tapped his son as his successor, shunting aside the king's half-brother, Hassan.
Despite skepticism at the start, Abdullah has solidified his hold on power--and is trying to move on from the old issues that have plagued the region. He tells fellow Arab leaders they have no choice but to join the U.S. terrorist hunt. And he is pushing hard for economic reform. He took Jordan into the World Trade Organization in 2000.
If Abdullah gains breathing room, he'll try to team up with other young leaders like Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to coax the region to give up its bad old ways. They won't win overnight, but time is on their side.
By Stanley Reed in London