The List

Out with the Old, In with the Old

The six power brokers who are looking to run the new Middle East.

Saudi Arabia

Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz

Nayef, a relatively sprightly 77, has served as Saudi Arabia's interior minister since 1975, overseeing the kingdom's fights against terrorism as well as more peaceful forms of dissent. But with King Abdullah, 87, aging and infirm, and his brother Crown Prince Sultan, 86, said to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease, many kingdom watchers expect the ultraconservative Nayef to be the next head of the world's wealthiest and most heavily armed family enterprise. Among the hard-line prince's greatest hits: accusing "Zionists" of perpetrating the 9/11 attacks, rejecting the idea of elections, and overseeing payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Friday, March 18's speech by King Abdullah was vintage Nayef: no hint of political reforms, a ban on criticizing clerics, and truckloads of cash for the country's Wahhabi religious establishment.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Bahrain

Sheikh Issa Qassim

Bahrain's leading Shiite cleric is a relatively unknown figure outside the small Persian Gulf kingdom, but he's become a leading player in what is emerging as a burgeoning sectarian Cold War across the Middle East. A follower of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Qassim is as revered by Bahrain's Shiite majority as he is distrusted by the Sunni minority, who fear he subscribes to velayat-e faqih, the Iranian doctrine of clerical rule. According to European researcher Katja Niethammer, "It seems that few decisions can be arrived at ... without prior consultation with Isa Qassim, ranging from questions with regard to the planned codification of the personal status law to participation in elections."

Yet the cleric has played a relatively moderate role in recent events in Bahrain, urging his followers to express their demands peacefully. "I say to all our people, Sunnis and Shiite, that it is forbidden to shed the blood of anyone under any pretext," he said in a recent Friday sermon. At another he said, "They can use tanks and planes to smash our bodies, but will never break our souls and our will for reforms."

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

Libya

Mustafa Mohammed Abdel Jalil

One of the most prominent officials to defect from Muammar al-Qaddafi's government, Jalil heads the National Transitional Council, the group that has presented itself as the political leadership of the Libyan uprising. It's not clear, however, what kind of clout Jalil, who was Qaddafi's justice minister until he stepped down in protest on Feb. 20, and the rest of the council has among the ragtag militias and military defectors that make up the rebel army -- or the general public for that matter. Nor is it apparent whether the council holds sway beyond eastern Libya, home to many of the group's leaders. Still, the 59-year-old Jalil has earned respect from some unlikely places: human rights campaigners. In August 2010, Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch praised Jalil for his help in trying to secure justice for a group of arbitrarily detained prisoners. DPA, the German wire service, describes the former lawyer as "a conservative and devout Muslim, not a radical Islamist."

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Yemen

Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar

When Ahmar suddenly announced his support for the protest movement that has been shaking the impoverished Gulf country in recent weeks, Yemenis and political analysts alike concluded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster was only a matter of when, not if. "Officers in the military, who are an important part of the community and defenders of the people, I declare, on their behalf, our peaceful support of the youth revolution," the brigadier general said, announcing his defection. But Ahmar, a relative and a former close ally of Saleh, is no white knight in shining armor. As commander of Yemen's northwest military district, Ahmar has been the tip of the spear in Saleh's brutal fight against Shiite rebels and has at times used radical jihadists as a proxy force. He's also accused of involvement in a variety of criminal activities. Still, his defection has been followed by dozens of other top regime figures. "Ali Muhsin is by far the most powerful figure in the military and his announcement opened the floodgates," writes Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University.

Egypt/Qatar

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

One of the Arab world's most prominent Islamic preachers, Qaradawi has long been an influential supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood from his perch in Doha, Qatar. Qaradawi, 84, has written dozens of books on Islam and founded IslamOnline, an influential religious website with a huge global following. Imprisoned under King Farouk and Gamal Abdel Nasser, Qaradawi has courted his share of controversy by praising Palestinian and Iraqi suicide bombers, endorsing wife-beating "as a method of last resort," and harshly criticizing Shiites as "heretics." Yet he's also shown an occasional ecumenical side, as when the formerly exiled sheikh returned to Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak to deliver Friday prayers and addressed his sermon to both Muslims and Christians. Despite his advanced age, Qaradawi has played an important role in encouraging the Arab protests, condemning autocrats like Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and even issuing a fatwa calling for the death of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi -- though his criticism of Gulf rulers has been noticeably muted. Qaradawi is banned from visiting the United States.

Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

Egypt

Sami Enan

Egypt's Supreme Military Council -- the junta that overthrew Mubarak on Feb. 11 and installed itself as the custodian of the country's democratic transition -- is formally headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the 75-year-old former defense minister described in one WikiLeaks cable as "Mubarak's poodle." But it's Sami Enan, 63, the dynamic chief of the armed forces, who is thought to command the respect of the troops -- not to mention that of his American counterparts. Enan studied in Russia, speaks a smattering of French, and is known to throw back a drink or two on occasion, though he has never trained in the United States. These days, as he juggles the challenges of running a country, not just an army, Enan speaks with top U.S. military officials often. "If he is not yet the Pentagon's man in Egypt," the New York Times reports, "many hope he will be."

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released/www.jcs.mil

The List

Atomic Dogs

Fukushima wasn't the only nuclear accident waiting to happen. From Bulgaria to New York, here are five other nuclear power plants to keep an eye on.

Country: Bulgaria

Plant: Kozloduy

When the U.S. Department of Energy ranked the most dangerous nuclear power plants in the former Soviet bloc in a classified 1995 report, two of the reactors in Bulgaria's Kozloduy complex made the top 10. The risks posed by the plant's aging Soviet technology were compounded by Bulgaria's somewhat desperate circumstances: "Rolling blackouts, mostly during winter months, have plagued Bulgaria since 1984," the report authors wrote. "Often, for every three hours with electricity there is one hour without. This power shortage has resulted in severe demand-side pressure to operate Kozloduy whatever the risk."

The two iffiest reactors were shut down in 2004, and two of the remaining four were scheduled to be mothballed as a condition of Bulgaria's entrance into the European Union -- much to the discontent of Bulgarians. (Lithuania, whose Soviet-era reactors were also on the Energy Department's danger list, had to make similar concessions.) President Georgi Parvanov called for the Europeans to reconsider after the Russia-Ukraine natural gas dispute of early 2009 cut off Bulgaria's gas imports in the depth of winter, but to no avail. So instead of reopening the old reactors, Bulgaria is building newer -- and ostensibly safer -- ones at the facility with the help of Russian national atomic energy firm Rosatom; groundbreaking on the first is scheduled for September, and there are no post-Fukushima plans to reconsider construction of the plant.

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

Country: Turkey

Plant: Akkuyu

Turkey's position above the North Anatolian fault makes it one of the most seismically active countries in the world -- it has had 14 earthquakes with death tolls above 1,000 people in the past century. Not surprisingly, many Turks have therefore been wary of embracing nuclear power. A plan by a Russian energy consortium to build a plant in Akkuyu, near the Mediterranean coastal port of Mersin, was shelved in 2000 following a public outcry. Another proposed Russian-built plant at that site, plus a second on the Black Sea coast, were scuttled in 2009, this time over concerns about Turkey's increasing energy dependency on Russia.

But it seems that the fourth time's a charm: As part of a wide-ranging energy deal last year, Turkey and Russia inked a deal for a subsidiary of Rosatom to build a plant in Akkuyu. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed their enthusiasm for the project, despite long-running local protests and the fact that, as a Turkish energy expert told the New York Times last year, the reactor model tentatively slated for use in the project hasn't been approved by European authorities.

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Country: Armenia

Plant: Metsamor

Armenia's flagship nuclear plant, which supplies 40 percent of the country's power, is getting on in years. Situated not far from the 1.1 million inhabitants of Armenia's capital city of Yerevan, it features a 1980-built reactor model of midcentury Soviet design -- the same used at Bulgaria's Kozloduy facility -- that lacks some crucial safety features found in modern nuclear plants; the European Union has described Metsamor as the "oldest and least reliable" of the 66 such reactors in existence.

Metsamor was shut down in 1989 over safety concerns following an earthquake, and then reopened in the mid-1990s. Its safety has been a bone of contention between European and American authorities, who give Armenia aid money and are concerned about the plant's viability, and Armenian leaders, who insist the plant is perfectly fine. Metsamor has been slated for closure for years, but officials say that construction delays and financing issues with its replacement -- a newer, safer Russian model -- mean that probably won't happen until 2017.

Wikimedia Commons

Country: United States

Plant: Indian Point

In August, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission calculated the odds of the United States' 104 nuclear power plants being critically damaged by an earthquake. The riskiest? The No. 3 reactor at the Indian Point plant in New York's Westchester County, just 24 miles outside Manhattan. While other plants -- most notably California's Diablo Canyon Power Plant and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station -- stand a far better chance of a good shake, they were built to withstand it. Indian Point wasn't.

The odds of the No. 3 reactor's core being damaged by an earthquake in any given year, MSNBC reports, are 1 in 10,000, about seven times the national average. (By comparison, an American's annual chance of dying in a car accident is about 1 in 6,600.) Those odds aren't long enough for New York politicians, who are a little more squeamish about this kind of thing than their counterparts in Yerevan and Sofia. "I've had concerns about Indian Point for a long time," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. "I understand the power and the benefit. I also understand the risk. … But this is new information that we're going to pursue."

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Country: Japan

Plant: Shika

In 1999, a mishap during a routine inspection of a reactor at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant, in a town of about 15,000 people in Japan's Ishikawa prefecture, exposed the plant to the risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction for 15 minutes. Nothing happened, but as they say, the coverup was worse than the crime: Plant managers hid records of the incident until 2007, when the Japanese government conducted a wholesale review of the country's nuclear power industry, discovered what had happened, and ordered Shika to be temporarily shut down.

It was the second shutdown at the plant in as many years: In 2006, a court had ordered the plant shuttered after locals sued over concerns that Shika's construction wouldn't withstand earthquakes of a magnitude that could reasonably be expected in the area -- only to be overruled by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The problems at Shika are part of a broader pattern of weak safety oversight in the Japanese nuclear industry that has come sharply into focus since the Fukushima disaster began. As one Japanese seismologist told the Guardian on March 12, most first-generation Japanese nuclear plants were built in an era of relatively low earthquake activity. Despite earthquake-related breakdowns at several plants in the mid-2000s, utility companies and nuclear regulators failed to grasp the potential catastrophes waiting beneath their feet.

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