(Respect for) blood ties is something natural among men, with the rarest exceptions. It leads to affection for one’s relations and blood relatives, (the feeling that) no harm ought to befall them nor any destruction come upon them. One feels shame when one’s relatives are treated unjustly or attacked, one wishes to intervene between them and whatever peril or destruction threatens them. This is a natural urge in man, for as long as there have been human beings.
— Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah
Blood may be said to be thicker than water in a world of power, status and hierarchy. Ibn Khaldun, the illustrious fourteenth century Arab historian on the rise and fall of royal dynasties, provides a pointed observation that echoes from the past into the present and is not restricted to any one place. My own observations in this essay are mere reflections of an erstwhile sojourner in Japan for whom society and politics are deliberate (as well at times unintended) consequences of collective actions of human beings in a series of interlocking relationships. Japanese politics projects an image that on the surface is a natural corollary of a unique ‘national character’. However, families are a ubiquitous hallmark of politics throughout the world and one may add are the most basic unit for organising and transmitting political office. In the Middle East, the terms gumlukiyya (hereditary republic), a combination of gumhuriyya (republic in Egyptian Arabic) and malakiyya (monarchy), and ‘dynastic republicanism’ were coined in the pre-Arab Spring period to describe the then increasing importance of the president’s family in politics and in the thorny matter of presidential succession. Where power, status and hierarchy slowly congeal, political dynasties are born.