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Oil is the instigate of landscape change in the M.E.
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Defense Magazine No 76 – Avril/Mai 2011


Oil is the instigate of landscape change in the M.E.


Professor Michel Nehme (researcher)

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In trying to explain the recent drastic and dramatic regime, political and security changes in the Arab World from the perspective of the indirect impact of oil on the Arab political landscape, references in this article are derived from two main streams: That of Western meddling and the lack of economic and political development. And oil, which has been more than an economic instrument, since its discovery it has had the effect of inaugurating the era of modern Arab economic and political dependency on the West, protectionism, the Jihadists and the wars that took the lives of millions and de-stabilized the region. Oil is viewed by the West as a strategic commodity, and control of such a resource should not be left to the governments of the oil producing countries nor their supporting neighboring regimes.

Before proceeding with the state of affairs that provided the backbone for the current landscape of political and balance of power change, it is important to acknowledge the catalyst factor which is the understanding of the new reality in the Arab World and the Middle East at large.

The worldwide quest for democracy has had its historical and prominent challenge.  It has entered a new phase with the large-scale utilization of the electronic media – particularly the TV, internet and cell phones. These amenities which are considered by this article as catalyst allow for extended public participation in any matters of general interest, particularly in political and socio-economic matters. The electronic media expedite the transmission of information, images, sound recordings and video footage all over the world, also into restricted areas. In this way much more public support is mustered for a particular cause, and the intensive use of such aides even have the potential to organize and inspire global movements.

When the organizing of participatory democratic movements is extensively driven by the use of electronic media such a system may be described as “e-democracy” that goes parallel or against the existing way of rule by the concerned political system. This term refers to the use of information technologies and communication technologies in the execution of political and governance objectives. Obviously, these facilities may also be used by dissident groups to exchange information and rally themselves for the promotion of one or other democratic cause.

In today’s integrated world, political and other activities in one part of the world often have ramifications far outside a particular region, often causing extensive international reaction to whatever happens in one or other country. This has again been proved in the case of the turmoil and revolts in various Arab countries. E-democracy makes it possible to organize international support for virtually any cause.

It is very obvious that information technologies have a strong potential for the globalization of regional issues, among others, it is a strong catalyst for the process of democratization and change. The World e-Democracy Forum and with limited merit to its academic soundness has asserted the following on their website:
“The revolution in Egypt has proven, once again, that the Internet can change the world. After the election of Barack Obama and Ben Ali’s downfall in Tunisia, the resignation of Hosni Mubarak provides a wealth of insights. First of all, it is no longer possible to cut off a country from the rest of the world. In the past, this could be done by closing the borders, cutting off the telecom system, and repression was carried out secretly. No regime had yet resorted to a complete shutdown of the Internet. Restrictions had been imposed in Burma, Iran, Nepal, and even in China, but Internet had never been blocked as such for more than eight days. Nevertheless, communication continued despite the Internet take-down, especially thanks to the role played by the multinational companies, as was the case with Google and Twitter, which launched the “speak-to-tweet” service. This service allowed anyone with a voice connection to dial an international number and have their voice messages sent out as tweets. The role of Facebook in by-passing the governmental censorship in Tunisia had already been the sign of the big role the actors of the Web could play in these events.”

In this article, the argument is that the uniformly authoritarian political climate of the Arab world is not solely, perhaps not even primarily, an outgrowth of indigenous social, cultural, or economic conditions in the region. While Islamic norms may strongly influence Arab conceptions of legitimate governance, they do not explain why corrupt, in-egalitarian, and decidedly un-Islamic regimes have managed to flout the rising popular will matching globalization process. Tribal and ethno-sectarian divisions have been exploited by Arab regimes to divide and rule their constituents, but the salience of primordial forms of identification is less a cause than an outgrowth of authoritarian governance. While abundant oil resources may weaken societal pressures for representation, many Arab states have little or no oil and petroleum wealth has not always decisively blocked transitions to democracy in other parts of the world. While further research into these and other factors may yet produce an explanatory breakthrough, underlying societal conditions have not been convincingly shown to account for the Arab "democracy deficit."

How, then, can one account for the fact that one or two by most of the 121 nations classified by Freedom House as electoral democracies are in the Arab world? Imagine a botanical experiment in which most of the seeds in one bed of soil sprout and grow into plants, while all of the seeds in a second bed either fail to sprout or quickly wither once they break the soil. One might begin by checking to see whether the seeds in the second group are defective or damaged. If close examination of the seeds reveals no identifiable characteristics that could plausibly account for such sweeping failure to develop, an astute botanist would likely proceed by determining whether differences in soil conditions, temperature, and sunlight account for the anomaly.

Most scholars of Arab politics have spent their time studying seeds. The proposition that authoritarianism in the Arab world is sustained by the absence or weakness of external forces that have facilitated democratization elsewhere has not been rigorously examined. In order to determine whether external conditions can account for the discrepancy, one must first establish whether governments in the Arab world have faced external conditions relevant to democratization that differ significantly from those faced by their counterparts elsewhere in the world. This study contends that they have.

Since the waning years of the Cold War, Western governments and international institutions have made the promotion of democracy abroad a key policy objective, particularly in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. As a result, the post-Cold War political order has been quite inhospitable to regimes in most areas of the world that are branded by the West as having failed to embark (or remain) on the path toward democracy and the question here is again why? In order to explicate on this matter researchers have to go back to the historical progression.

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