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Oil is the instigate of landscape change in the M.E. PDF Print E-mail
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Oil is the instigate of landscape change in the M.E.
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Historical Backbone Progression


The Western and Arab World mutual manipulation process historically reveals that only in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Arab oil-producing countries used oil as an instrument of economic and diplomatic pressure on the West for a while. They decided to reduce their oil output and imposed embargoes on oil shipments to the US, Holland, Portugal and South Africa to force a change in their policy toward the Israeli occupation of Arab lands. They demanded a total withdrawal of Israel’s military from all Arab territory occupied in the 1967 war and the restoration of the Palestinian’s rights. President Nixon proclaimed the US full support of Israel and granted Israel $2.2 billion in additional military assistance as a response to the Arab demands. The commitment of the Arab oil-producing countries to achieve political goals has faltered and lost credibility. They scaled down their demands in a December 8 of 1973 resolution by asking for only that the US guaranteed a promised phased Israeli withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967. Then in March 1974, they decided to lift the embargo indefinitely without accomplishing any of their declared demands. Neither complete Israeli withdrawal nor restoration of Palestinian rights was achieved.

The industrial countries demand for Arab oil has increased significantly since 1973 and the US and western powers political and military actions in the Middle East suggest that oil has become a major factor in its policy formation. The US has strengthened its military, political and economic influence in its oil-producing protectorates and allies and created false pretexts to wage war against oil-rich Iraq in 2003. At the same time, the US has been strengthening Israel, its strategic ally and its supposedly military policeman in the region.
With the rising demand for the Arab only commodity by the international community, Arab countries became peripheries for the industrial countries which purchase their crude oil and promise to defend their national boundaries and territorial integrity. Middle East oil has undermined Arab independence, created a consuming culture of imported luxury goods, limited the economies of the Arab oil producing countries and their neighboring Arab states, and undermined their political and social development.


Oil created the political economy of dependency in the Arab World; it rendered Arab states as a market for the military-industrial complex weapons that gave them false feeling of security. US officials declared in many occasions that military equipment sales to the Gulf States and even to Egypt serve the interest of Israel and the US. Arab nations that bought fighter airplanes had to abide by certain conditions that compromise their sovereignty over their own territories regarding the positioning and operation of the fighters. The US has the option of not providing spare parts should the buyers ignore the US stipulation. The AWACS intelligence-gathering airplanes that Saudi Arabia bought in the 1980s for six billion dollars had to be operated only by US personnel.

Another problem the Arab countries have to contend with in the post-oil-discovery period is the lack of industrial economy. A sustained competitive industrial development in the Arab world has lagged behind other developing countries. The most striking example is Egypt which had been the most developed Arab country since the nineteenth century. Forced peacetime industrialization in Egypt started in the first half of the nineteenth century when Muhammad Ali, the titular ruler of Egypt, tried to establish it as a powerful industrialized European-style state. Egypt had a college of engineering in early nineteenth century long time before India had a technical college, and Cairo University was officially established in 1908.


Industrialization is not a goal by itself, but it is a means for development that produces quality products demanded by the public at competitive price, provides employment to the work force and the necessary research facilities to continue productivity improvement. It requires planning, capital, trained labor, managerial skills, domestic and foreign markets, diversification as a means of compensating for the spent assets, and political stability for long-term industrial planning and for creating conditions conducive to attracting foreign investment.


The generations that governed Arab countries in the second-half of the last century were influenced by Pan-Arab nationalism, predisposed by oil and the establishment of Israel. The alliance between middle class socialists and military officers in Egypt, Syria and Iraq adopted the development of Third World socialist policies and the Soviet Union management style where the inefficient public sector rather than the private sector was entrusted to accomplish their goals. It produced import substitute products that were sold locally and exported only to the Communist oriented countries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Arab products lost their markets in the Eastern block and could not establish markets in the West due to generally inferior quality of their goods. Arab regimes in these countries have rejected communism but failed to embrace real free-market economy in their major industries. Even the renowned Egyptian textile industry could not compete with the European and Japanese imports. Arab states failed to reform their industries including the agribusiness to meet the growing demand for food by their own people because of the structural constraints that had been inherited from their former centralized economy. Arab states are known for their burdensome bureaucracy, which controls many sectors of society and obstructs change and development.



The existing economic system in the Arab states can hardly be described as a model fit for the new capitalist world system. The actual investment in the nonoil producing states has been mostly for importing consumer goods including those sought by the returning expatriates, commissions and accumulating profit by few rather than productive enterprises that may contribute to any tangible industrialization effort. The lack of sound management led to the spread of corruption and increased the gap between the rich and the poor.
As such it is important to focus on the political landscape and the recent Arab regime changes from the perspective of how external factors (Western meddling) and the pitiable socioeconomic conditions that have impacted it. One hypothesis being that the West’s tendencies, due to their interest in Middle East oil, has been profoundly negative on political development, exacerbating the already deleterious effect that oil has had on the evolution of the political landscape in the Arab world. The other hypothesis being that oils’ impact on the socioeconomic condition has affected the ability of Arab countries to evolve toward more representative government. This assertion is based on the assumption that the formation of so-called “civil society” and the establishment of a vibrant middle class are crucial links in political development. The lack of socioeconomic progress in the Middle East therefore, has impacted the political environment.



Western Meddling


It is rather a subjective exercise to distinguish between Western interventions in the political affairs of the Middle East as direct or indirect consequence of oil, and as such the meddling takes many forms but putting it simply it is a function of the West’s preference for the roughshod tactics of Israel and the dictatorial Arab regimes, over the vulnerability and uncertainty associated with fledgling democratic governments. The West has historically provided little if any support for democratic movements as a function of their interest in Middle East oil and secondly why today after two decade of the end of the Cold War, the US/West is still shy, reluctant, and not directly supportive of  representative governance in the region.


The precedent for authoritarianism was established under the mandate system as the British and the French put local elites in power that would serve their interests and in turn would have the backing of the mandatory power. As time evolved several of the dependent regimes were overthrown by military coups bent on reversing what they saw as imposing rule. These martial regimes made matters worse in many respects by purging the only groups that had any knowledge on how to run a country, the ruling and economic elites. Shunning the West, they fell inexorably further away from the liberal political and economic framework established by the colonial powers. Rather than make attempts to stem this momentum, the West was seemingly only focused on their own short term concerns, rather than the long term stability and well being of the region.



Previously the Mandatory powers installed their own elites to run matters on their behalf. The two primary goals of these elites were to embellish their personal well being and secondly, serve the imperial powers in order to maintain their positions of authority. However, their sycophantic allegiance and ostentatious lifestyles did not reconcile the status of these ruling elites to the Arab populace. So while the skeletons of democratic institutions were in place, they often were dismissed as mere cover for the imperialistic designs of the mandatory powers. As a result, very little “state building” was accomplished and as the Second World War approached, the Arab mandates were not progressing toward self-rule, as was the theoretical intent behind the U.N. system. Again it should be stressed that the British and French were focused on their own short-term self-interests in which oil was at the top of the list. The principle as established under the Mandate that “the well-being and development of such people form a sacred trust to civilization”, was for the most part ignored. In the aftermath of WWII, the United States reined unmatched in global primacy while the British and French came out of the war exhausted, having little financial or psychological wherewithal to maintain their holdings in the Middle East. Like the US, the Soviet Union also emerged from the war as a new super power. It was the fear of an ever-stronger Soviet Union imposing its will on the Middle East and the associated “communist threat” that increasingly came to dominate the strategy of Western policy makers. The same that during the war had been a successful effort to keep the oil supplies out of the hands of the Nazis turned into a geo-strategic effort to keep many of those same supplies and the governments that controlled them, out of the sphere of Soviet influence. In the context of the Cold War, the US (and now to a far lesser extent Britain and France) felt they could not risk any destabilizing influences on their Middle East “friends” involved in the production or transportation of petroleum supplies. Most prominent of these potentially destabilizing influences were any Soviet supported groups in the region but also included Pan-Arab nationalist and/or even nascent democratic movements. Any influences perceived as destabilizing could in turn make these governments weaker and vulnerable to Soviet designs.

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