Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oil: When Oil Wealth Fuels Arab Conflicts

By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TEHRAN (IDN) - In what way is the oil wealth of the Arab countries being spent? Is that wealth being used to promote sustainable social, cultural, political and economic development in Arab countries and, thus, plays a positive role in the life and livelihood of the Arab masses? Or is it being used in the opposite direction and is actually destroying the entire infrastructure in the Arab world, and instead of being a silver bullet for the maladies of the Arab countries, is only a scourge?

It is not easy to pass a simple judgment on this issue and many positive or negative arguments can be offered here. However, if the current conditions in the Arab world are examined more closely, especially after the political developments that have come to be known as the Arab Spring, one can, at least, claim that more than being a cure to their intractable ailments, the Arab oil wealth has been a scourge in disguise.

A cursory glance at the Arab world from Morocco, in the entrance of the Gibraltar, all the way east to Somalia and Sudan in the Horn of Africa, and from the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf up to the Mediterranean and Turkey, will clearly prove that Arab nations are going through one of the most critical junctures of their historical life. They are currently grappling with a crisis, which more than anything else, emanates from unequal distribution of the oil wealth and emergence of growing divides in all aspects of the social and political life of Arabs. Therefore, the oil wealth in the Arabs hands has been playing a very destructive role on two fronts:

1. By worsening the existing gaps between oil-rich countries and countries devoid of abundant oil resources; and

2. By exacerbating the existing gaps within the Arab societies which have made many people in those societies change course in the direction of traditional tribal tendencies.

It does not need a lot of research to understand to what extent the oil wealth in Arab countries has been at work to undermine the infrastructure in those societies. It would suffice to note that how the power struggle both at domestic level in many Arab countries, and at regional level in various parts of the Arab world has been raging on just because some Arab states enjoy hefty revenues through oil sales, and other countries are deprived of such a huge source of power and wealth.

Just take into account, for instance, the ongoing tribal wars in Libya and South Sudan, on the one hand, and the power struggles in Somalia and Syria, on the other hand. The root causes of destructive wars in both cases can be traced back to oil revenues. The difference, however, is that in Sudan, the rival tribes first divided an integrated Sudan into two southern and northern parts. Then, at a lower level in South Sudan, they engaged in a war among themselves in order to establish their monopolistic control over the country’s rich oil resources.

Following the separation of two parts of Sudan, the most important change that was made to the south was substitution of Arab rulers of North Sudan with new rulers who hailed from local tribes. Otherwise, the true nature of the power struggle in the country has not changed a bit.

In Libya, the situation that the country has come to following the fall of its former dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, is a copycat of the situation in other Arab countries where popular revolutions have taken place.

In all those countries, tribes have entered a battle of power in order to establish their grasp over the country’s rich oil resources. Therefore, in a bid to achieve their goal, they have been effectively preventing the emergence of a powerful central power. This is the fate of all countries which have direct access to rich oil resources.

An even worse fate awaits those countries where oil riches are not high enough to meet the ambitious goals of their leaders, but still under the influence of petrodollars, power struggles have been going on.

Syria is one of the most objective examples of such countries. The oil wealth of oil-rich countries around the Persian Gulf has not been used to reduce poverty or energize development in Syria, but has been taken advantage of to give a sectarian quality to the existing gaps and increase the destructive effect of those gaps.

Yemen and Somalia are other instances where countries have been devastated through the oil wealth of regional Arab states.

A scourge and disaster

Therefore, in a preliminary assessment, one may claim that the oil wealth has been a scourge and disaster for Arab peoples. This is true as in those parts of the Arab world which have access to rich oil resources, the petrodollars have served to revive the primitive ambitions that were rife among ancient Arabs, and have helped the leaders of such countries to intervene in the internal affairs of poor Arab states and wage proxy wars in those countries.

On the other hand, in that part of the Arab world, which is deprived of rich oil resources, tribal and sectarian conflicts have been going on among various groups who aim to secure their monopoly over power. In both parts of the Arab world, innocent people have been the main victims of power struggles.

Also, the final result of such struggles is widening social gaps and growing tribal and sectarian differences, which on the whole, prevent peace and stability – as the main factors that promote a country’s sustainable development – from being established in the Arab countries. Apart from this, the oil wealth of Arabs is not simply used to destroy Arab countries, but it has caused serious problems from different viewpoints. Part of that wealth, for example, has been spent on fostering radicalism and extremism. These ominous phenomena are not merely at work in the Arab world, but have enough potential to engulf other countries as well.

In fact, one may daresay that unawareness, ignorance, power thirst, and ambitions of leaders in the Arab world are gradually turning into a big problem because the scourge of the oil wealth is playing its destructive role in other parts of the world. Has this situation come about just accidently, or is there a well-calculated scheme and premeditated idea at work in order to cause the Middle East oil to wreak havoc on the regional countries instead of helping them to thrive? It is not easy to pass a judgment on such issues.

Plundering Middle East oil wealth

The existing problems are so intermingled and intricate that it is really difficult to understand all the existing aspects of a certain problem. Without getting caught in the intricacies of common theories of conspiracy, we can still find clues to how the Middle East oil wealth is being plundered. The Middle East oil is actually being plundered by the big powers of the world in various ways. One way to do this is to squander the oil revenues by inefficient, but ambitious rulers who are still pursuing their historical delusion of power, though under different names and fa├žades. At the end, if anything remains of that huge wealth, those crumbs may be spent in their own countries in order to deceive the public opinions of regional nations.

At the moment, this is the path that the Arab states are treading. As a result of their huge oil wealth, they have actually lost all the positive motives that may help them to continue a dignified life. The poor Arab countries are, in fact, dependent on rich Arab states. As a result, they often have to give in to the demands of inept dictatorial regimes whose leaders hold unreal images of themselves and their ignorant nations also share the power delusion of their leaders. Such nations are frequently engaged in destructive ethnic, tribal and even sectarian conflicts and are mostly used as cannon fodder by their dictatorial rulers.

It is due to such realities that popular revolutions in the Arab world – regardless of whether you call them Islamic Awakening or Arab Spring – have not been able to provide a solution to the problems facing Arab societies and have not saved Arab societies from the vicious circle which has been plaguing them.

Just take Egypt, as one of the most important and axial Arab countries, as an example. This example shows how far the power struggle has gone in this Arab country and how the Egyptian society has been pushed toward intensification of ethnic and religious differences in a step-by-step manner.

Just have a look at Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq. What has been the share of these countries from the benefits of the Arab Spring? Their share has been nothing, but worsening sectarian or tribal conflicts which are the only visible consequences of the Arab Spring in these countries.

Of course, the above account should not be taken as reason to argue that oil wealth, per se, is a negative phenomenon. That wealth, once in good hands, could be used to save Arab nations and countries from cultural, social, political and economic hardships.

The Islamic Awakening was originally supposed to show a new way and help Arab societies to get out of the aforesaid vicious circle. However, the current power struggle that has taken its place is the result of efforts made by corrupt leaders who are subservient to global sources of power and who have tried to divert the Islamic Awakening from its right path.

Otherwise, the oil wealth, per se, is not a negative phenomenon. If used properly, instead of being spent on buying lethal weapons that Arabs are currently using to kill each other, it could have been used to build factories, farms, roads, schools and universities.

The petrodollars could have been spent on constructing infrastructure in Arab countries and making Arab nations more attuned to the modern world. It is a pity that this is not really the case. The fact that everybody is now blaming everybody else for the status quo will solve no problem. Both the rulers and those ruled in Arab countries are similarly responsible for the existing dire situation of the Arab world.

*Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi is an expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues. This article, originally published in Iran Review on January 4 under the headline Arabs, Oil Wealth and Power Struggle is being republished by arrangement with the editors of the non-partisan website. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 22, 2014]

Image credit: Iran Review