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Middle East and rising - March 7

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Saudis mobilise thousands of troops to quell growing revolt

Robert Fisk, Independent/UK
Saudi Arabia was yesterday drafting up to 10,000 security personnel into its north-eastern Shia Muslim provinces, clogging the highways into Dammam and other cities with busloads of troops in fear of next week's "day of rage" by what is now called the "Hunayn Revolution".

Saudi Arabia's worst nightmare – the arrival of the new Arab awakening of rebellion and insurrection in the kingdom – is now casting its long shadow over the House of Saud. Provoked by the Shia majority uprising in the neighbouring Sunni-dominated island of Bahrain, where protesters are calling for the overthrow of the ruling al-Khalifa family, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is widely reported to have told the Bahraini authorities that if they do not crush their Shia revolt, his own forces will.

The opposition is expecting at least 20,000 Saudis to gather in Riyadh and in the Shia Muslim provinces of the north-east of the country in six days, to demand an end to corruption and, if necessary, the overthrow of the House of Saud. Saudi security forces have deployed troops and armed police across the Qatif area – where most of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslims live – and yesterday would-be protesters circulated photographs of armoured vehicles and buses of the state-security police on a highway near the port city of Dammam.

Although desperate to avoid any outside news of the extent of the protests spreading, Saudi security officials have known for more than a month that the revolt of Shia Muslims in the tiny island of Bahrain was expected to spread to Saudi Arabia. Within the Saudi kingdom, thousands of emails and Facebook messages have encouraged Saudi Sunni Muslims to join the planned demonstrations across the "conservative" and highly corrupt kingdom. They suggest – and this idea is clearly co-ordinated – that during confrontations with armed police or the army next Friday, Saudi women should be placed among the front ranks of the protesters to dissuade the Saudi security forces from opening fire.
(5 March 2011)



The specter of flaming oil ports

Steve LeVine, Oil & Glory, Foreign Policy
Traders have adopted a new yardstick for oil security, and it's influencing the abrupt climb of oil prices. Call it the Flaming Oil Port Index. It's a notional appreciation of how many more OPEC countries may see fighting, taking their oil production with them. Right now, according to CitiGroup, the index shows that at least 3.3 additional barrels of oil are at risk, or another 3 percent of global demand on top of the 1 million barrels a day gone from Libya's output. With the index that high, oil prices began the morning with another ascent.

... This is an invidious gauge. It hardly matters what countries are likely to fall apart. The longer that traders see reports of fighting in the oil ports of Libya, the more real seems the possibility of Algeria and Saudi Arabia seeing destructive violence. It is different from no-room-for-error 2008, when global supply only just met demand and reports of a man with a gun in the Nigerian Delta could send prices soaring. Today, OPEC continues to have at least 2.5 million barrels a day of surplus production capacity above and beyond global demand, depending on how much oil you think Saudi Arabia is producing.

One reason is that trouble in Saudi Arabia's oil-belt no longer is notional. Small Shiite protests broke out last week in the kingdom's Eastern Province, resulting in some two dozen arrests. The Saudis have now entirely banned any type of protest.

Saudi Arabia continues to be the key source of uncertainty that's allowing prices to rise.
(7 March 2011)
Steve LeVine is a regular contributor to Energy Bulletin. -BA



The Arab Spring

Rashid Khalidi, The Nation
Suddenly, to be an Arab has become a good thing. People all over the Arab world feel a sense of pride in shaking off decades of cowed passivity under dictatorships that ruled with no deference to popular wishes. And it has become respectable in the West as well. Egypt is now thought of as an exciting and progressive place; its people’s expressions of solidarity are welcomed by demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin; and its bright young activists are seen as models for a new kind of twenty-first-century mobilization. Events in the Arab world are being covered by the Western media more extensively than ever before and are being talked about positively in a fashion that is unprecedented. Before, when anything Muslim or Middle Eastern or Arab was reported on, it was almost always with a heavy negative connotation. Now, during this Arab spring, this has ceased to be the case. An area that was a byword for political stagnation is witnessing a rapid transformation that has caught the attention of the world.

Three things should be said about this sea change in perceptions about Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners. The first is that it shows how superficial, and how false, were most Western media images of this region. Virtually all we heard about were the ubiquitous terrorists, the omnipresent bearded radicals and their veiled companions trying to impose Sharia and the corrupt, brutal despots who were the only option for control of such undesirables. In US government-speak, faithfully repeated by the mainstream media, most of that corruption and brutality was airbrushed out through the use of mendacious terms like “moderates” (i.e., those who do and say what we want).

... The second feature of this shift in perceptions is that it is very fragile. Even if all the Arab despots are overthrown, there is an enormous investment in the “us versus them” view of the region.

... Third, things could easily and very quickly change for the worse in the Arab world, and that could rapidly erode these tender new perceptions. Nothing has yet been resolved in any Arab country, not even in Tunisia or Egypt, where the despots are gone but a real transformation has barely begun. This is true even though both countries possess many of the prerequisites for a constitutional government, a mature democracy, economic progress and social justice—like a strong civil society, a history of labor organization, many highly educated people and some strong institutions. And despite the bravery of those who have been beaten, tear-gassed and shot while demanding change, even less has been transformed in other Arab countries. All of it could turn sour, whether through civil war in Libya or Yemen, paralysis in Tunisia and Egypt, or endless fruitless contestation with those in power in Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Iraq and elsewhere.

... [Arab governments moving towards democracy in the first half of the 20th century] were systematically undermined by the imperialist great powers, whose ambitions and interests were often obstructed by parliaments, nascent public opinion and a press that insisted on national sovereignty and a fair share of their own resources. From the European powers’ undermining of the Iranian and Ottoman constitutional governments in the first decades of the twentieth century, to America’s interference in Lebanon and Syria and overthrow of the Iranian government in the 1950s, the pattern was continually repeated. The Western powers not only gave little or no support to democratic rule in the Middle East; they often actively undermined it, preferring to deal with pliable autocrats who did their bidding. In other words, the pattern of Western support for easily manipulated dictatorial regimes is by no means a new one.
(21 March 2011 issue)



Yemen: Scale of rebellion ‘impossible to predict’

Green Left
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Yemen in anti-government protests. Demonstrators have demanded an end to the long-running regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen’s coalition of political opposition parties, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), finally joined the protests in late February. This came after a speech in which Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for more than 30 years, blamed uprisings on a conspiracy by foreign governments — specifically the United States — to destabilise the nation.

Sarah Phillips, who specialises in governance and reform in Yemen and the Middle East at the Sydney University’s Centre for International Security Studies, told Green Left Weekly: “The dominant policy that is followed from the West, particularly the US, but also Britain, and to a lesser extent the European Union, is about stabilisation.

“The regime is going through a terribly difficult time and it must be stabilised: that’s the main policy idea.”

Phillips said that in finally joining the protests, it seemed the JMP were “trying to harness something that has already happened”.

... However, Phillips said it is important to look beyond the formal political opposition in Yemen.

“There are all different threads of opposition, there is so much more going on in Yemen than just the formal opposition parties.

“There is a southern secessionist movement, which the JMP has variously tried to attach themselves to or remove themselves from at different times. There is also an insurgency movement going on in the north.

“Then you’ve got just swathes of angry, hungry and disempowered people. The link between all of these different disparate groups is the call for Saleh to leave.”

Comparisons have been drawn between the situation in Yemen and the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but Phillips points out that there are important differences to consider.

Speaking at a Sydney University forum on February 15, Phillips said: “There is not a tradition of mass protest, or unionisation, or mobilisation in Yemen under Saleh.

“If you thought that Egypt and Tunisia’s human development indicators looked bad, then Yemen really puts that into even sharper focus: Yemenis are far younger than elsewhere in the region, the median age in Yemen is actually less than 18 years old.

“In Egypt it is 24, and in Tunisia it is around about 30.

“Yemenis are also a lot more economically vulnerable than Egyptians or Tunisians. Yemeni unemployment is about double the sorts of figures we are seeing elsewhere.

“The number of Yemenis living below the poverty line is at least 45%, which is much higher than elsewhere in the region. Yemenis are also hungrier.”
(6 March 2011)

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