Monday, February 14, 2011

Demonstrations Spreading To Sunni Arab Oil Exporters?

In an earlier post I noted that most of the predominantly Arab Sunni nations with anti-government demonstraters were not substantial oil exporters (and also were generally net food importers). I noted the exceptions on not having demonstrations of Morocco and Syria, which continue to be exceptions, despite a few rumbles in each, and various commentators in the US predicting that Syria will get it. We shall see, quite possibly a matter of wishful thinking.

On the oil exporter side Algeria was already noted as a partial exception, and indeed demonstrations appear to have returned there. Also, the first Gulf oil exporter to have demonstrations has joined the headlines, Bahrain. Regarding Algeria, I have already noted that it has an unpleasant past of a reasonably democratic election having its results overturned by a military coup, with that regime still in power, with their clearly being ongoing resentment. I also note that while Algeria does export oil, it is 23rd in the list of nations for oil exports per capita, so it is not a major oil exporter.

Bahrain is somewhat higher on that list, but it has the unique problem for a Gulf state of having a Shi'i majority (about 65% of the population) while being ruled by a Sunni monarchy. There have been some efforts to loosen rule a bit there (local elections allowed), but there have been long ongoing charges of anti-Shi'i discrimination by the regime, so this is not your ordinary Arab Sunni state. Also, Bahrain has long been the Gulf HQ of the US Navy's 5th fleet, which has also long been a source of substantial resentment by much of the population.

There are reports that there may be a re-eruption of demonstrations in Iran. Of course, it is neither Arab nor predominantly Sunni, and has its own history of political problems, including quite recently, despite its oil exporting status. On that one, we shall see.

Along with forecasts of trouble in Syria, I keep reading forecasts by various commentators that there will be demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. My take on that is that this is wishful thinking. Do not count on it, in fact, I forecast that there will not be.

OTOH, there are rumblings in Libya, where Gaddafi has been the longest in place dictator in the Arab Sunni world. May not come to anything as he has long been spreading the wealth, but he has been in so long and been so repressive, that his time may well be up, or at least there might be a challenge to his rule.


john c. halasz said...

The Saudi Eastern Province, where most of the oil is, is majority Shia, and there is a large Shia minority in Kuwait,

Barkley Rosser said...

There has long been a lot of Shi'is involved in Aramco. There has long been tension within Saudi Arabia regarding the role and position of the Shi'i minority, which is a small minority, despite their crucial position.

The irony is that there is a similar situaion in Iran. In the area of main oil production, the predominant group is the small Sunni Arab minority of Iran.

john c. halasz said...

But the Khuzestan Arabs are predominantly Shia, no?

Barkley Rosser said...


Mixed bag, both Shi'i and Sunni in Khuzestan. A majority of Iranian Arabs are Sunni, but many in Khuzestan are Shi'i. There have been some movements back and forth across the Gulf, with some of the Shi'is in Khuzestan being refugees from Saudi Arabia. OTOH, about 100,000 of the Shi'i Arabs in Bahrain are refugees from Iran, constituting a bit more than a third of the Shi'i population of Bahrain, which is about 2/3 of the population of Bahrain and are now seriously demonstrating against the Sunni ruling family.