Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Oil Empires Strike Back

It is increasingly clear that the Arab nations with lots of oil to export also have better means to crush their uprisings than the leaders in such non-oil exporters as Tunisia and Egypt. Thus, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has sent troops in to Bahrain, allowing the Sunni monarch there to use his police to move harshly against the largely Shi'i dissidents, even though the Shi'a are about 2/3 of the local population (there is a substantial population of expat workers, mostly Hindu Indians). The US has a naval base there, although reportedly the US administration has been unhappy about this move by the Saudis. But the Saudis apparently do not want any infection into their Shi'a, who, only 12% of the Saudi population, are concentrated in the oil-producing Eastern Province (and are heavily active in the oil industry itself).

In Libya we are reminded that the sine qua non of a successful revolutionary movement is when the lower levels of the military turn against their commanders and the national leadership to side with the rebels. That has not happened there subtantially for two reasons. The more widely reported one has been Qaddafi's ability to hire mercenaries given his oil funds. The other is that he enjoys the support of some of Libya's tribes, including the nation's largest one. This means that the civil war component probably does outweigh the revolutionary component, and despite the Arab League voting for a free fly zone (with Algeria and Syria abstaining), it looks that Qaddafi's troops are successfully heading towards the rebel capital of Benghazi. This could be all over soon, and it was never very likely that a free fly zone would have done anything anyway, given that Qaddafi has managed to retain the loyalty of most of the military on the ground (unfortunately in my opinion).

BTW, Syria has experienced its first demonstration, although only a small and brief one. However, given how repressive the regime is and how long it has been in power, plus the fact that the rulers there largely belong to a religious minority that is only about 10% of the population, the Shi'i Alawites (part of the reason they are friendly with Iran), it is a bit surprising there have been none earlier (and they are not oil exporters either).

Unsurprisingly, good reporting on both of these events can be found at and .


Myrtle Blackwood said...

All this seems like small fry compared to the current apocalyptic situation in Japan.

What happened to those lost decades since the early 1970s oil crises? All those years of pleadings for action to avert the very predictable of our collective predicaments?

Barkley Rosser said...


Yes, Japan is much bigger right now, pushing the upheavals in the Middle East to the back pages, although those are also very big, potentially very much so, and given the implications for the oil markets of what happens in Japan, somewhat linked even. However, some of us who have more knowledge than most on the matter need to keep people abreast of what is happening in Japan as well. There is a tendency for people to focus on one big thing at a time.

BTW, I was in Maui when the tsunami hit, six foot wave, the harbors all wiped out. Was on fourth floor of hotel, so OK, but it was very loud as it came ashore in the middle of the night.

Barkley Rosser said...

BTW, as someone who has spent serious time in Japan and was giving a lecture on speculative bubbles and said the word "crash" at the time of the 2005 earthquake, the worst in 13 years, I have special knowledge on that as well. However, I intend to wait until we know more about the final fallout (hack, cough) from the nuclear reactor disasters before commenting at any length beyound this personal remark.

I will note that nobody died in that quake, although there was much damage and many injured, mostly from falling bookcases and falling shelves full of plates, a tribute to the strict building codes designed to withstand severe earthquakes. But this one was just too severe for those codes to deal with, plus the tsunami simply swept whole buildings away, not much you can do about that with strict building codes.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

"There is a tendency for people to focus on one big thing at a time."

It wouldn't hurt for the world to finally focus on the one big issue: energy and power.

You're right about both being encompassed by the (ongoing) disasters in the Middle East and now in Japan....and also in the huge issues of climate change, acidification of the oceans, the idiocy and hubris of General Electric, the Gulf oil spill (and every other spill), the military-industrial complex, corporate agriculture ....

A good beginning could be the simple act of insulating one's dwelling (rented or not).

Interesting experiences you've had in Hawaii and Japan, Barkley.