Oil – Democracy’s Black Straightjacket

Link to map: http://www.bedigest.com/Images/map2.jpg

The collective name for the nations that produce oil in the Middle East and North Africa is MENA. On the map above you can see that MENA includes the following nations: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Yemen. What happens in these nations in coming years will be crucial for the world’s future. Ten of the twelve MENA nations are among the world’s twenty largest oil exporters. The exceptions are Bahrain and Egypt, but Egypt has a central position in the oil trade since large volumes of oil pass through the Suez Canal and it also controls an oil pipeline that runs parallel to the canal. Every day, large volumes of oil are freighted or pumped to the Mediterranean Sea and the EU. The ten largest oil exporters are, in rank order, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Oman and Yemen. None of these nations are democracies as we understand the term.

The twenty largest importers of oil are the USA, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, India, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Singapore, Belgium, Thailand, South Africa, Poland, Greece, Pakistan and Australia. Besides China and Thailand, the world’s largest democracies are among the importers. The remaining ten largest oil exporting nations are Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Norway, Mexico, Angola, Kazakhstan, Canada, Syria and Vietnam. Democracies exists among these nations but in many of this group the political system is not what we would regard as a democratic.

Goran Persson, Sweden’s prime minister from 1996 to 2006, coined the expression, “Those who are in debt are not free”. At that time he was talking about the nation’s debt levels but the expression can be applied more widely to also include oil. When unrest and calls for democracy began in Tunisia we saw the world’s democracies fairly quickly support those calls. They could do it because Tunisia is not a key nation in terms of oil exports of oil. As the calls for democracy spread farther in the Middle East to include Egypt it became progressively more difficult for the democracies to back the calls. The nation with the greatest difficulty was democracy’s most vocal proponent, the USA, that had supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak for thirty years. President Obama had even chosen Egypt as the nation in which to give his celebrated speech on America’s relationship with the Islamic world. The world and the democracy movement in Egypt waited for support from the USA but the White House was quite silent. The EU and Sweden’s foreign minister were not much better. They were restrained by oil’s black straightjacket.

Now the focus is on Libya and Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. In a speech by his son it was made clear that they are willing to use oil in their struggle to retain power. If the world refuses oil from Libya it will prove extremely costly for the USA and the EU as the price of oil skyrockets.

But Saudi Arabia, a nation where women are not allowed to drive cars and can be stoned to death for adultery, has a treaty with the USA that guarantees military support to the ruling family, the “House of Saud” if there is unrest. If Saudi Arabia shuts off its oil production then more than twenty percent of the oil currently available on the world export market to import will disappear. No price, no matter how high, will be able to bring forth the necessary oil. The world will grind to a halt. The world’s democracies are bound tightly by oil’s black straightjacket.


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