March 15, 2011
|Political leaders of oil-rich countries are far less likely to relinquish power or, in the case of kingdoms, to adopt much-needed constitutional changes|
|One of the peculiarities of the world we live in is the dire situation entire nations find themselves in because they happen to be rich in oil and gas resources. Far from guaranteeing their prosperity, the possession of such mineral wealth is, unfortunately, almost sure to guarantee that social inequalities, unemployment and lack of the most common freedoms are the norm, rather than the exception.
Take Saudi Arabia, for example. From 1970 onwards, zillions of petrodollars have financed the lavish lifestyle of some seven thousand princes of the Saudi dynasty. Fleets of expensive limousines, palaces and mansions in the most exclusive European settings, next to a religious society that prevents women from going out of the house without a permit from a male member of the family, or a single man from entering shopping malls on his own, are the hallmarks of a highly inequitable and backward type of society. The petrodollars have benefited only a few, whilst 70 percent of the population cannot find decent accommodation for their families. Protests are outlawed as un-Islamic and the country is ruled as an absolute monarchy that dishes out jobs primarily to royal family members. Lacking in the most basic human rights enjoyed elsewhere, 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population, which is under 30 years of age, is reduced to venting its anger on Facebook or Twitter. The education system is wanting, jobs are hard to come by and Jeddah, the country’s second largest city, lacks to this day a sewage system. Undaunted, the ruling house, with some exceptions, refuses to even consider the transition to a constitutional monarchy and any other reform that would curb corruption and make the life of the kingdom’s citizens less miserable than it currently is.
In countries like Libya, the Gaddafi family controls not only the stream of petrodollars, but also fashion boutiques, telecommunications, Coca-Cola distributorships and the like. When the Libyan population raised in revolt asking for a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth, they were given bullets and bombs dropped from fighter planes. The oil money might be financing the lavish lifestyle of Gaddafi’s sons, but it is slowly killing the Libyan society, making its economy dependent on the whims and pleasures of a leader that lost any connection with the reality around him a long time ago.
Finally, in Iran the petrodollars are financing one of the most bizarre, by any standards, theocratic regimes of all time. Since 1979, the Iranian society and polity is led by an Islamic regime that has adopted medieval legal norms that had been known in Europe only in the days of the Inquisition. The power of the parliament or the Iranian executive is insignificant compared to that of the official faqiq of the country, the supreme religious leader who, according to the Iranian constitution, is the ultimate authority on all matters, religious or profane. Worse still, in a bid to become the foremost Islamic country, Iran is financing terrorist groups around the Arab world, especially in Lebanon. It is locked into mortal combat with Israel and has embarked on a quest to become a nuclear power.
Let’s face it, except for Norway, no oil and gas-producing country seems to be free of authoritarianism or to share equitably the mineral wealth revenues. Their leaders are more likely to resist ferociously any attempt to remove them. Political transition in Tunisia and Egypt happened quickly, as they are not afflicted by the curse of the petrodollars.
For years, Western leaders interested in a steady supply of such vital resources have tolerated these repressive regimes. In some cases, they have even invested in oil exploration and the acquisition of oil assets in some of the countries concerned. Now, when the monstrosity of these regimes is exposed by massive Arab protests for all to see, Western acquiescence has become a liability. One can only hope that the end of Saudi hegemony, together with the Iranian and Libyan excesses, will bring about a much-needed reassessment of Western policies towards the resource-rich countries concerned. Such policies should take into consideration the human costs, and the plight of oil-rich nations kept in bondage and deprived of rights for decades. (sources: The Guardian, Courrier International, Le Monde)