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Arab Spring. Attempt at paradigm 2

By Torgeir Fjærtoft

In my previous blog input I maintained that to establish viable successor regime to the toppled dictators, the new power holders must initiate regional economic integration to create the employment necessary for social and political stability. Empowering people without improving their lives will undermine the empowerment because the continued frustration and rage can only be controlled by force.

So far, of the affected or vulnerable countries in the region only Saudi Arabia has responded to the Arab Spring by an economic program in the form of boosting internal transfers of oil income.  The Saudi intention is to contain internal ramifications of the regional popular uprising by improving people’s lives without empowering them.

As an oil producer with liquid assets abroad Saudi Arabia has a domestic freedom of maneuver that the new regimes following the Arab Spring have yet to acquire, be they oil producers or not. The regime in Riyadh can therefore be seen as a case study of the reverse end of the evolving Arab Spring, which has started with empowerment and needs to develop an effective economic policy. In the current context, an economic policy addressing the most pressing social problems would need three components: distribution, employment and production.  Saudi Arabia has succeeded as oil producer in terms of volume and income but failed to create commensurate employment. Economists, prone to reduce complex, multi-determined problems to simple equations, call for reversal of internal transfers, reduction in public sector employment, economic diversification by investments in new sectors, and competition. However, these are not options available to Saudi decision-makers at the moment.

What outside observers invariably fail to see is that the monarchy steeped in its ancient traditions is in its essence also a social contract. This basically tribal political culture is in one sense also modern.  Power, though in name absolute, is actually the function of elaborate transactions. Like in a Western welfare state, political support is earned by providing for constituents who judge their leaders by the yardsticks of their own lives. At the same time, power is also the function of the ability to negotiate a modicum of consensus within the elite, which means compromise, balancing opposing demands. These two constraints, people’s welfare and elite consensus, delineate the freedom of maneuver for the Saudi decision-makers, also now. Attempts to transcend these constraints will jeopardize the political stability.

There are two known cases when reductions in internal transfers had serious political ramifications. In the first instance, when in 1956 credit dried up, the extended royal family mobilized to prevent King Saud from establishing his own dynasty, leading to the current collective royal leadership model. In the second instance, the fall in oil prices in the 1980’s led to the Sahwa opposition in the early 1990’s. The Sahwa movement was precipitated in no small degree by reducing the number of public sector positions among the clerical graduates denied the presumed promise of secure employment.

Like in all societies, frustrated young men seek alternative ideologies and faiths with rejection as the common denominator. In Saudi Arabia the elite has throughout the history of the official Wahabist doctrine compromised by cooperating with external powers, first with the Ottomans, then the British and today with the US. Compromise, however necessary or wise, makes the official ideology vulnerable to domestic opposition groups, such as the Sahwa, who may reclaim it in a purer form. An additional vulnerability is the Shia minority surrounding the oil fields. Relations range from tenuous to tense.

By our Western standards, Saudi Arabia falls short, and we would like the Arab Spring as a democratic movement to take hold there as it did in Egypt. For this purpose we may accept a period of instability over the current stability. However, we may err in assuming that the alternative to the current stability is a higher degree of democracy, respect for human rights and the empowerment of ordinary people, including women and minorities. The alternatives could be worse than the current imperfections.  Changes could have other consequences than those intended by the initiators. One consequence of the Libyan uprising against Khadafy has been the flow of frustrated men and arms to terrorist movements in the region.

Destabilization of Saudi Arabia, as pivotal oil producer indispensable to the global economic stability and full of arms, could prove infinitely worse. If the Saudi decision-makers were to follow the advice of most economists, such a scenario would under the current circumstances be much more likely than stable economic growth and democratization.

The evolving Arab spring. Attempt at paradigm.

By Torgeir Fjærtoft

The Arab Spring is a paradigm change in the sense that old assumptions no longer hold. The new paradigm must explain how the new situations evolve, and, in the Norwegian context, what Western policies would respond most effectively in altered circumstances.

In an evolving situation the best approach is to identify phases:

First phase mobilization

The first phase was the poplar mobilization on the new social media and in the streets. The western policy response was to refrain from intervention despite vested interests in the old regimes.

Second phase removal of dictators

The second phase was the forced removal of dictators, a phase still ongoing in Syria. Gadhafi was removed with western military support in a humanitarian intervention. Norway was heavily involved.   The risks and uncertain long-term consequences of the Libyan intervention that have been discussed in the aftermath, make a humanitarian intervention in Syria unlikely at this point, even though the suffering would justify it more than in Libya.

Third phase new regimes

The third phase is when the new regimes take power. Will they succeed in maintaining control, or can the countries they are now responsible for, slide into chaos and disintegrate, like Somalia? Will they honor the popular movements that brought them to power by a degree of democracy, women’s empowerment and religious pluralism, or will they become new dictators? At this point the development could realistically go either way. The future is open, undecided. At this stage the best Western policy is to urge upon their new rulers that democracy is not only the right, but also the most effective rule, and support women’s groups and religious minorities by active networking.

Fourth phase economic integration

The fourth phase will hopefully be regional economic integration, without which economic policies will not be sufficiently effective to create the necessary employment for social and political stability.  Economic cooperation would also favorable affect the political culture. The business culture operates with more rational basic assumptions, mental models, than the political culture. To succeed in business it is necessary to actively seek opportunities for win-win options, which can only be achieved by compromise. The European break with historic hostility was made by initiating and institutionalizing integration of the central economic sectors at the time, coal and steel.

Crises can drive cooperation

The European cooperation evolved in response to crises; in fact, the European cooperation has been driven by crises. In the Middle East, the most rational policy now would be to initiate practical economic cooperation despite current political crises.  Economic cooperation is the most promising vehicle to facilitate cooperation on crises management, the European model.

Regional integration of gas supply imperative

The current Middle Eastern equivalent to the coal and steel of the early 1950’s Europe would be gas, which can only be optimally utilized in a regional context. Failure to do so could have global implications by destabilizing the country in the region most important as global oil supplier, Saudi Arabia. Destabilization of Saudi Arabia would spread to the whole Middle East. Solely regional integration of gas supply can prevent the foreseeable Saudi crisis at the point when domestic oil consumption and depletion of assets make both oil exports and internal economic transfers impossible. The result would be energy shortage in Asia and destabilization of the Middle East. By substituting as much as possible of the current domestic oil use with gas from the enormous South Pars field, for power production, desalination of water and the planned petrochemical industry, more Saudi oil can be exported and earn cash for domestic transfers. There is really no long-term alternative to such a strategy. But it can only be realized by the necessary degree of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the two holders of the South Pars field, Qatar and Iran. Norway could provide inputs to the parties from own experiences as gas producer integrated with the European market. We may even suggest select parts of the agreement with the EU, the EEA Agreement, for experiments in economic cooperation.

Strategies for a Post-Oil United Arab Emirates

By Rikke Klüver Voll

As Saudi Arabia fears for it oil longevity and the prospect of becoming an oil importer as early as 2030, United Arab Emirates (UAE) stands as a shining example poised for post-oil survival. Like others in the Gulf region UAE quickly saw that the oil wealth transforming the country both socially and economically was not a finite commodity. Continuing its impressive lifestyle depending on oil resources alone was not a likely strategy. To reassure financial survival without reliance on nonrenewable resources became a driving force to develop alternative strategies for growth in the UAE. From the beginning of UAE’s oil adventure in 1962, Abu Dhabi immediately implemented measures to use the recent wealth to create thriving construction sectors and business, and attract regional and international tourism.

The main approaches taken by the UAE to survive a post-oil world consist of diversifying the economy and global integration. UAE early redirected its resources into education, healthcare and construction of new cities, real estate and tourism projects. Most importantly, the newly acquired infrastructure facilitated the government’s plans for attracting foreign investors. UAE has excelled in communications, airport-infrastructure, mega real estate projects, re-export commerce and tourism, strategically moving the economy away from dependence on oil.

Listed as the best trade-enabler in the region by the World Economic Forum, attracting foreign investment remained a core line for UAE to overcome oil-dependency. Seeing the necessity of external trade for continued growth free zones were established to create hubs for international financial activity. In addition freehold property ownership was introduced, formally an alien concept in the region. Altogether, these strategies created a mosaic curbing the effects of oil price fluctuations, and leading to vigorous economic growth. Increases in foreign trade confirm the strategies’ success I strengthening the UAE economy.

Another focus point in Dubai, and increasingly in Abu Dhabi, appears to be alternative sources of energy. In two weeks, Dubai is planed to host the World Energy Forum focusing on renewable energy and overcoming oil-dependency.  This is the first time the meeting is hosted outside the UN Headquarters in New York, and the choice of Dubai as the venue was clear. Dubai invests a lot in alternative and green research. Developing alternative energy solutions has long been a priority for the UAE, and they are now pioneers in the region.

Many of these strategies mainly take place in Dubai, as this emirate largely due to low oil reserves began its post-oil preparations early. Nevertheless, UAE aspires to take advantage of each of the emirates’ individual assets. Focusing on communication, commercial and financial sectors in Dubai, energy-based industries in Abu Dhabi, manufacturing in Sharjah, and agriculture, shipping, quarrying and cement in the Northern Emirates. UAE is efficiently making use of its different comparative advantages.

The Gulf region is looking to UAE for economic survival strategies and the world might soon be learning from its success as well. However, the UAE needs to remain watchful of global shocks and continue to strengthen its resilience. To continually reduce its vulnerability the UAE needs to make real efforts to better the quality of its education system, and to integrate its nationals into its workforce. Mainly by making the private sector more attractive to Emiratis, and Emiratis more attractive to the private sector. Continued efforts to advance in the field of renewable energy will continue to put UAE on the map both economically and environmentally.

The need for political dialogue in Bahrain

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

In June there was a workshop on the future of Bahrain, attended mainly by young Bahrainis, at Chatham House in London where issues such as the political and economic future of the country, key issues of contention and what the principles for future dialogue should be. Since the meeting was held under Chatham rules no information on participants is readily available, but by reading the summary one finds the political views and arguments of a wide varity of the Bahraini political scene represented. What should worry the Bahraini king if he cares to read the summary, is not the paragraphs outlining different views and takes on the political situation in the country, but rather those who summarize all what the participants could agree on, because there lays his real challenge if he wants to create stability in the country.

All the participants were, not suprisingly, frustrated with the current situation in Bahrain. And although they did not necessarily agree on who normally throws the first stone they are all tired of street clashes between police and demonstrators and see the necessity of urgent steps to stall the escalating violence. Even though the problems express themselves as security issues when they lead to clashes in the street, the youths of Bahrain are more than able to see that they underlying problem is political. If the king really wants to end unrest in Bahrain he should see that security measures alone will not mend the political problems that are tearing the country apart.

A good first step according to the participants would be a more substantial political dialogue than the one conducted in the summer months of 2011, so that political disputes can be solved in a peaceful manner. And even though the regime is not comfortable with acknowledging the “opposition” to be more than al-Wifaq a realisation that Bahraini politics can not be reduced to a zero-sum game is absolutely necessary if a political solution is to be viable. Several of the new Sunni Muslim movements that have risen since the February 14th revolt began will not allow being reduced to pro-government forces and will not allow any political dialogue between the traditional opposition and the regime to prevail without them having a seat at the table. This is where it starts getting difficult for the regime, because the Sunni Muslim voice of the streets are not necessarily the Sunni Muslim voice of the government.

Handling a Shia-dominated opposition they are used to, but Sunni-dominated groups making actual political and economic demands there does not seem to be a recipe on how to contain. And even though none of the Sunni-dominated groups are making very radical demands, the fact that they oppose any dialogue without them make their presence a complicating factor for the regime. As long as their best hope of influencing the politics in the country is by insisting on a seat at the negation table, that is what they will continue to do. And as long as the youths of Bahrain feel left out of the political processes in Bahrain, as the workshop participants say that they feel, the king will have a problem selling any political solution and compromise to the Bahrainis.

There is no easy solution to the conflict in Bahrain but for the king listening to the youth´s call for political reform, economic development and social reconsiliation rather than sending more police out into the streets would probably be a good idea.

Reservations to the Gulf Union

By Cecilie Hellestveit

Ongoing efforts spear-headed by Saudi Arabia for a Union of Gulf States are encountering resistance in various capitals. Attempts to move the project forward in May stranded, largely due to sceptisism expressed by the smaller Gulf-countires. But negociations behind the scenes have alledgedly moved the deadlock forward, and efforts are renewed this month when Foreign Ministers of the six potentially incumbent Union members reconvene to discuss the plans.

In December 2011 Saudi Arabia proposed that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should move “to the stage of unity in a single entity” . (See also the earlier blogg “Towards a Gulf Union” by Tora Yssen). In addition to Saudi Arabia, the proposed union includes the Sunni monarchies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It could be denominated the Gulf Union of (mostly) Sunni Monarchies.

Reluctance by GCC-countries seems in part to be based on what such a union would imply for the smaller Gulf-States and their ability to excert influence in a union dictated and dominated by the Saudis. Saudi Arabia will likely become a giant within the union, and critical voices have branded the move as outright Saudi imperialism. In May, the United Arab Emirates in particular raised questions about whether closer cooperation would give too much power to Saudi Arabia, leading the GCC leaders to put the plan temporarily on hold.

But sceptisism also revolves around whether the Union will have its intended effects, implisitly questioning the ulterior motives with the Union. Although a process of integration in the GCC is no exceptional development, but to the contrary reflects a general tendency of integration of regional organisations of similar type and magnitude, it is nevertheless interpreted as a move undertaken for two specific purposes. The proposed Gulf Union is Saudia Arabia’s (and Bahrain’s) response to the perceived threat from Iran on the one hand, and it is a pre-emptive measure to reduce the threat from the popular uprisings in the Arab world on the other.

The proposal is seen as a bulwark against the growing influence of Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. The plan envisions a unified military and foreign policy across the Gulf Cooperation Council, which of course also includes Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. However, the intentions to forge a closer military and political union with other Gulf Countries risk exacerbating tensions with Iran. The smaller Gulf-states are located along the western shore of the Gulf, and Iran has unresolved territorial disputes with several incumbent union countries. Over the past six months, tensions have risen again in the dispute between Iran and the UAE – a country with overall friendly relations with Iran – concerning some tiny islands next to the Straight of Hormuz. A union would multiply the controversial issues and thereby also the flashpoints that could potentially increase tensions between (what would then be) one entity on each side of the Gulf.  An integration of the GCC countries does not only hold the promise of stability.

A different but equally important rationale relates more directly to internal stability in the Peninsula. The proposal will provide the Saudi authorities with a golden opportunity to rearrange their internal affairs, giving it a shape and form that will work as a bulwark in case the tide of Arab uprisings should eventually reach the Peninsula in a more un-manageable shape and size. It will also enable the Saudis to surveil and control – and even direct – how the smaller Gulf-states respond to this challenge. Seen from Riadh, a unified and coordinated effort is necessary in order to prevent this destablizing threat from getting a foothold in any of the Gulf-countries. Saudi Arabias swift response to developments in Bahrain over the past year is but one illustration of how important it is for the Saudis to control developments in its neighbouring States. Reservations in small Gulf-states are strong based on uncertainty about how these Saudi considerations and interests will play out in practice.

Although some differences may have been overcome before the new round of talks, the Saudis (and Bahrain) have no easy task convincing the rest of the GCC to go along with their project for Arab Gulf unity.

Reservations to the Gulf Union

By Cecilie Hellestveit

Ongoing efforts spear-headed by Saudi Arabia for a Union of Gulf States are encountering resistance in various capitals. Attempts to move the project forward in May stranded, largely due to sceptisism expressed by the smaller Gulf-countires. But negociations behind the scenes have alledgedly moved the deadlock forward, and efforts are renewed this month when Foreign Ministers of the six potentially incumbent Union members reconvene to discuss the plans.

In December 2011 Saudi Arabia proposed that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should move “to the stage of unity in a single entity” . (See also the earlier blogg “Towards a Gulf Union” by Tora Yssen). In addition to Saudi Arabia, the proposed union includes the Sunni monarchies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It could be denominated the Gulf Union of (mostly) Sunni Monarchies.

Reluctance by GCC-countries seems in part to be based on what such a union would imply for the smaller Gulf-States and their ability to excert influence in a union dictated and dominated by the Saudis. Saudi Arabia will likely become a giant within the union, and critical voices have branded the move as outright Saudi imperialism. In May, the United Arab Emirates in particular raised questions about whether closer cooperation would give too much power to Saudi Arabia, leading the GCC leaders to put the plan temporarily on hold.

But sceptisism also revolves around whether the Union will have its intended effects, implisitly questioning the ulterior motives with the Union. Although a process of integration in the GCC is no exceptional development, but to the contrary reflects a general tendency of integration of regional organisations of similar type and magnitude, it is nevertheless interpreted as a move undertaken for two specific purposes. The proposed Gulf Union is Saudia Arabia’s (and Bahrain’s) response to the perceived threat from Iran on the one hand, and it is a pre-emptive measure to reduce the threat from the popular uprisings in the Arab world on the other.

The proposal is seen as a bulwark against the growing influence of Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. The plan envisions a unified military and foreign policy across the Gulf Cooperation Council, which of course also includes Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. However, the intentions to forge a closer military and political union with other Gulf Countries risk exacerbating tensions with Iran. The smaller Gulf-states are located along the western shore of the Gulf, and Iran has unresolved territorial disputes with several incumbent union countries. Over the past six months, tensions have risen again in the dispute between Iran and the UAE – a country with overall friendly relations with Iran – concerning some tiny islands next to the Straight of Hormuz. A union would multiply the controversial issues and thereby also the flashpoints that could potentially increase tensions between (what would then be) one entity on each side of the Gulf.  An integration of the GCC countries does not only hold the promise of stability.

A different but equally important rationale relates more directly to internal stability in the Peninsula. The proposal will provide the Saudi authorities with a golden opportunity to rearrange their internal affairs, giving it a shape and form that will work as a bulwark in case the tide of Arab uprisings should eventually reach the Peninsula in a more un-manageable shape and size. It will also enable the Saudis to surveil and control – and even direct – how the smaller Gulf-states respond to this challenge. Seen from Riadh, a unified and coordinated effort is necessary in order to prevent this destablizing threat from getting a foothold in any of the Gulf-countries. Saudi Arabias swift response to developments in Bahrain over the past year is but one illustration of how important it is for the Saudis to control developments in its neighbouring States. Reservations in small Gulf-states are strong based on uncertainty about how these Saudi considerations and interests will play out in practice.

Although some differences may have been overcome before the new round of talks, the Saudis (and Bahrain) have no easy task convincing the rest of the GCC to go along with their project for Arab Gulf unity.

The Next Presidential Election and Conservative Anxiety in Iran

By Yadullah Shahibzadeh

When asked about his political future after the next year presidential election, in his recent interview with Iran’s state TV, Mohmoud Ahmadinezhad kicked off a new political controversy in Iran. He responded by saying that; “Who says that my government will end after the next year presidential election?”  According to the Iranian election laws, two terms presidents can stand as presidential candidates after a four year pause. Ahmadinezhad’s statement indicates his hopes for the victory of a members of his government in the next year election. Iranian Politicians and analyst in Iran have compared Ahmadinezhad’s style of government to Vladimir Putin and his tendency to copy the Putin-Medvedev model, with Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaiy, his chief of staff as the Iranian Medvedev. There are several other candidates for the Iranian Medvedev in the Ahmadinezhad’s government, if Rahim-Mashaiy is disqualified by the Guardian Council.  Hypothetically, if one of  Ahmadinezhad’s close allies wins the presidency in the next year presidential election he will continue his  control of the government until he regains presidential power in the 2017 presidential election. But with regard to the fate of previous political alliances, the Putin-Medvedev model will hardly work in the Islamic Republic.

It began with Abolhasan Banisadr’s alliance, an Islamist social democrat with the radical Islamist left to marginalize the liberal forces that led the provisional government in 1979. Less than two years later Banisadr was ousted from office by a parliament that was dominated by the Islamist left. In order to establish its extended dominance on political power in Iran the Islamist left took side with the Islamist conservatives against president Banisadr in 1981 and against Ayatollah Montazari in 1988. Montazeri was supposed to become Iran’s next leader after Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamist left was sidelined by the alliance of Hashemi Rafsanjani and the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Again, in the late 1990s, after the Islamist left became reform oriented and took power 1979-2005, it tried to force Hashemi Rafsanjani out of Iranian politics because of his previous alliance with the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s against the Islamist left. As a result, Rafsanjani entered in a new alliance with the conservatives to contain democratic reforms in the system. The anti-reform alliance served neither Rafsanjani nor the leaders of the conservative establishment. It, surprisingly, gave birth to young neo-conservative forces that did not follow a clear ideological line but claimed total obedience to Iran’s leader, Ayatllah Khamenei.  In fact, Ahmadinezhad was an accidental product of the competition between the newly emerged pragmatist and hardliner neo-conservative forces that grew on the margin of the reformist-conservative disputes in 1997-2005. The hardliner neo-conservative forces received support from the Revolutionary Guard, the archconservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and Iran’s leader. What Ahmadinezhad shared with Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard was their total obedience to the leader’s authority that as they claimed had no constitutional limits. Ahmadinezhad said during his first presidential election campaign that as Iran’s president he would leave all political decisions to the leader in order to have enough time to carry on an effective executive role. Now, seven years later, Ahmadinezhad is blamed by Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard for his disobedience to the leader. He is hated by the majority of the neo-conservatives in the parliament. He has no reliable connection to the Revolutionary Guard and several members of his government are accused of economic corruption by the Iranian judiciary. According to the estimates released by his former conservative and neoconservative allies, Iran’s oil earnings during his government equates to the total oil revenue that Iran had gained since the discovery of Oil in 1907 to 2005, the year Ahmadinezhad became Iran’s president. Ahamadninezhad is accused, by the same people who supported him by all institutional, legal and illegal means in the 2009 presidential election against the reform oriented candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, to have destroyed the Iranian economy in a way that no government has never done before.

In April 2011, Ahmadinezhad fired his intelligent minister. The decision was reversed by Iran’s leader. He ordered the intelligent minister to remain in his position. Believing that the leader’s action was an illegal action that questioned the president’s constitutional authority, Ahmadinezhad refused to go to work and stayed away from cabinet meetings for 11 days. Ahamadinezhad expected that his action instigate a popular response. When 11 days passed and not a single sole in Iran bothered about the president’s situation and nobody outside the tiny circle around him took his side he became an easy target for Khameni’s supporters. Disappointed with the people and disconnected with the leader, Ahmadinezhad has become, according to many politicians in the conservative camp, a pain in the system that must be tolerated until the end of his term.

While many of Ahmadinezhad’s former allies share the view that he has no political future, he has started to raise political issues for which the reform oriented forces and the Green Movement activists have been prosecuted, imprisoned and deprived from the political rights that they enjoyed in the past. In Ahmadinezhad’s new terminology the country’s president is the expression of the general will of the nation and the guardian of the constitution and the protector of people’s constitutional political and civil rights. Ahamdinezhad’s relationship with his former conservative allies in the last two years proves that the ones who start a political game to gain a bigger share of political power and those who win the political power at the end of the game in the Islamic Republic are not necessarily the same people. Ahmadinezhad’s ascendance to power was a result of the political dispute between the reform oriented and the conservatives. While leading figures in the conservative including Iran’s leader did not did not consider Ahmadinezhad as more than a footsoldier in their fight against the reform oriented political forces, it was Ahmadinezhad who used every accessible means to the conservatives for his own personal gains and then refused to share his power with the conservative establishment. Now, with regard to the ways Ahmadinezhad has treated the people who assisted him in his ascendance to power, he cannot be sure that the person he helps to become the next president will remain loyal to him as president. But what is at stake in the next presidential election is not Ahmadinezhad’s political future, but the role of Iran’s leader in presidential elections. Ali Motahari, an outspoken Iranian parliament member said recently that Ahmadinezhad’s presidency was a political and economic disaster but the disaster would not have occurred if the conservatives did not misjudge the relation and support of the leader to Ahmadinezhad. According to this parliament member almost 90 % of the conservatives knew that Ahmadinezhad would bring nothing but economic and political failure. Yet they supported him because they believed he was the leader’s preferred presidential candidate. The conservatives should have, according to this view, thought independently and select and support a presidential candidate who could have eased political tensions instead of inflaming them by his every word and action. The explicit message of this view to the leader is clear; please stay away from the next year presidential election.

Saudi Arabia’s oil: essential, but how vulnerable?

By Torgeir Fjærtoft

Saudi Aramco is a main sponsor of this year’s Norwegian oil, gas and off- shore fair, ONS, in Stavanger. When the Norwegian organizers accord such a role to the Saudi Arabian oil company, it is probably in recognition of the essential role of Saudi Arabia in the global oil supply , and therefore in the shaky global economic stability. To manage this role Saudi Arabia maintains spare capacity to adjust its volume of oil production to maintain supply and price stability.

How vulnerable is this role?

Currently two main factors bear on the Saudi ability to maintain its oil exports: the technology available to recover oil from the fields, a main topic at this year’s ONS, and the political stability in the region, essential to stable shipping lanes. The shipping lanes in the Gulf would be highly vulnerable in case of hostilities with Iran. To reduce this vulnerability Saudi Arabia maintains spare capacity in a cross country pipeline to divert oil exports to Red Sea ports. Skeptics point out that the Saudi surge capacity in production and contingency plans for shipping have yet to be proven viable and may not be dependable. Also, a new, emerging risk is the looming disintegration of Yemen which could turn into a new Somalia, lining both sides of the alternative shipping lanes with pirates and terrorists. The vulnerabilities are aggravated by the nerves of market actors and the calculations of speculators.

Beyond the current crisis over Iran, both regional political stability and global economic stability will hardly be viable without a degree of Iranian Saudi cooperation. There are even unconfirmed reports about nascent projects http://www.payvand.com/news/12/jan/1069.html.

In the longer-term, the relationship between oil and gas is the central issue in the future of the whole region as global energy supplier. To escape the current trend of increasing domestic energy consumptions over exports, at the expense of both export earnings and the global oil supply, Saudi Arabia needs to replace as much as possible of its current domestic oil use with gas, in power production, desalination and manufacturing.  Since Saudi Arabia is not a gas producer, at least not yet, such substitution takes regional cooperation.  Iran holds the second largest gas reserves in the world, and shares its huge South Pars field under the Gulf with Qatar.

In an even longer-term, the global dependence on fossil fuels from Saudi Arabia is not sustainable. Oil is a finite resource inflicting serious climate damage. In this perspective the Saudi oil minister is reportedly concerned about what the optimal oil price would be to provide effective incentives to several compelling policy goals: make marginal fields profitable in the interest of global oil supply, and at the same time encourage conservation of this essential, but finite resource. The price of oil should also be high enough to make alternative energy sources profitable and provide necessary incentives for research and development.

Saudi Arabia may tap the power of the burning sun for solar power, but drifting sand and dust in the desert makes this difficult with the current state of technology. Saudis are concerned that sand and dust are increasing due to climate change: less rain, more wind.  At ONS Saudi Aramco engineers told about their program to inject the climate gas CO2 to recover more oil, rather than water, a scarce, precious resource.

The ONS will hopefully continue to be a venue for discussions with Saudis on solutions to pressing global problems. Saudi Arabia will either be part of the solution or part of the problem. It will be their decision, but we can influence them by dialogue.

Live from Kuwait: …democratization?

By: Jon Nordenson

There’s never a dull moment in Kuwaiti politics, but the last few days have been exceptional. In an unprecedented verdict, the constitutional court last week deemed the dissolution of the previous parliament unconstitutional, and reinstated it. Thus; the 2012 elections were declared null and void, and the oppositional parliament it produced is to be replaced by the less oppositional 2009-parliament. However, last night, thousands of protesters begged to differ; they even demanded a full parliamentary system. Are we witnessing a transition towards a more democratic system in Kuwait?

As I have written earlier, Kuwaiti politics have been in a state of constant crisis since Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s ascendance to the premiership in 2006. A campaign (or rather several campaigns) to oust him eventually succeeded last winter, and Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak replaced him. Then the parliament was dissolved, and new elections called for. These elections produced a clear oppositional majority in the new parliament, which now has been dissolved. The term “oppositional majority” might sound somewhat strange, but this stems from the fact that the government in Kuwait is appointed, not formed based on a parliamentary majority. Thus, the situation was that the majority of the parliament was seen as oppositional towards the government.

This parliamentary majority did, not surprisingly, continue to question government ministers, though not in such a harsh way as before. This may not be surprising either; if they had gone too far, the Emir might have dissolved parliament (as has happened many times before when the opposition question ministers), and all their electoral gains would have been lost. Nevertheless, the government seems to have viewed the situation as quite problematic; before the ruling of the constitutional court, the Emir issued a decree suspending parliamentary activities for a month (which would have lasted until their summer holiday, effectively suspending parliamentary activities until October).

Then came the ruling of the constitutional court, which is final. Their argument was that the Emir dissolved the 2009-parliament following Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s resignation, but before Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak had formed a new Government. Thus, the dissolution took place without a Government, which is unconstitutional. What is supposed to happen next is as follows; the current Government resigns (which it did yesterday), a new Government corresponding to the 2009 parliament is formed, former speaker of parliament Jasim al-Khurafi resumes his work, reconvenes the 2009 parliament, and they continue until their term expires in 2013. However, this is not likely to happen, as a majority of the 2009 parliament protest the court’s verdict and refuses to reconvene. Thus, as described by al-Qabas newspaper today, the most likely scenario is as follows; a new government is formed, the old parliament is reconvened but unable to perform its duties, the government asks the Emir to dissolve it, and new elections are held. Again.

The oppositional majority of the 2012 parliament has staunchly opposed the court’s verdict, deeming it political and unconstitutional. As mentioned, a rally was held outside parliament last night, under the heading “we won’t surrender”, drawing thousands of people (estimates vary, but most place the number at between 30 000 and 40 000). A new movement has also been launched; the “return of the majority”-movement. However, the most remarkable thing about last night’s rally was not the protest against the verdict or the rather impressive turnout; it was the demands put forward by the MPs (demands that have also been launched in the media by the same MPs): a full parliamentary system, with an elected Government, and Kuwait as a constitutional monarchy. These demands have been raised by youth movements for well over a year, but now a majority of the (ousted) MPs support them as well. Seemingly, the struggle for democratization in Kuwait has taken a big leap forward. There are, however, several factors at play one should bear in mind:

–          The Hadar/Badu split: Kuwait has been described as a divided society, and one split is between the Hadar (city-dwellers) and Badu (tribal) parts of the population. The Hadar have traditionally held on to the lion’s share of both money and power, whereas the Badu, in spite on constituting a majority of the electorate, are underprivileged in both arenas (which is part of the reason why many demand one electoral district). Not surprisingly, the Badu have been at the forefront of both the campaign against Nasir al-Muhammad, the opposition in parliament, and the campaigns for democratization. Thus, some have deemed the ouster of al-Muhammad and the opposition’s success in the last elections a “tribal revolution”, antagonizing many Hadar. (now) Former MP Muhammad al-Juwaihil has made a career out of this division, constantly making derogatory remarks about the tribes, and questioned their rights in Kuwait under the less than charming heading “Kuwait for Kuwaitis”. The tribes have taken the bait and lashed out against al-Juwaihil, on one occasion burning down his campaign tent. In other words; we might be witnessing an increased polarization of Kuwaiti society.

–          This also goes for sectarianism: about one third of Kuwaitis are Shias, and sectarian tension is a very sensitive subject in Kuwait. Following the “Arab Spring”, the issue has come to the fore. Whereas Kuwaiti Shias generally support the democratic movement in Bahrain, many Sunni politicians and activists have branded it as Iranian interference. Some Sunni politicians – who are part of the opposition – have also accused Shia politicians of lying in Parliament. It should be noted here that most of the Shia MPs were among Nasir al-Muhammad’s closest allies.

–          The Democratic credentials of the opposition: though the demands put forward now seems as important steps towards a more democratic Kuwait, not all parts of the opposition’s track record are equally persuasive. With regards to Bahrain, they have generally not supported the (Shia) democratic movement, whereas they have taken the opposite stance towards the (Sunni) uprising in Syria. Many of the oppositional MPs have supported tougher laws on blasphemy, even advocating death penalty for insults to the prophet. Not all support female MPs and ministers, and one has made negative remarks towards Kuwait allowing churches to be built in the country. The opposition is complex and consists of different groups and ideologies, but many would find it difficult to call it an unambiguously democratic opposition as such.

–          Disagreements within the royal family: there are differences within the ruling family as to which direction Kuwait should take for the future. One persistent rumor has it that some parts of the family are fed up with political bickering hindering any economic development, and are enviously looking to Qatar and the Emirates. Another point is the fight for power; many ambitious members of the ruling family seek their share of power, and try to position themselves. Often, they have allies in parliament and otherwise, giving the infighting wider effects. This has gone so far that the leading newspaper al-Qabas took the unprecedented step and spoke of it on their front page.

There are of course other important factors in play as well. For instance, the fight against corruption, an ever present phenomenon in Kuwait, is at once both very real and the favored accusation used by the opposition as well as pro-government forces. The tribes’ demand for democratic reform may of course be interpreted both as a step towards a more democratic Kuwait, or as the tribes using it for their own benefit, as they stand to win from more proportional representation. Kuwaiti politics is chaotic at the moment, and sometimes quite messy, and certainly unpredictable. But this might be just what democratization looks like. Many different forces with different motives are involved, some probably less noble than others. Yet; if more power is to be moved to democratically elected institutions, others have to give up said powers, which naturally will be a contested process. There is hardly any surprise in a process of democratization being a messy and unpredictable one, and these are adjectives that fit well with Kuwaiti politics at the moment. But one thing is, at least, certain: the question of a full parliamentary system has been raised by MPs, and many will probably feature this in their programs in the next elections (which, I expect, will happen shortly). Given the populist nature of Kuwait’s electoral campaigns, the proposal might very well gain considerable support should the electorate respond positively to it.

 

The importance of eating

Tora Systad Tyssen

When Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on May 28th announced that his 110 days long hunger strike was over and that he now would start eating again, several sighs of relief were probably heard across Bahrain. Obviously, from his family and his loved ones who had feared that the hunger strike would eventually kill the Bahraini-Danish activist. But certainly also from the regime, which since the start of the strike seemed unable to decide how to handle the defiant prisoner.
After being arrested and convicted of trying to overthrow the regime last year, al-Khawaja has been one of the more high profiled political prisoners in Bahrain. Ever since he returned from political exile in Denmark in 1999, al-Khawaja has been challenging what he calls systematic human rights abuses from the Bahraini government, and has as a consequence of it been in and out of prison ever since. When he in 2004 was arrested for criticising the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa for the country’s current economic problems and past human rights abuses, he was released shortly after by a royal pardon by the King. However, such a royal pardon was not given when he April 9th last year was arrested and charged for “organizing and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group”, the terrorist organization referred to being Bahrain Centre for Human Rights where al-Khawaja is one of the founders. After almost a year in prison, in February this year, he decided to stop eating.
Fuelled by writings of social media activists (including al-Khawajas close family members) and human rights organizations the hunger strike shortly received attention, also from the international media. Having the tragic personal situation of al-Khawaja to centre their articles around seemed to make it easier to cover the ongoing unrest in the Gulf kingdom. As al-Khawajas situation in the beginning was not life threatening, the government seemed to be on the fence about how to handle the issues. When I visited Bahrain in March a young politically active Sunni Muslim supporting the government commented on the situation saying that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for 29 days and he did not die yet. For Gods sake. Indicating that everyone would be better off if the activist would just, well, die. However, it seems now that everyone is better off by al-Khawaja eating.
As the 29 days doubled and the start date of the annual Formula 1 race in Bahrain was approaching quickly, the international media and political pressure on the Bahraini government was growing. The International Automobile Federation was contemplating cancelling the race in Bahrain for the second year in a row due to the political unrest and the uncertainty of the security situation. The Bahraini government and royal family were apparently doing all they could to calm the situation and ensure the international racers that their country was a safe destination. As the decision to go ahead with the race came, the top priority of the Bahraini regime was to minimize negative international media coverage in relation to it. For months international journalists had been refused access to the kingdom, but with the major sporting event coming up, media visas again had to be issued and protesters eyed the opportunity for extensive international attention.
One of the immediate issues that the government needed to handle was the al-Khawaja situation as negative media coverage of it was mounting, but a split within the government made that difficult. The foreign minister, a close ally of the king, was trying to reach a compromise where al-Khawaja would be sent abroad, most probably Denmark, for medical treatment (The Danish Foreign Minister Willy Søvndal had requested the prisoners transfer, citing his Danish co-citizenship. The Bahraini Supreme Judiciary Council dismissed the request). The foreign minister probably eyed the opportunity for some international diplomatic goodwill and more positive press coverage, but also seemed concerned with avoiding al-Khawaja becoming a martyr. The Prime Minister however, who was the object of al-Khawajas criticism back in 2004, used his influence to nullify the transfer order. Instead al-Khawaja was sent to another hospital under the control of the defence minister, and eventually, according to reports, force-fed.
Had al-Khawaja however been sent to Denmark and retrieved medical care there, it is difficult to say how that would have affected the activists still operating in Bahrain. Certainly, his strong demonstration of human will and stance against the regime was strengthened by the fact that he was within the borders of the country. Criticising from without is easy, but from within not necessarily so, hence the effect of it would not have been so strong. It is difficult inspiring a revolution in Bahrain from hospital facilities in Copenhagen. al-Khawaja has stated the fact that he was force-fed as one of the reasons why he now has decided to end his hunger strike, but more importantly he and the political unrest had received the wanted attention. So in a way everyone now wins some. The regime avoids having made al-Khawaja a martyr, whereas the protesters still have one of their strongest leaders close by, alive and ready to inspire further demonstrations. al-Khawajas imprisonment and life sentence however remains, and it will be interesting to see how long that sentence will withstand international diplomatic pressure for its sanctioning.


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