MENA Oil And The (Hidden) Political Price Europe Pays For It – OpEd


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By Anis H. Bajrektarevic

There is a claim currently circulating the EU, both cynical and misleading: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’. No wonder, as the conglomerate of nation-states/EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European identity – to the wing-parties, recently followed by the several selective and contra-productive foreign policy actions.

The Gulf OPEC states and Libya have –by far– the lowest costs of oil extraction thanks to the high crude ‘purity’ which is simplifying and cheapening the refinement process, as well as the close proximity to open warm seas for a fast and convenient overseas shipments. Hence, the costs per barrel of crude for Libya and the Persian Gulf states are under 5USD, for other OPEC states below 10UDS. This is in a sharp contrast to countries such as the US, Russia, Norway, Canada and many others that bear production costs of several tens of USD per barrel – according to the Intl. Energy Agency (IEA). Thus, although commercially very affordable, Europe presently pays a huge political price for the MENA crude imports.

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Eurozone

Eurozone

By correlating the hydrocarbons with the present political and socio-economic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond reveled that currently 22 states in the world, which earn 60% or more of their respective GDP from oil (and gas) are a non-democratic, authoritarian regimes. All of them with huge disparities, steep socio-economic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusions, not to mention poor human rights records. These represent nearly half of the countries considered by the Freedom House’s annual reports as ‘not free’– the very same that are predominantly held accountable by the western media for domestic and regional insurgences, intl. armed conflicts, famines as well as for terrorists harboring and financing. Hence, as many as 9 of the 11 top crude exporters are usually labeled as the dictatorships and/ or despotic monarchies by the leading academia. Prof. Diamond calls it democratic recession. If so, there is not a single economic or political indicator at the MENA (Middle East – North Africa) region to imply any ‘Spring’ happening lately, but only a severe, lasting recession.

Indeed, modern history is full of examples where the crude exporting countries’ development was hindered by the huge revenues. Far too often, the petro-cash flow did not assist but delayed or derailed necessary economic diversification and political reform. It also frequently paved the way up for the elites, domestically felt as predatory, and externally instrumented as –to use CIA jargon– ‘useful idiots’. Conveniently though using revenues to buy and otherwise subsidize social peace, those regimes (of rentier states) were/are actually creating self-entrapment – ever stronger psychological and political dependence on hydrocarbons. Therefore, a real ‘Arab Spring’, for the Middle East and rest of us, will only come with a socio-economic decoupling and diversification, socio-political horizontalization, with a decisive de-psychologisation of and departure from oil-dependence. By no means, it would ever come by a pure cosmetic change of the resident in the presidential palace.

Fearing the leftist republican pan-Arabism and Nasserism, the US encouraged Saudi Arabia to sponsor the existing and establish a new large network of madrasah all over the Middle East – Prof. Cleveland reminds us in his capital work: A History of the Modern Middle East. In the last three decades, this tiger became ‘too big to ride’, as Lawrence Wright points out in his luminary book on Al Qaida: The Looming Tower. Wright states that while representing only 1,5% of the world’s Muslims, Saudis fund and essentially control around 90% of the Islamic institutions from the US to Kazakhstan/Xinjiang and from Norway to Australia.1

By insisting on oversimplified and rigid, sectarian Wahhabi-Salafist interpretations of religious texts, most of these institutions along with their indoctrinated clerics are in fact both corrupting and preventing an important inner debate about Islam and modernity.2 Self-detained in a limbo of denial, they largely (and purposely) keep the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world in a dangerous confrontational course with both itself and the rest of the world.3

To end this, there is a claim currently circulating the EU, both cynical and misleading: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’. The sort of Islam Europe supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East yesterday, is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets today.

Why and how?!

Young generations of Europeans are taught in schools about a compact unity (singularity) of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurfacing again. Formerly in Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon, then in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya and Syria; Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, Eastern Europe is bandwagoning, and Russophone Europe is opposing.

The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, head-hunting punitive action. This time, Libya (and currently Syria) has been given a different attachment: The considerable presence of China in Africa; successful circumventing pipeline deals between Russia and Germany (which will deprive Eastern Europe from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose a joint Russo-German effective pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine); boldness (due to a petro-financial and strategic emancipation) of Iran;4 and finally the overthrows of the EU friendly, Tunisian, Yemeni and Egyptian regimes –all combined– must have triggered alarm bells across Atlantic Europe.5

Thus, in response to the MENA crisis, the EU failed to keep up a broad, consolidated agenda and all-participatory basis with its strategic neighborhood, although having institutions, interest and credibility to do so – as it did before at its home; by silently handing over one of its most important questions, that of European identity, to escapist anti-politics (politics in retreat) dressed up in the Western European wing-parties. Eventually, Europe compromised its own perspectives and discredited its own transformative power’s principle. It did so by undermining its own institutional framework: Barcelona Process as the specialized segment of European Neighborhood Policy (EU) and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE).6

The only direct involvement of the continent was ranging between a diplomatic de-legitimization (by Goebbels-izing the media to instrument it for) and punitive military engagement via the Atlantic Europe-led coalition of the willing (Libya, Syria). Confrontational nostalgia prevailed again over dialog (instruments) and consensus (institutions).

The consequences are striking: The sort of Islam that the EU supported (and the means deployed to do so) in the Middle East yesterday, is the sort of Islam (and the means it uses) that Europe gets today. Small wonder, that Islam in Turkey7 (or in Kirgizstan and in Indonesia) is broad, liberal and tolerant while the one in Northern Europe is a brutally dismissive, narrow and vindictively assertive.

Anis H. Bajrektarevic, Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member, Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies. contact: [email protected]

This article is an excerpt from the key-note address: ‘From Lisbon to Barcelona – all the forgotten EU instruments’ presented at the Crans Montana Forum, 18-20 October 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Notes:
1. However, a corrosive influence of big money (an upper hand of silencing) in politics and human rights groups is so high, that any discussion about Saudis is one of the strongest taboos of our time.
2. Undeniably, there were ideological complementarities between Soviet communism and the anti-colonial, leftist, egalitarian and republican pan-Arabism. Still, the post-Soviet and post-communist Russia remains on the same position, following its geopolitical rationale. Pan-Arabism is the only Middle Eastern counterbalance, an alternative to the Wahhabism-powered (or newly arriving, neo-Ottoman- powered) Islamism. (Salafist) Muslimhood might have an appeal among the Sunnis in Central Asia, Caucasus and within the Russian Federation, but pan-Arabism does not hold the same allure (which additionally seals-off Turkey and protects the Russian strategic Turkophone backyard from that side too). On the other hand, the republican pan-Arabism was felt as a direct threat to the US-backed GCC monarchies. Rather unchecked, the Al Qaida cluster has – in the meantime – managed to self-prescribe an exclusive monopoly on Islamism. By self-proclaiming an alleged struggle for the Sunni Ummah restoration, it actually corrupted and silenced all important debates within the Arab world. No single strategic objective it has so far achieved but to effectively divert the Arab attention from their real socio-civilizational, cultural, economic and political issues. In fact, the Al Qaida construct is only a radicalized and weaponized ideology of Wahhabism – of a sect that originates from the 19th century peninsular Arabian tribes on its anti-Ottoman emancipation quest, which – backed by that time Imperial Britain – finally demolished the centuries-long Caliphates-Ottoman Ummah. With religion per se, it has very little to do.
3. Hereby we are not discussing the disastrous image of Muslims, created by the Saudi-Qatari financed Sturm Phalanges holed in Afghan caves and their conductor, Saudi Rasputin/Wahhabi Houdini, recently located in Pakistan and ‘retired’.
4. It is anticipated that Iran (and Syria) on the Russian south-west flank serve as a pivotal security buffer. Indeed, Teheran is in constant need of diplomatic cover from Moscow. In return, it refrains from its own Islamic projection on and it shields the Caucasus and Central Asia – considered by Russia as its strategic backyard, from the aggressive Wahhabism. On the other hand, boldness of Iran endorses a perfect pretext for a reinforced missile shield, which –interestingly enough– rather encircles Russia then it deters Iran, as the recent stationing of the US Patriot missiles in Eastern Europe and in Turkey has shown.
5. Additionally, the announced reductions of the American physical presence in Afghanistan, its limits in (nearly failed, nuclear, state of) Pakistan, massive overextensions suffered on the southwestern flank of the Euro-Asian continent as well as the recent US Army pullout from Iraq, is felt within the GCC (in France, Israel and Turkey too) as dangerous exposure to neighboring (increasingly anticipated as assertive) Iran, as well as Russia and China behind it. Right now, Syria pays a (proxy war) price for it: This multi-religious country may end up entirely combusted, creating a dangerous security vacuum in the heart of MENA. Or to use the words of frustration of the senior French diplomat who recently told me in Brussels: “we have to quickly delegitimize the legitimate Syrian government and topple al-Assad in order to convince Izrael not to bomb Iran…”
6. The Gulf OPEC states and Libya have –by far– the lowest costs of oil extraction thanks to the high crude ‘purity’ (measured by overall properties such as a state of aggregation, excavation gravity, viscosity, weight, degree of sulfuric and other conta- minants) which is simplifying and cheapening the refinement process, as well as the close proximity to open warm seas for a fast and convenient overseas shipments. Hence, the costs per barrel of crude for Libya and the Persian Gulf states are under 5USD, for other OPEC states below 10UDS. This is in a sharp contrast to countries such as the US, Russia, Norway, Canada and many others that bear production costs of several tens of USD per barrel – according to the Intl. Energy Agency (IEA). Thus, although commercially very affordable, Europe presently pays a huge political price for the MENA crude imports. Of this, often hidden, price, European consumers are largely unaware.
7. While the cacophony of European contradictions works more on a self-elimination of the EU from the region, Turkey tries to reinsert itself. The so-called neo-Ottomanism of the current (Anatolian, eastern rural power-base) government steers the country right into the centre of grand bargaining for both Russia and for the US. To this emerging triangular constellation, PM Erdoğan wishes to appoint its own rhythm. Past the ‘Arab Spring’, neither will Russia effectively sustain its presence in the Middle East on a strict pan-Arabic secular, republican and anti-Islamic idea, nor will the US manage to politically and morally justify its backing off of the absolutistic monarchies energized by the backward, aggressive and oppressive Wahhabism. Ankara tries to sublime both effectively: enough of a secular republican modernity and of a traditional, tolerant and emancipating Islam, and to broadcast it as an attractive future model across the Middle East. Simply, Bosporus wakes itself up as an empiric proof that the Islam and modernity goes together. In fact, it is the last European nation that still has both demographic and economic growth. Moreover, Ataturk’s Republic is by large and by far the world’s most successful Muslim state: It was never resting its development on oil or other primary-commodity exports, but on a vibrant socio-economic sector and solid democratic institutions. This is heavily contesting, not only for Russia, but primarily for the insecure regime of the House of Saud (and other GCC autocracies), which rules by the direct royal decree over a country of recent past, oil-export dependent and fizzing presence and improbable future. No wonder that on the ideological battlefield, the two belligerent parties will be dominating the Middle East, which is currently in self-questioning past yet another round of hardships. The outcome will be significantly beyond the Arab world, and will reverberate all across the Sunni Muslim world. Ankara is attempting to justify that the Saudi-promoted Islam is actually a toxic, separatist/sectarian Wahhabistic deology that self-constrains Muslims and hinders their socio-economic and political development. It does this by keeping Muslims on a permanent collision course with the rest of the world, while Turkey-promoted Islam is not a weaponized ideology, but a Modus Vivendi, which permits progress and is acceptable for all (including the non-Muslims), with the centuries-long history of success.


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