Saturday, March 21, 2015

Some history of oil rich states

Sometimes, it may be useful to back up from the current moment to gain some perspective...This is a selection from Columbia history professor Rashid Khalidi's 2004 Resurrecting Empire:
Needless to say, none of the oil-producing states in the Middle East that enjoyed these enhanced revenues was a democracy, although as we have seen, some of them, like Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, and Kuwait, had once been at least aspiring democracies, with some of the trappings of constitutionalism. They ranged from Algeria under the sclerotic one-party rule of the FLN from after liberation up to the present, to Libya under the erratic, absolute dictatorship of Qaddafi, to Saudi Arabia, Iran under the shah, and the other entrenched Gulf family autocracies -- or kleptocracies, according to some--where the ruling family in effect owned the state and its resources, to the brutal Ba'thist dictatorship in Iraq. Far from encouraging change, the increased flow of oil revenues to these authoritarian states reinforced what have historically been among the worst tendencies in Middle Eastern societies: toward the absolute power of the ruler, toward the strengthening of the state at the expense of society, and toward supporting the dependency of citizens on the state. Worse, all of this took place in states that were in many cases deeply dependent on the West to support them against their local rivals and protect them against their peoples, while others were until 1991 aligned with the Soviet Union, which was only too happy to supply them with expensive weapons that they could pay for with their newly acquired hard currency. 
The end results were eminently predictable. Instead of this flood of oil money going mainly toward human or infrastructural development, it ended up supporting a vast system of patronage and corruption that upheld the dominant elites whether in allegedly "socialist," and "progressive" states like Algeria, Libya, and Iraq or in the conservative monarchies of the Gulf. Popular acquiescence in a nonrepresentative, politically repressive system was purchased by these elites with marginal improvements in the quality of life for the masses, and so inefficient that there were no such improvements. Meanwhile, the elites appropriated for themselves a considerable proportion of the new surplus, raising conspicuous consumption to new heights and becoming an international byword for noveau rich vulgarity and profligate waste. What was not used for these purposes was squandered on expensive weapons systems that were either never used and rusted in the desert...or were utilized in brutal regional conflicts that served as a distraction from the serious, unmet challenges of societal development.
-Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004/5), 114-5.