Friday, April 22, 2011

The Core of Arab Counterrevolution

But will his side still lick the other side?

Translation of the second part of Shalgooni's analysis of the revolution in the Arab world. This installment focuses on the particular nature and structure of the core Arab counterrevolutionary states, at the center of which are the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. The article also looks at some of the differences between the states representing counterrevolution. The original article can be read, in Persian, here.

Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World - 2
by: Mohammad-Reza Shalgooni / April 17, 2011

As mentioned before, the Arab people in different countries have such vast linguistic and cultural connections with each other that [a majority] of them consider themselves as belonging to a unitary national identity, and the concept of "Arab nation" is a well established concept among them. This very speedy spread of the revolutionary movement from Tunisia to other Arab countries and their simultaneous development in different countries showed that the feeling of a collective national identity among the Arabs is not an intellectual phenomenon, but spreads wide and vast among the masses. However, the existence of Arab dictatorships is a substantial obstacle for the unity of the Arabs and drives different Arab countries in completely different directions. The more important point is that most these dictatorships are under the influence of American imperialism, which sees the formation of a political-economic union of Arab countries as a threat to its own interests. A look at the position of different Arab dictatorships within the current world system can clarify this point further.

Arab people and the dictatorships ruling over them
Arab states can be divided into three groups depending on their position within the current world system: oil states; non-oil states with strategic importance; peripheral states.

ONE: Oil States
Oil states are rentier states, a major portion of whose income is provided by sale of oil (and gas). Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Libya, Iraq and Algeria can be placed in this group. All these states, by utilizing the oil income, have great powers of maneuver vis-à-vis the society, and have bribed a small portion of population to be their support base, and try to maintain their rule through a mixture of [bribes] and oppression. In all these states there exists a fat layer of privileged bourgeoisie, which enjoys special economic advantages through its connection to political power. Systemic corruption is a well established and paralyzing reality in all these countries.

However, these oil states can be divided into two sub-categories, depending on the ratio of their oil income to their population. The first group consists of states whose rentier income compared to their population is very high. The second group consists of countries that, although oil (and gas) rent provide the majority of state income, the large population of the country imposes certain limits on the state that don't exist in the first group. The members of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Libya belong to the first group, and Iraq and Algeria belong to the second group. Countries of the first group (minus Libya) have gross per capita domestic products of higher than $24 thousand, while the second group is in no such shape and their per capita product in below $10 thousand. A look at the gross per capita domestic products and populations of these countries shows their position clearly [see end note*]:

Saudi Arabia: population = 26 million; gross per capita product = $24k
Kuwait: population = 2.5 million; gross per capita product = $51.7k
Qatar: population = 848 thousand; gross per capita product = $145k
UAE: population = 5 million; gross per capita product = $40k
Oman: population = 3 million; gross per capita product = $26k
Libya: population = 6.6 million; gross per capita product = $13.8k
Iraq: population = 30 million; gross per capita product = $3.6k
Algeria: population = 35 million; gross per capita product = $7.4k

Oil states of the first group (minus Libya) are all members of GCC. The other member of GCC is Bahrain, which, unlike its neighbors, does not export a lot of crude oil and has the most diversified economy of the Persian Gulf; yet, export and refining of oil and its related fields still play a very important role in Bahrain's economy, and 60% of the income from exports, 70% of state income and 11% of gross domestic product come from these sectors. Additionally, many other similarities it shares with its neighbors, puts Bahrain in this same group. Incidentally, it should be reminded that Bahrain's population is less an million and its gross per capita product is $40.4k. The truth is that the Gulf Cooperation Council states occupy a very special place both in the current world system and in the Arab world. Therefore, any attempt to understand the line-up of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces in the Arab world cannot yield much without considering the peculiarities of this group [of states].

The most important characteristics of these states are:

1. The biggest share of exports and reserves of oil and gas of the Middle East in the hands of these states, and this region has extraordinary strategic importance for the American empire. It is not accidental that the protection of these states has been put directly in the hands of the U.S.'s own military forces, and the Fifth Naval Fleet and the Central Command are based respectively in Bahrain and Qatar.

2. All these states, having a very high ration of rentier income to population of country, have exceptional maneuvering power and opportunities. It is enough to note that the members of group of Gulf Cooperation Council, with fewer than 39 million people, enjoy a $1.2 trillion gross product. Also, gross per capita domestic product of some these GCC countries is transparently much higher than the average of member countries of OECD, meaning the club of the advanced capitalist countries. For instance, in this regard, in 2010 Qatar ranked first in the world.

3. The economy of all these countries are completely tied with the global economy, and all these states are supportive of American imperial interests. The relationship between these states and the economy of the U.S. and its allies finds particular significance in three spheres. First, the constellation of these states play a very important role in regulating the world oil market. In particular, as the biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia plays a key role in preventing large oil shocks in the world markets. Second, all these states reinvest their huge surplus incomes from oil back into western economies. Third, they are all among the most extravagant consumers in the world market; especially in terms of enormous and meaningless military expenditures. In fact, the honor of having made the biggest military purchases in history goes to these states. [...]

4. Some of the most outstanding characteristics of these states is the severe weakness of their agricultural sector and complete dependence on imports of food products. This is greatly due to shortage of sweet water and arable land. [...] This in turn intensifies the interconnectedness of these countries' economies with the world market.

5. Immigrant/Migrant workers, mostly from Asian countries, play an important role in the economies of these countries. A majority of these migrants who practically live in semi-slave like conditions, doing the most difficult and low level jobs, do not even have the right of an established residency. These migrant who have no rights form a great portion of the work force. [...] In effect, these countries are dependent on the world market even in terms of their labor force.

6. All these states, despite their multi-layered interconnectedness to the world economy, refuse to implement neo-liberal policies inside their own boundaries, and pay out handsome subsidies to their own citizens. Even Bahrain, which was named "Middle East's freest economy" by international financial institutions, was the first Arab country to institute unemployment benefit payments to its citizens. These states know well that they could not continue to exist without keeping their own citizens quiet [and happy]. [...]

7. Although all these states continue to rely on rent income of oil and gas, by investing massive financial means they have been also to create more diversified capitalist economies and been able to distance themselves from sole dependence on oil and gas income. In this regard too, Bahrain is a interesting example, which, despite a sharp reduction in income from oil and gas, has now been able to create a diversified and developed economy with even a high rate of growth.

8. All these states are tyrannical hereditary ruling systems, in all of which the royal families consider themselves the owners of the countries. To this day, in a majority of these countries, the right of people's sovereignty has not been accepted (not even on paper), and political power is completely in the hands of the royal family; the separation of public treasury from the sultans' wealth is practically meaningless and political parties are banned. For example, in UAE and Qatar, there is still not even a hint of the right to vote; in Saudi Arabia, men over the age of 21 can only participate in municipal elections and elect half of the city council, while the other half is appointed by the king. And, of course, women are denied even this "right". In Oman, two 'legislative' bodies exist, one whose members are appointed by the sultan, and both of which play purely consultative roles. Public voting rights and legislative bodies have only recently been introduced in Bahrain and Kuwait, and of course they only have very limited responsibilities and the real power still resides in the hands of the king.

9. Most of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, usually alongside the policies of the U.S. in the region, financially support the Arab dictatorships, as well as those in the Islamic world, supported by the U.S. They also play an important role in financially supporting reactionary Islamic trends in different countries. The role played in this regard by the Saudi dynasty has been particularly considerable, and the Saudi government has been the biggest supporter of reaction and counterrevolution in the Arab world and different Islamic countries. For example, the [Saudi] regime played an instrumental role in organizing a war of attrition against the defensive and progressive nationalism of the Arab people during the Gamal Abdul Nasser era. Also, reinforcing and strengthening reactionary Islam in Islam and Afghanistan would have been impossible with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and UAE. And we must not forget that the 'Taliban' phenomenon was developed/nurtured by Pakistani generals and financial resources of the Saudis and UAE.

Of course, the regimes of Sultan Qabus in Oman and Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Qatar, due to their anxiety over Saudi hegemony, are always pursuing different policies. In particular, support of the Qatari government for the Al Jazeera TV network has proceeded along policies different from those of the Saudis as well as the Americans, and this TV network has played an important role in awakening the Arabs and in strengthening their common identity in recent years, and with the spreading of the Arab revolutionary fires, it has effectively become the platform of the rebellious people.

In view of the points mentioned, we can see that rentier oil states, and in particular the Gulf Cooperation Council states, are considered the primary stronghold of dictatorship and counterrevolution in the Arab world.

TWO: Non-oil states with strategic importance
These are states that, despite lacking oil resources, have played an important role in shaping the ruling political balance of forces in the Arab world, for the past thirty-to-forty years. Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco can be placed in this group. All these (except Lebanon, which has its own exclusive characteristics) are violent dictatorships, but are so different in so many respects that to group them together can be misleading. For example, Egypt, which houses nearly a quarter of the Arab population, and has played a key role in shaping the public opinion of the Arab people in the past century, differs from Lebanon -- with only four million people and a "sectarian" system -- in so many ways that cannot be ignored. However, despite all the differences among all these countries, the main arena of the progress for the revolution most likely lies in these very countries. And, if we consider the Arab world today as the "weak link in the imperialist chain", we must seek the breaking point of this weak link in these very countries. [...]

THREE: Peripheral states
These are that group of Arab states that, due to their underdevelopment and economic and political difficulties, do not play an important role in shaping the political balance of powers in the Arab world, and even today, after the start of the Arab revolutionary fires, will likely not be the arena for big revolutionary rebellions. Sudan, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Somalia, Djibouti, and Comoros islands can be considered as members of this group.

End Note: * all data is deliberately taken from CIA-The World Factbook, and the figures for gross per capita domestic product are based on [the assumption] "equality of purchasing power"

1 comment:

Dr Nasir Khan said...

Delighted to see your blog and your blog articles.

Nasir Khan
Peace and Justice Post &
Nasir Khan blog