Middle East Politics, Explained

Iran Cuts own Throat, Stops Oil Exports to EU

via Iran ‘stops oil exports’ to UK and France – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Iran has stopped selling crude to British and French companies, the oil ministry has said, in a retaliatory measure against fresh EU sanctions on the Islamic state’s lifeblood, oil.

Most countries in the EU have stockpiles that will last them several months, until supplies from Saudi Arabia and others can catch up with the shortfall.  Hardest hit will be Greece, the debt-ridden nation.

Motor Oil Hellas of Greece was thought to have cut out Iranian crude altogether and compatriot Hellenic Petroleum along with Spain’s Cepsa and Repsol  were curbing imports from Iran.

Iran was supplying more than 700,000 barrels per day (bpd)  to the EU plus Turkey in 2011, industry sources said.

By the start of this year imports had sunk to about 650,000 bpd as some customers cut back in anticipation of an EU ban.

Will Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Middle Eastern oil-rich states be able to make up the short-fall?  How much will the price of oil rise?   How will the resulting increase in gasoline and foodstuff costs affect the worldwide economic crisis?

And in the United States, how will Newt Gingrich be able to provide $2.50/gallon gas, as he recently promised?  Doesn’t he realize that world markets are a little beyond his control?

Syria – Will We Help?

Protesters march in the northeastern town of Qamishli, as thousands turned out for protests in cities across Syria. (AFP/Getty Images / April 2, 2011)

via Syria unrest: 4 shot dead as thousands join protests across Syria – latimes.com.

Thousands of Syrians flooded the streets of several major cities Friday for a new round of antigovernment protests, defying security forces who used gunfire and tear gas to disperse them.

Four people were shot dead in Duma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, when police fired on about 2,000 people gathered in a major square chanting “Freedom,” according to a witness who withheld his name out of concern for his safety.

Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, protesters organized the “Day of Martyrs” on Friday, to remember the more than 70 people killed during the recent unrest.

But President Bashar Assad, who heads one of the region’s most repressive regimes, redoubled efforts to suffocate the dissent, which has persisted since his forces first fired on protesters March 18 in Dara.

Dara, the center of the protest, has been hard-hit by rising food prices and lack of jobs.  This is on top of the general poor economy of Syria, where one third of the population exists on less than $2 per day.

The “President” spoke on TV Wednesday,  but declined to lift the 48 year old emergency law used to jail protesters without warrants or trials.

Cafeteria Democracy

via The West’s ‘double standards’ in Middle East – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

“We are not only facing a regime and neighbouring powers, but American influence as well. They either do not want to see change or only slight changes that do not give people real democracy because the monarchy might lose power. Everyone sees the US double standards very clearly now. They see Gaddafi hitting people and the US strike back. But here they even bring in foreign armies who don’t believe in democracy and killing people on streets and the US does nothing. It is a big mistake the Americans are making, losing people, losing the faith of the streets.”

The US wants to pick and choose, cafeteria-style, which protests to support and which to ignore.  According to many Middle-Easterners, it does so at the risk of losing the respect of the very people we need to help us fight radical terrorists.

The article points out that by encouraging violent resistance, as opposed to the peaceful protests in Egypt and Yemen, the US may be setting an unfortunate precedent:  more protesters may begin to use violence in Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.

As it happens, in Bahrain, where the movement refuses to move towards violence so far, things have only gotten worse since the crackdown. Rajab declared with a hint of exasperation:

“More people died and injured. The gap between the ruling elite and the people is getting wider and wider. The government is trying hard to incite sectarianism, frightening both Bahraini Sunnis and neighbouring countries, which is why they sent troops to Bahrain. Indeed, by refusing to take a strong stand, did the US not open the way for the Saudis to take control of the situation for their interests. Look, the Bahrainis could have used their own police, not even the army, just the police, to stop this, because we were peaceful.”

But they brought in the Saudis and GCC specifically to regionalise the conflict and raise the stakes.

Some peaceful protesters also feel they have not gotten the publicity that Egyptians and Tunisians had:

Rajab also feels, as many do many Bahraini pro-democracy and their supporters, that Al Jazeera has not done enough to cover the protests, a dynamic which proved so important in increasing support for protesters in Tunisia and Egypt.

What will happen in the region?  How will the US protect its interest and the fledgling democracy movements as well?

As Syria, Jordan and even Morocco see protests that are turning increasingly deadly, the era of the authoritarian bargain in the Middle East is clearly over.

What replaces it across the region has become the most compelling question in global politics today.

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