Managing those transitions may be rocky and the

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Unformatted text preview: alify as democracies, and ‘all of the oil-rich countries of the world remained under or returned to authoritarian rule after 1974 and the third wave of democratization’.33 This trend applies to all of the Middle East’s major oil producers, and indeed extends more broadly across the region, where only Israel has been designated ‘free’ by Freedom House, with Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen categorised as ‘partly free’.34 The region’s proclivity for armed conflict is all too well established, from the succession of wars between Iraq, its neighbours and several global coalitions, to the protracted failure of peacemaking between Palestinians and Israelis, to the persistence of terrorist violence against peoples and states from North Africa to Yemen. Given this background, forecasts of potentially negative fallout from the region’s renewed influx of revenues have obvious resonance. Recent years have brought more open elections and representative institutions to a number of Middle Eastern states, but considerable evidence suggests that these advances have not fundamentally altered the authoritarian bargain that has long prevailed there, particularly in the oil-rich states.35 The improving economic fortunes of the region will likely facilitate this bargain’s perpetuation, since, as Thomas Friedman has opined in the New York Times, ‘as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down’.36 This logic appears to be borne out by the experience of countries such as Iran: when oil prices dipped as low as $10 per barrel during the late 1990s, the country’s president championed a ‘dialogue of civilizations’; more recently, with oil prices careening to record highs, his successor spews antiIsrael invective and oversees a new era of internal repression and international provocation. While political reform carries its own substantial risks, the relative dearth of meaningful steps toward greater accountability and popular participation in the Middle East creates significant uncertainties for the region’s future – particularly in those states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are poised to undergo rare changes in leadership in the near term. Managing those transitions may be rocky, and the surfeit of oil revenues may only complicate the process by facilitating corruption, entrenching privileged networks of power, and reducing incentives for good governance and the rule of law, all of which would rebound negatively for economic development. Rather than generating the ‘virtuous cycle’ predicted by some commentators, a future of enduring high oil revenues in the Middle East could generate the worst possible outcome for the region and for global interests in regional energy security by propping up undemocratic and predatory regimes, temporarily sustained by oil windfalls but inherently precarious. Setting aside the particularist ideology of Iran’s Islamic Republic, the ascendance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his brand of radical populism and economic...
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This note was uploaded on 01/30/2013 for the course ECON 101 taught by Professor Burke during the Spring '13 term at Southern Arkansas University.

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