Early 2011 saw the so-called Arab “Spring” – an abrupt and unexpected change in the political landscape across the Arab world. Starting in Tunisia, widespread street protests took place as ordinary citizens demanded human rights and political change. The leaders of Tunisia, the Yemen and Egypt were deposed, while protests in Syria and Bahrain have been brutally repressed. In Syria the situation has degenerated into a brutal civil war with huge humanitarian problems. In Libya, intervention by NATO to prevent the repression of a grass-roots uprising led to the overthrow and murder of Colonel Gadaffi and in other countries there have been rumours of discontent. However, the central government has struggled to gain control of the militias that overthrew Gadaffi and there was an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which the ambassador was killed. In Egypt the president has just been overthrown in an army coup and there is widespread unrest on the streets with many people having been shot by the army. Even in the most settled country Tunisia there has been a political assassination recently.
First and foremost much of what has happened in the region since the Arab “Spring”, particularly Syria is a human tragedy. The number of refugees in neighbouring countries stands at over a million. Whilst the initial protests against Assad were peaceful and people only responded with violence after extreme provocation, there don’t seem to to be many good guys now. Both sides have committed atrocities and possibly used chemical weapons. The West seems impotent to intervene partly because of Russia and China. However, I for one would oppose the arming of the rebels. They have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda and it would be like pouring petrol on a fire.
Syria, the Yemen and Egypt produce relatively little oil and in any case their fields were in decline long before 2011 (although in a tight oil market their combined output could be vital). The concern around energy security is the fear of the civil war in Syria spilling over into other countries in the region with oil and gas supplies. The Syrian situation is taking on an increasingly sectarian tone between the Alawites (Shias) who support President Assad and the Sunnis who make up the bulk of the population. Both sides are fighting the Kurds who want an independent homeland.
The whole “Arab Spring” has been totally unpredictable so far but one possible scenario is that the civil war in Syria spreads to its neighbours (Lebanon and Iraq) and then beyond and becomes a general conflict between Shia and Sunni. Whilst Shias are a minority overall in the Middle East they are very widely dispersed. In Iraq they make up a majority and there are large populations in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. From what I can gather the Shia/Sunni split in Islam is over who was the designated successor to the prophet Mohammed. Shia’s believe it was Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law, Sunni’s that it was his father-in-law (or senior companion). In some ways its not a million miles from the Catholic/Protestant split for Christians with other theological differences having grown up over the centuries. This Shia/Sunni conflict scenario whilst looking relatively unlikely would lead to very major fossil fuel supply disruptions as well as a major humanitarian crisis. There is however no doubt that the violence between the two groups is spreading in recent days into Iraq where they fought after the Anglo-US invasion, although in recent years the violence had largely subsided.
Another flash point is the Kurds. The Kurdish part of Iraq is semi-autonomous and wants independence. It is also the part of Iraq with the greatest recent increase in oil production. If the Kurds declare independence, or fighting spills over from Syria then war is very likely in Iraq again. It is also possible that the Libyan government may fail and lose control of the oil fields which are largely concentrated in the east. In all these countries Al Qaeda is trying to exploit the situation. The one remaining scenario which has been ongoing since we started writing our book; that of war with Iran, looks less likely. Whilst Iran is the Syrian government’s only friend, a reformist president has been elected and negotiations over the nuclear issue look very likely. However, it seems that the current high oil price is partly due to these geopolitical factors and this will continue.
Clicking on the image above takes you to TEARFUND’s Syria appeal. All we can do in this case is give money and pray for a good outcome for the country where this seems in doubt. We need to pray for peace throughout the region but especially Egypt and Syria. Lastly it should not be forgotten that many of these countries have substantial Christian minorities. Syria has one of the oldest Christian presences in the world (Acts 9). These Christians are at risk from both sides and organisations like “Open doors” are seeking to help them.
This is an expanded excerpt from our soon to be released ebook version of “No oil in the lamp”.