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Arab Democracy Will Remain a Mirage Until Renewable Energy Replaces the
Combustion Engine

Why has Washington protected Saudi Arabia's al-Saud regime for the past seventy years despite its archaic and absolute system of governance, Wahhabi extremism, institutional corruption, human rights abuseses, and above all Wahhabi culpability for 9/11?
Oil Against Democracy
As long as oil imports by America’s rivals, like China, continental Europe, India, and Japan are strong, Washington's influence/control over Saudi/GCC oil production and price politics is a strategic non-lethal weapon of mass destruction in the event of war agianst America's major oil-importing rivals. To protect the oilfields and the area's kings, emirs, sheikhs, and sultans around 35,000 American soldiers are stationed in air force and naval bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The oil weapon adds to the two other non-lethal WMD in US arsenal; namely, dominance in global food exports and trade, and the US dollar as the main reserve currency for world central banks. 


Why has Washington been disinterested in promoting Arab religious and democratic reforms? There are two explanations: First, to deal with one absolute ruler who owes his throne and life to US protection is far easier than managing the scores of parliamentarians and political leaders in democratic settings. Secondly, Fear that confrontations could weaken the regimes' hold on power and cause chaos in oil markets.

Dictatorship in Egypt

Not only Saudi Arabia and the other five GCC states must remain absolute monarchies, Egypt, too, must remain a military dictatorship in order to keep the winds of democracy from blowing in the direction of the oil lands of the Arabian Peninsula. Egypt is the Arab world’s center of gravity. It has a profound influence over the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia/GCC. With more than 90-million in population, 90% being Sunnis, Egypt has for more than fifty years supplied regional labor markets with talent. The supply accelerated greatly since the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973. Since that time, millions of Egyptians worked and continue to work in GCC States. Arabic language skills and Sunni culture enabled a good proportion of Egyptian expatriates to become school teachers. Cairo’s al-Azhar, the world’s oldest university and the leading center for Sunni scholarship and authoritative religious opinions (fatwas) helped bond Egyptians and GCC citizens in education, culture, investments, and marriage.

During the Arab Spring, Egypt conducted the first free and democratic presidential elections in its history. Mohammad Morsi won the presidency on June 30, 2012, with 51.7% of the votes cast. He formed a coalition government. But, a year later, on July 3, 2013, army General, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, with support from Saudi Araabia and other GCC States, staged a coup d'etat against the Morsi's government. On June 3, 2014, Sisi was elected president, with Arab generals' typical 97% of the votes cast. Sisi jailed President Morsi until his death on June 17, 2019.

Cultural Influences Against Democracy

In addition to oil, culture stands in the way of Arab democracy. The influence of Islam is strong on the Arab peoples. The Quran describes them as the “best nation evolved to mankind” (3:110). The Prophet, His Companions, the Quran, and the Sanctuaries in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are Arabic. Arabs feel they are the guardians of an Arabic religion. Additionally, political frustrations during the past half-century over US policies in the Middle East and Israeli humiliation have been drawing Arabs closer to God.

Obedience to authority is the hallmark of Islam’s political theory. In the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples. Islam is a way of life guided by the Quran and the Prophet’s actions and words in the Sunnah. The Prophet Muhammad, a product of desert living, enshrined obedience to authority into the Islamic Creed. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” The Prophet has also reportedly said: “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey.”


The belief in predestination makes tyrannical rulers seem as if they were ordained by God’s will. Over the centuries, palace jurists have opined that in the name of societal peace, years of an unjust ruler are better that a day of societal strife. To Arab palace ulama today, preaching and teaching blind obedience to king or president is at the heart of their duty. Fear that change might yet bring a worse ruler is behind resistance to political reform. 


Representative democracy is not a natural choice for most Arabs, save for Western influenced liberals. In the Arab home, poverty drives the father to transform his children into a ‘security blanket’ for old age. Fear of destitution makes the father into what Nobel Laureate Najib Mahfouz calls the “central agent of repression,” constantly threatening his children with the wrath of God if they disobey him. At school, corporal punishment terrorizes students into blind obedience in classrooms. The manager at work, a product of the Arab milieu, demands obsequiousness from subordinates. In the thin Arab labor markets, the employee finds that blind obedience averts financial catastrophe. 


It should be noted that obedience to authority refers to the obedience of the adherents of a specific sect to the rulers of their own sect. Indeed, the Shi'ite partisans of Ali have been rebellious against the religious and temporal order of Sunni rulers since the early Islamic state. In 657, in Siffin, near the Syrian city of Raqqa, the army of the fourth caliph, Ali, faced the army of Syria's Umayyad governor, Muawiya. Ironically, 1,363 years later, the regime of the Asad Alawite clan (a distant Shi'ite sect) lost Raqqa to the extreme Wahhabis of the so-called Islamic State. Today, Shi’ites and Sunnis are at war with each other in Iraq and Syria. In Yemen, war between the Houthi Zaydis (a branch of Shi’ism) and Sunnis has been burning since March 2015.

It is not surprising that Arab rulers typically remain in office until death, be it from natural causes, palace intrigue, or a military coup. By comparison, however, non-Arab Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, together representing almost two-thirds of world Muslims, conduct democratic elections and allow female prime ministers and presidents.


A Crystal Ball View

Democracy and religious reforms in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the rest of GCC States must wait until demand for oil by the world’s big oil importing rivals of the US is replaced by sustainable sources of energy. When that happens, US protection of Saudi Arabia/GCC will wane and democracy will have a chance to take root in Arab lands. 


Blunting the oil weapon will be on the horizon before too long. Two thirds of global oil demand is burned in combustion engines. By around 2030/2040, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, India, Norway, the UK, among other countries in Asia and Europe aim at ending the sale of petrol cars.  

The future spark of democratic change will almost certainly come from Egypt. Egypt’s cultural roots are anchored in its age-old progressive culture. Life in Egypt is rather gentle, less austere, and less extreme than life in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Prominent Egyptian thinkers in the modern age led the call to modernize interpretations of the Islamic script and certain of Egypt's laws. Among the well known reformers were: Rifa’a Badawi Al-Tahtawi (1801-1873), Muhammad Abduh(1849-1905), Muhammad Farid Wajdi (1875-1954), Mustafa Abdulraziq (1885 –1947), Qassim Amin (1865-1908), Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyed (1872-1963), Ali Abd Al-Raziq (1888-1966), Taha Hussein(1889-1973).


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