5 June 2014
Oil has cast a long shadow over the Middle East for the better part of the last century. While opinion has been divided over whether the ‘black gold’ has been a curse or a blessing for the region, there is agreement that its impact has nevertheless been pervasive, generating fabulous wealth and striking inequalities, environmental disasters and spectacular urban development, hyper-modern lifestyles and cultures of repression.
This issue of the magazine visits the vexed relationship between oil and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA); multifaceted, multi-dimensional and nuanced perspectives seek to shed light on the past, just as much as to understand the present and the future of oil in MENA.
The first two contributions ask whether oil will continue to have the same influence in the future of the region. In Insight, George Joffé considers this in the context of the recent crisis in Ukraine and asks whether the Middle East can allay European energy security concerns in its stand-off with Russia. Similarly, Paul Stevens considers the implications of new technologies (such as fracking and extraction of shale oil and gas) for the future of oil in the Middle East.
Massoud Karshenas looks back at the evolution of oil economies arguing that while oil has provided major developmental opportunities for oil-exporters in the region, it has also slowed down, if not derailed, the timetable for major economic reforms in these economies. Hormoz Nafi cy takes a similar line in his piece on the future of Iran’s oil sector in the post-sanctions period to make a plea for rational reforms to put the management of the sector on a sound and apolitical footing.
The next four pieces go beyond the politics and economics of oil by focusing on its social and cultural infl uences. Rasmus Christian Elling and Mona Damluji present new and exciting aspects of early oil life and cultures. Elling explores the nostalgia surrounding the bygone oil age in the Iranian city of Abadan since the Islamic Republic and the Iran–Iraq War. Similarly, Damluji looks at the cinematic experience of oil, explaining how fi lms produced by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) in the 1950s sought to present a new and modern image of Iraq.
Elsewhere in the magazine, Elisabetta Bini and Claudia Ghrawi tell us a different story: that of the labour and social struggles generated by the development of the oil industry in Libya and Saudi Arabia under the control of foreign companies. Bini sheds light on the little known world of Libya oil before the rise of the Qaddafi regime in 1969, a world dominated by US Cold War concerns with leftist trade unionism. Focusing on another corner of America’s oil empire, Ghrawi unveils the links between oil industrialisation, political mobilisation and civic solidarity in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia before the 1973 oil boom.
The next issue will be published in October after our summer recess. May we take this opportunity to thank our readers and contributors for their support and wish you all a good break over the summer months.