June 25, 2005

Will the Geo-Greens Save Us?

In the New Republic this week, Joseph Braude brings up a new slant on the oil dependence problem; namely, that other Arab countries are running out of oil and thus relying increasingly on imports from Saudi Arabia. And that means, says Braude, that oil-dependent countries could increasingly start to resemble oil-less Jordan, forced to tolerate radical, Saudi-funded Wahhabi clerics and mosques in their country:
[Jordanian King] Abdullah depends on Saudi Arabia for cheap, subsidized oil; he has none of his own. So there are limits to what he can do to stem the flow of Saudi soft power into his country. Hardly a friend of freedom and democracy, Jordan's king is increasingly viewed in Washington as a disappointment on the issue of political reform. If you're a secular liberal and want to start a national party in Amman, you're in for a rough fight. But, when Saudi-backed preachers play politics in the country's mosques--even, at times, campaigning against the king's own pro-Western policies--Abdullah suddenly shows off his tolerance for pluralism....

At an April conference of the pro-Saudi Salafi movement in Amman, local and foreign preachers, including a guest from Saudi Arabia, spoke out against Jews, Christians, Shia, feminism, and globalization. Sheik Muhammad Nasr denounced the latter as a "scourge" and an "American-led plot to disrupt Muslim unity." These sentiments aren't exactly simpatico to an authoritarian state with a ubiquitous queen, a warm peace with Israel, a large urban Christian community, a Shia refugee population, and membership in the World Trade Organization. Yet the clerics who delivered these tirades were left alone by the government. .... Salafi clerics are staunchly backed by Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is indispensable to the Jordanian economy.
The solution here seems to be to help promote energy independence among countries like Egypt, Yemen, Syria—which also happen to be fantastic sites for solar and wind energy projects. Sounds good, although I do wonder how this will all work in practice… Presumably greater energy independence among Arab nations won't lower global demand by nearly enough to tighten the petrodollar spigots flowing into Saudi Arabia—especially with China and India growing without bound, and the Republican regime in the United States hostile towards energy independence. That means that the House of Saud will always be rich enough to fund a growing network of radical mosques around the Middle East, no matter what other Arab countries do. (At least until X years far into the future when they run out of oil altogether.)

So okay, let's say Jordan wasn't dependent on Saudi crude, but the Saudi-funded mosques and clerics were still there. What, exactly, could King Abdullah do about it that he can't do now? Somehow stop money from crossing his borders? Um... Actually crack down on the Islamists? That gets rid of the hostile Wahhabi problem but would, presumably, inflame the sort of ill feelings that led to things like the rise of al Qaeda, no? I just have a hard time understanding why the rise of Wahhabism around the region is a problem that could be mitigated somewhat if only other countries weren't so beholden to Saudi oil supplies.
-- Brad Plumer 2:24 PM || ||