Resource Curse Paradox Could Prevent Protests: Analyst
CNBC EMEA Head of News
The events across Egypt, Libya and Bahrain in recent weeks have raised fears that a wave of protests could destabilize the entire Middle East and impact oil exports from the region.
Oil prices rose to a two-and-a-half year high as clashes in Libya were seen as a danger to exports from the OPEC member.
The strikes have been in part blamed on soaring food prices but one market watcher told CNBC those states with huge oil wealth should be better able to keep their people appeased by subsidizing food prices and other incentives.
"When commodities and food prices are rising and regimes lack the hydrocarbon export revenues to counterbalance the rise in prices of something as vital as food, public uproar is the consequence," Johannes Benigni, the managing director of JBC Energy, said.
This has been true in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain but Benigni says those with major oil wealth should be able to pay their way out of trouble.
"States such as Saudi Arabia, various gulf countries or even Russia succeed – for now – in keeping their citizens happy with their elites in control of public opinion," he said.
Rentierism and the Resource Curse
Benigni says the fortunes of the political elites in so-called rentier countries that live off natural resource wealth are dependent on two factors: the revenues of selling oil or other hydro-carbons and their ability to control public opinion.
"In order to counterbalance the risk if experiencing the same problems on their own soil as Egypt and Bahrain, regional governments in oil-rich countries under threat from public uproar have to 1) subsidize food supplies and 2) work on food supply security," he explained.
"Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are allegedly acquiring farmland in surrounding emerging countries. This will secure privileged food supplies for their citizens," Benigni added.
"As for food subsidies, states with healthy incomes from natural resource exports will be able to provide sufficient subsidies to their people. But under strain of public finances, emerging states will have to take decisions: what to subsidize and by how much."
The resource curse is said to stalk counties with major natural resource wealth and has in many cases been blamed for preventing the emergence of democratic government and reform.
"The ability to control public opinion by controlling the flow of information has become essential in many troubled states on the brinks of turmoil," Benigni said.
But technology and the WikiLeaks are making this increasingly difficult, he said.
"On a global basis, governments, militaries and politicians can now be unmasked in real time. What it does is increase the power of the individuals over those named and blamed," Benigni explained.
So will the problems in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya spill over into the major oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi?
"I am skeptical that this will happen. It is rather the countries lacking significant natural resources for export that we have to worry about," Benigni said.