One reason is that some oil producers have set aside bigger cash cushions than others. Many OPEC producers, among the world's largest exporters, have built up sizable reserves. Among the world's largest exporters, OPEC producers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are heavily exposed to losses in dollar terms.
But between them, they're holding more than $2 trillion in their sovereign wealth funds.
"They have ample reserves," said Reva Bhalla, head of global analysis at Stratfor. "And they have much better mechanisms to cope with any unrest at home."
That capacity to impose and maintain social order also varies widely, regardless of where oil prices are headed. Some oil-dependent countries, including Iraq and Libya, are already experiencing civil conflict, so any potential for unrest is already being felt.
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Short of outright civil upheaval, falling oil prices present political strains on any government facing a surprise, sharp budget gap. In Nigeria, where oil and natural gas account for about a third of Nigeria's GDP and 80 percent of government revenue, President Goodluck Jonathan faces the added challenge of looming presidential, state and local elections in February.
Other, smaller African countries are coping with a sharp drop in oil revenues. But those losses may attract little notice from the general public, largely because the public never shared in the oil wealth in the first place.
"In countries like Equatorial Guinea, a lot of it's still getting funneled into the government political patronage network, who are the relatively rich elite. So it's not trickling down to social programs," said Matthew Bey, an energy analyst at Stratfor. "But it might have an impact on which general you have to buy off."
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