Daniel Korski

The view from the Middle East

The view from the Middle East
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I'm in the Middle East, albeit in a revolution-free corner. And from the Royal Meridien hotel in Abu Dhabi it is hard to know what the region is going through. But a number of points have already come through from my conversations.

First, there is an obsession about US power. The government-controlled media are busy saying that US influence is waning but every conversation focuses on what the US will or will not do. The US is clearly present ­ and although its power may be changing, it is doing so more slowly than the newspaper headlines would have you believe.

The second thing is this: the Middle East will never be the same again. Even if the revolutions fail, or falter, the region is being transformed and no corner, however rich, is immune. The liberal values and generally peaceful tactics of the protesters have made it impossible for the region's leaders to claim that it's all a foreign plot. Their call for openness, freedom and jobs is reverberating throughout the region. Ten years from now, the region will likely be more open and more democratic, and early 2011 will have been an important staging post.  

Third, the fates of Middle Eastern states will be different ­ but it is possible to discern different paths of difference, so to speak. Kingdoms ­ where the ruling families have consolidated power over decades and negotiated with societal factions such as tribes ­ are more likely to survive. The power of the Saudi king is based on a deal with the clerical elite: a compact that is unlikely to break up under these circumstances.

Republican regimes ­ which, in most part, came to power through coups ­ will be a lot more vulnerable.

There are, however, two rider to this assessment. Regimes where minorities rule over a majority (Bahrain, Syria) are particularly vulnerable over time.

And even royally-based majoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia will need to reform.

Then there is the issue of China and India, for whom the events in the Middle East have serious complications. The protests have brought democracy back onto the international agenda and I'd expect the Obama administration to include democratic concerns in the US-China dialogue. But there is another issue. It is now China and India who are more reliant on Middle Eastern oil - the former gets around 40-odd percent of its oil from the region, India more than 70 percent. This means it is mainly China and India, not the US and Europe, which are left facing the freedom/stability dilemma.

Finally, a word on the oil price. A junior minister has made a bet with me that the oil price will hit a $200 a barrel before too long. Perhaps. But the feeling here is that the markets are overly sensitive. Even during the Algeria's civil war, the oil flowed freely, and so the risks may be a bit

lower now than many traders are assuming.