Voices from the Arab press: Qatar's exit from OPEC

Also: U.S.-India relations on the rise, Saudi Arabia introduces philosophy to university curriculum, and a view of Trump's middle east policies.

AN ARAMCO employee looks over the company’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia on May 2. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN ARAMCO employee looks over the company’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia on May 2.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Okaz, Saudi Arabia, January 14
An independent audit conducted in Saudi Arabia in recent months revealed that the kingdom’s oil reserves are actually two billion barrels larger than what had previously been assumed, making Aramco the world’s largest oil company.
For many decades, Saudi Arabia was the world leader in oil exports. The kingdom’s power in the global oil market began to weaken after major oil discoveries had been made around the globe, particularly in the United States. However, the recent audit of the country’s oil fields once again positions Riyadh as a global leader in the energy market, dispelling any concerns or speculations that existed about the actual size of the country’s oil reserves.
Interestingly, the Saudi announcement came just several days after Qatar announced its withdrawal from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. After quitting the organization, Qatar announced its plan to buy stakes in Mexican offshore oil fields from the Italian energy company Eni. This was supposed to undermine Saudi Arabia’s positioning in the international market, while boosting that of Qatar. But it failed.
The Saudi announcement about the discovery of larger reservoirs than had originally been estimated completely shattered the Qatari plan. Riyadh watched as Doha shelled out huge sums of money for stakes in remote oil fields that do not amount to even 1% of the fields discovered in Qatar’s own backyard. This was a terrible business decision that will cost the Qatari government a lot of money.
Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia will remain the world’s leaders in the energy industry for decades to come. They are the biggest suppliers of oil and have the largest stocks. Qatar, meanwhile, will remain nothing more than a minuscule and insignificant player trying to circumvent the Saudi embargo by buying stakes in small fields around the world. This will be a costly endeavor that will make no difference on the ground. – Mohammed al-Saeed
Al-Ittihad, UAE, January 12
On the very last day of 2018, US President Donald Trump signed into effect the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act that was passed by Congress earlier that month. The bill, which authorizes an additional $1.5 billion in spending on US initiatives in Asia, is meant to strengthen the United States’ military, security and diplomatic ties with India.
Trump’s foreign policy stances have been confusing, at best. He managed to alienate some of America’s closest allies and turn them against Washington. However, he seems to understand the importance of India as a key US ally.
The messages coming out of the White House, therefore, were very confusing to Indian officials. During the same time he signed the act, Trump also took a jibe at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, complaining that the latter is busy “funding libraries” in Afghanistan instead of fighting the Taliban.
But India has long held the belief that the Taliban should be included in peace talks in Afghanistan. Indeed, just a few months ago, India sent official delegates to Moscow to participate in negotiations with the Taliban on a future peace deal in the country. And while it refuses to deploy soldiers on the ground, India has long supported peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan by providing authorities with helicopters, radars and security equipment. It also built highways, hospitals and, as the American president noted, libraries. These initiatives have saved countless lives, including American ones. They should not be undermined.
It seems strange that, as Trump decides to pull his own soldiers from Syria, he is preaching to Modi about the need to deploy Indian soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump would be wise to put his personal disagreements with Modi aside and reassure the Indian people of his commitment to their security.
Both India and the United States view the rise of China as a major source of instability in the world. Both countries have an interest in eradicating terrorist infrastructure in Central Asia. Therefore, despite Trump’s whims, relations between India and the United States are expected to grow ever closer in years to come – with or without Trump’s blessing. – Zaker al-Rahman
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, January 13
During my recent visit to Saudi Arabia, I noticed great interest in the government’s decision to begin teaching philosophy classes in universities around the country. This initiative is part of Riyadh’s framework to promote openness and modernization.
The Saudi decision to teach philosophy clearly emerged from the importance of critical thought and rational logic in pushing the human mind and liberating it from fanaticism and extremism, while teaching it to accept tolerance and diversity. These values are required today in our societies, whose religion and culture have been hijacked by radical groups.
It is true that the traditional perception of philosophy in the Arab world has not been positive for centuries, although the discipline has, since the 4th century, shaped much of our moral heritage. What is not understood by many is that there is great overlap between philosophy and religion. The great philosophers of Islam were not merely interpreters of ancient Greek philosophers, but had a fundamental role in shaping our faith. What came out of the philosophers of Islam in embracing Greek thought, while working on its revision and renewal, is the Islamic perception of the unity of truth.
The pioneers of the Arab Renaissance have recognized the importance of the philosophical lesson in modernizing Arab and Islamic societies. It is enough to point to the role of Imam Muhammad Abdo and his student Mustafa Abdel Razak in building a modern philosophical school in Egypt. Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, a 19th-century Egyptian writer, also launched a philosophical translation of a number of important European Enlightenment texts.
Unfortunately, the revolutions that swept the Arab world during the 1950s eliminated the prominence of philosophy. The illusion that has long prevailed in the Arab world is that the discipline is merely intellectual luxury, and that modernization will come out of empirical scientific and technical studies.
It is obvious that the rise of the wave of religious extremism is directly related to the decline of philosophy in Arab universities. The study of philosophy has done more to promote our societies than we can ever imagine, and reinstituting its teaching in universities is an important step. – Oulad Abah
Al-Arab, London, January 11
“When you pray for rain, you better prepare for a flood,” says an old Arab proverb. It seems that US President Donald Trump prayed for rain but instead sank his administration in a tumultuous flood of water.
To help save the administration from total chaos following the resignation of secretary of defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton has been desperately trying to convince US allies of his revised vision of peace and stability in the Middle East based on confronting Iran first. However, each of the US allies has its own position on Iran, including some member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Turkey. This will make Bolton’s task almost impossible, especially with Trump’s ambivalent position on all issues revolving around American foreign affairs.
Bolton is undoubtedly the strongest man in the White House. For this reason, he was entrusted with taking care of Israel and Turkey, while Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was sent to the Gulf.
In order to appease the Israelis, who are furious over Trump’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Syria, Bolton arrived in Tel Aviv last week to meet the Israeli prime minister. The consolation prize he offered to the Israeli premier is American recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In Turkey, Bolton will try to convince Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to maintain a long-term Turkish military presence in Syrian territory.
Pompeo, meanwhile, is interested in bridging the gap between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and ending the siege imposed on the latter. To do so, Pompeo has already hinted at concessions he expects Riyadh to make. It will be interesting to observe whether Riyadh agrees to make these gestures willingly, or whether Trump will be forced to threaten the crown prince with an investigation of the Khashoggi case as a political lever.
Regardless, it remains clear that Trump’s policies in the Middle East have been disastrous. The Trump administration has undermined all of the United States’ strategic allies, most notably Europe. Its misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East will have major consequences, not only for our region but also for Europe, East Asia and Africa. – Abdallah al-Janeed
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