Voices from the Arab press: Who exactly is going to buy oil?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan chairs a meeting to discuss dealing with coronavirus, in Ankara on March 18, 2020 (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan chairs a meeting to discuss dealing with coronavirus, in Ankara on March 18, 2020
Al-Watan, Egypt, April 22
There is a lot of buzz surrounding the plunging prices of oil, which crashed in the past week and entered the negative territory. Those most worried about this trend are obviously oil-producing countries, which have enjoyed disproportionate political power to date and are now at risk of bankruptcy.
The inevitable truth is that countries that have based their economies on oil or gas revenues will suffer greatly in the coming months. They will quickly witness their geopolitical power diminish, together with each decline in the dollar value of a barrel. Therefore, many spokespersons representing these nations were quick to appear in television studios worldwide, where they attempted to reassure viewers that the current crisis is just temporary.
Those who believe this claim should take into account two basic things. First, the origin of the thunderous collapse in oil prices is in future contracts. The collapse in the prices of future contracts provides an unequivocal indication of how policymakers, industry officials and buyers anticipate the coronavirus crisis to unfold in the coming months. It is clear to all parties involved that the virus is here to stay for an extended period of time. Some countries already responded to falling prices by purchasing and stockpiling oil reserves.
China, for example, began in early April to purchase additional quantities of oil - taking advantage of its price collapse - to store it in its warehouses. I suspect other countries, like the United States, took similar measures. Warehouses around the world are full to the brim with oil reserves. This means that the collapse in oil prices is likely to continue for many months to come and that the matter is not temporary as some people may claim.
Second, one must keep in mind that irrespective of the COVID-19 crisis, the world has already begun moving toward renewable energy resources and substitutes for oil. Technological breakthroughs now allow shale oil to be extracted almost at the same cost of tar sand oil. In addition, petroleum derivatives are on the rise.
The world around us is rapidly changing. The countries that were rich yesterday may very well find themselves struggling for cash tomorrow. Oil empires that had once experienced crowds of buyers lining up at their doorstep might now find themselves begging nations to buy oil from them. They will encounter budget deficits, economic slowdown, and political instability. The outbreak of coronavirus is changing the way our world is operating in so many ways. One of them is the harsh future awaiting oil-producing countries, which once wielded influence over markets around the world.
– Muhammad Khalil
Al-Arab, London, April 21
Last week, Turkish authorities blocked the website of British newspaper The Independent. This incident came just days after the public prosecutor in Turkey demanded one to two years in prison for journalist Hazal Ocak, who exposed a bribery scandal involving the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After accusing Ocak of treason, the prosecutor later amended the charges into the insulting of a public official, claiming that the journalist dishonored the dignity of Erdogan and his family in publishing the story.
Unfortunately, such developments are no longer considered newsworthy in the Republic of Terror established by Erdogan, as the country has turned into a large prison since Erdogan took the reins of absolute rule in it. According to Reporters Without Borders’s 2019 report, Turkey ranks 157th of 180nations in the Freedom of the Press Ranking and is thus one of the most established dictatorships. Furthermore, behind these numbers and figures lay massive violations of fundamental rights of ordinary Turkish citizens, alongside the detention of dozens of journalists speaking out against the regime.
International organizations often cite China as the world’s most abusive country to journalists. However, a look at the data shows that in 2019, China, a country of 1.4 billion people, sentenced 48 journalists to prison, while Turkey, whose population is 82 million, imprisoned 47 journalists. In comparison to Turkey, China appears to be a safe haven for journalists and a beacon of free speech. Erdogan is keeping tight control over media outlets in his country to ensure that they refrain from criticizing his regime or revealing unnecessary information about its doing.
He also ordered them to launch an orchestrated campaign against Arab countries that reject political Islam. This includes the spreading of fabricated news and even the broadcasting of fatwas encouraging terrorism against these states. Most shockingly, Arab governments, parties, movements, associations, and media organizations associated with political Islam seem totally unconcerned with these violations of freedom of the press and expression. In their view, Erdogan is an infallible sultan who is being chased by conspirators.
This is the ultimate proof that political Islamists care about freedom only when it promotes their own political goals. When it serves to protect or empower others, it is simply too dangerous.
– Habib Al-Aswad
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 22
So many studies have been written and published about the COVID-19 pandemic that the average person cannot realistically be expected to separate the wheat from the chaff and identify reliable research from unreliable research. While this is not a problem unique to the Arab world, it is certainly exacerbated by the fact that many Arab countries lack a culture of rigorous scientific research.
Fortunately for me, I am a graduate of the College of Science, where I took courses on bacteria, viruses, and immunology. This knowledge enables me to distinguish the reliable articles I stumble upon. Furthermore, by virtue of my work as a journalist, I seek to investigate the studies and reports I encounter, in order to trace down the most scientific and reliable sources. However, the material published in the Arab press is more often than not presented in a non-professional manner, lacking any accuracy in both characterization and analysis.
The reason is that scientific research sources in the Arabic language are rare, if not nonexistent. When they do exist, they simply translate abstracts from materials written in English.
Another key issue is that most Arab institutions lack specializations. When you look at prestigious international journals, you will find publications specialized in specific topics and fields. They have an editor for scientific affairs, another one for medical issues, and yet a third one specializing in policy. All of them have vast experience in the fields in which they specialize and many of them are former scientists, physicians, or policymakers. This doesn’t exist in the Arab world.
We must learn to appreciate the difference between robust clinical studies and limited clinical trials, meta-analysis studies, and medical notes. Only then can we ensure that the information we share on social media, news sites and television is accurate and reliable.
– Hassan Al-Mustafa
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, April 20
There appears to be a diplomatic battle looming between the United States, Europe and China over Beijing’s responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus, which has struck all countries of the world and led to unprecedented economic losses exceeding several trillion dollars. The Americans still aren’t claiming that China is responsible for premeditatively spreading the virus but rather posit that the virus accidentally leaked out of one of China’s biological research laboratories, from which it made its way to the city of Wuhan and from there to the rest of China and the world.
This allegation is still being investigated by US authorities. It appears to be complicated to prove, mainly because US authorities lack irrefutable evidence about the spread of the virus. Unlike Iran or North Korea, China is far from a pariah nation. It is a member of the UN Security Council and wields enormous influence over almost every country around the world. Therefore, the US must be careful in provoking it.
I’m skeptical that the Americans or Europeans will cross the red line and wage a diplomatic war against Beijing, but what I am sure of is that Western countries will try their best to pressure China into making political concessions related to its economic expansion, including the Belt & Road Initiative. It is true that the Western world, represented by the United States and the European Union, is no longer what it was before the outbreak of corona. The European Union is falling apart, while the United States’ economy lost trillions of dollars.
Yet all of this does not mean that this camp is entirely weak. Aware of this dynamic, the US is looking at this pandemic as a way to weaken China and undermine its foreign policy. The corona epidemic will end sooner or later but the greater geopolitical consequences of this virus will be the focal point of the conflict between China and the Western world for years to come.
 – Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.