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Geopolitics of the Lebanese Crisis: Economic and Energy Perspectives

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The Middle East holds a very special place, being the largest source of oil and natural gas reserves. The securitization of oil pursued by foreign actors in the region has made it the centre of contests and hostilities. In fact, conflicts and wars have marred the region for decades, with the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the Gulf War (1990-91), the Iraq War (2003), and the ongoing crises in Syria and Yemen among others being some of the most critical moments in the history of the region. The region has witnessed major socio-economic and (geo)political changes in recent years. For instance, the 2011 Arab uprisings led to the overthrow of longstanding “dictatorial” leaders by the people. The instability caused by the uprisings and sectarian clashes, coupled with foreign intervention involved in these conflicts for geopolitical motives, have led to a virtual collapse of some of the weaker states.

Beirut hit headlines, as Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in November 2017. Following the Qatar crisis, the Lebanese political turmoil could be seen as a result of a larger Sunni-Shia proxy conflict, which has dire implications for the country’s economy. Against this background, the article attempts to analyze the Lebanese crisis, its sectarian dimension as well as its implications for the economy.

The Saudi Arabia-Lebanon-Iran Triangle

The ‘rentier’ nature of oil-based economies has defined the social contract, thereby, providing economic legitimacy to various regimes in the region. The post-2011 (Arab uprisings) scenario has been instrumental in restructuring the Middle Eastern setting in social, political and economic terms by toppling rulers who occupied the position of the head of state for decades, such as in Egypt and Libya. At the same time, the conflict in Syria, Libya and Yemen has been a product of a combination of sectarian strife and excessive presence (or influence) of foreign powers, mainly for securitizing energy resources, which has drawn the region to a catastrophic point.

The 2011 Arab uprisings and the events that followed – be it the Qatar crisis, the Yemeni civil war or the Lebanese crisis – have kept the region in a state of continuous turmoil, causing serious humanitarian and socio-economic havoc in the region. To comprehend the situation, the geopolitical significance of the region, the sectarian aspects and the Saudi-Iran tussle have to be taken into account. Notwithstanding the sanctions imposed on Iran, it has managed to sustain itself due to a strong civilizational base, giving it stability, as compared to Saudi Arabia that has been dependent on the US security umbrella. Saudi Arabia has evolved from Bedouin tribes-led land to an oil-rich state; and today, the social fabric of the monarchy is undergoing a change. The emergence of the leadership of Prince Salman and the consequent changes in Saudi Arabia’s political and social setup are restructuring country’s foundations, as well as impacting the regional scenario. For instance, his anti-corruption campaign and decision to allow women to drive and so on are being considered revolutionary.

Even though, Iran and Saudi Arabia have not been directly involved in war with each other, they have always expressed their animosity through proxy forces – “It is a cold war because these two main actors are not confronting and most probably will not confront each other militarily. Rather, their contest for influence plays out in the domestic political systems of the region’s weak states.” It is in many ways quite similar to the Cold War (1947-1991) between the US and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) that never declared war on each other but tried to control the global forces through proxy countries around the world. In this case, the two (Saudi Arabia and Iran) have been fighting for a broader control of the Middle East through their allies. Thus, the New Cold War in the Middle East is for control, aimed at not only sectarian dominance (Sunni-Shia), but........

© E-International