The Arab World’s Non-Linear Electricity Transitions

by Zachary Davis Cuyler
published in MER280

For many, especially in the United States, the Arab world is closely associated with fossil fuels. But over the past several years, a raft of news articles, opinion pieces and analyses have hailed the advent of renewable energy—especially solar power—in Arab countries. Many such pieces open with images meant to defy the reader’s expectations.

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Notes on Low Oil Prices and Their Implications

by Miriam R. Lowi | published February 24, 2016 - 9:50am

After about three years of hovering around $110 per barrel, with highs of $125 and lows of $90, oil prices began a precipitous decline in the summer of 2014, reaching a low of $48 per barrel in mid-August 2015 before plummeting to just under $30 per barrel five months later. While investors are no doubt reeling from the impact of this price decline on their portfolios and ventures, it’s well worth pondering how the Middle East and its geopolitics are likely to be affected.

But how to explain this downward spiral in the first place? By all accounts, reasons abound.

Breaking Even, Breaking Down or Going for Broke?

by Karen Pfeifer | published May 22, 2015 - 7:25am

As of mid-May 2015, crude oil prices had fallen to the lowest level in recent years, under $60 a barrel for US domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and about $66 a barrel for the international Brent benchmark. These market prices are compared to several types of “break-even” prices and affect decision-making by oil producers at several levels: whether price covers just production costs or incorporates a satisfactory level of profit, whether budgets balance and whether long-term capital investment is attractive.

Fuel Subsidy Policy and Popular Mobilization in Syria

by Zachary Davis Cuyler | published March 16, 2015 - 12:17pm

On February 17, Syrian Minister of Oil Muhammad al-Lahham warned Parliament that the price of fuel would have to increase. This announcement came just one month after the government raised the official price of diesel by more than 50 percent to 125 Syrian pounds (70 cents) per liter, the largest single hike since the uprising of 2011 and an eightfold increase since May of that year.

Why Isn't the "Swing Producer" Swinging?

by Karen Pfeifer | published March 3, 2015 - 8:28am

The price of oil is hovering around $50 per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, and $60 per barrel of Brent crude, the lowest levels since the global economic downturn of 2008-2009. Until the end of February, when they rebounded slightly, oil prices had been dropping since the middle of last summer.

In the past, Saudi Arabia has cut its oil output to halt this sort of freefall. As the “swing producer,” the country with the largest and most easily extracted reserves, the desert kingdom can afford to reduce supply in the short run to steady price levels in the long run. This time, however, the Saudis ordered their rigs to keep pumping as usual, doing nothing to stop the downward spiral. Why?


Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

McJihad, the Film

by Jacob Mundy | published February 2015

The themes of Adam Curtis’ new documentary Bitter Lake should be well known to those familiar with his body of work: power, techno-politics, science, managerialism and the media. The film uses the contemporary history of Afghanistan to tell a story about how polities in the West have become incapable of understanding the complex and horrible happenings around them. Traditional forms of power in the West and Afghanistan have taken advantage of the fear and confusion to consolidate their control, but at the expense of an intellectually deskilled Western public and a world that is fundamentally less governable. Bitter Lake is more fable than scholarship, but the film is nonetheless a devastating examination of how Western interventions in Afghanistan refract the vacuousness of our own politics.

Iran's Oil Workers

Ominous Silence

by Joe Stork
published in MER88

A shroud of silence seems to have enveloped Iran’s oil industry since last fall when the top oil official Hassan Nazih was dismissed under charges of treason, allegedly for failing to purge non-Islamic elements from the ranks of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Even production and export figures have become state secrets. Reports of difficulties in maintaining the officially sanctioned production level of 3.5 million barrels a day are almost impossible to confirm.

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What the Carter Doctrine Means to Me

published in MER90

The following document is edited from the official transcript of a speech by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on March 6, 1980.

The 1970s closed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The 1980s opened with the ensuing debate, both in this country and around the world, about how to respond to the invasion. At times confused, at times angry, at times profound, this debate is not yet resolved.

The Carter Doctrine and US Bases in the Middle East

by Joe Stork
published in MER90

On Thursday, July 10, a squadron of 12 brown and green camouflaged F-4E Phantom fighter-bombers landed at Cairo West Air Base after a non-stop 13-hour flight from Moody Air Base in Georgia. A week earlier five C-141s and 28 C-5s airlifted some 4 million pounds of equipment and supplies and more than 500 US Air Force personnel from Dover Air Base in Delaware to Cairo West; this was the first Middle East dry run of the Air Force’s “bare base” capability.

The Arab Economies in the 1970s

by Roger Owen
published in MER100-101

The 1970s were undoubtedly the most dramatic and important years in recent Middle Eastern history. The decade began politically with the death of Nasser, the formal withdrawal of the British from the Gulf and the first sharp increase in the price of oil. Oil -- its production and marketing, its revenues, its social impact -- was at the center of the economic transformation of the region. By the end of the decade, most Arab oil regimes (with the exception of Saudi Arabia) had nationalized their reserves and producing facilities and taken formal control of pricing and rates of production. Huge sums of money accrued to the major oil exporters, encouraging mammoth infrastructural investment and equally massive labor migration to the Gulf states and Libya.