by Jalal Ghazi
(IPS) -- What's interesting about Osama Bin Laden's most recent tapes is that they didn't trigger debate among religious scholars but rather among Arab economists.
Unlike Western media, which focused on Bin Laden's call on Iraqis to boycott the scheduled elections, Al Jazeera highlighted his sudden interest in economics.
Similarly, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based independent newspaper, says the latest Bin Laden tape is significant because it suggests a specific strategy to cause maximum damage to the American economy.
In the tape aired on Al Jazeera on Dec. 27, Bin Laden reiterates his call to supporters to target oil installations in Iraq and the Gulf as a way to foil American plans to control and profit from them.
And in another tape aired two weeks prior, on Dec. 16, Bin Laden uses economic concepts to explain why the price of oil should be $100 a barrel. He argues that while the prices of other commodities mainly imported from the West have multiplied, the price of oil decreased to as low as $9 per barrel in the 1990s.
The editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abdul Bari Atwan, agrees with Bin Laden, saying the United States is paying much less than the fair market value for Arab oil. He argues that the United States manipulates oil prices by decreasing the value of the dollar and pressuring Saudi Arabia into pumping more oil.
Some Arab economists, however, question the wisdom of attacking oil installations in Iraq and the Gulf.
Egyptian economist an energy expert Dr. Hussein Abdullah strongly argues on Al Jazeera against destroying Arab oil installations. Instead, he says, Arabs should make sure that oil is sold at a fair market value, which he estimates to be $50 dollars a barrel, taking into consideration the decrease in the dollar's value, inflation and the increase in international demand for oil.
Kuwaiti economist Dr. Sami Al-Faraj of the Kuwaiti Center for Strategic Studies says targeting Arab oil facilities "would be a waste of Arab resources and thus further weaken their ability to influence international events."
He adds, "This would only benefit other oil producing countries like Mexico and Venezuela, which would be more than happy to increase their oil production to accommodate the lack of Middle Eastern oil." He cites the sabotage of Iraqi oil fields as an example -- Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries increased their production quotas to accommodate the slump in Iraqi oil.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor Atwan argues that Arabs should use oil as tool to advance Islamic and Arab nations, as they did during the 1973 Arab oil embargo when Saudi Arabia punished the United States for aiding Israel, and "just like the U.S. used economic sanctions to advance its own national interests."
Atwan says Arabs are sympathetic to attacking oil installations in Iraq. This, he says, is because oil revenues have reached $4 trillion in the last 25 years, but corrupt Gulf regimes wasted most of that money and didn't do anything for their people.
Atwan says Al Qaeda can potentially hit gas and oil separation plants in the Gulf, which would halt oil production for one year.
Sabotage operations have significantly lessened the flow of Iraqi oil, forcing the United States to reallocate much Iraq reconstruction funds to security. It is unclear whether Bin Laden supporters have the capability to carry similar attacks against the heavily guarded oil installations in the Gulf states.
Meanwhile, Dr. Abdullah warns that Arab oil producers are ignoring the fact that they may actually have less oil than what the Western oil companies are telling them. He says oil companies want to maximize Arab production and don't care about the future of the Arab Countries.
"When oil runs out they will turn their back to us and say thank you," Abdullah warns. He proposes that Arabs save their oil for when oil becomes a scarce commodity. At that point, he says, the West will have alternative sources of energy, but the Arabs won't.
Another significant item overlooked by many Western media in the recent Bin Laden tapes is his admission that "attacks taking place in Iraq cost insurgents around 200,000 euros a week." Bin Laden asks his followers to send money. But significantly, Bin Laden is no longer using the dollar when referring to money, as he did in earlier speeches. Is he asking Arab countries to stop making oil transactions in dollars? (Saddam Hussein at one point insisted that Iraqi oil be sold in euros rather than dollars under the oil-for-food program.)
This could be a bid to undermine the United States' ability to buy oil. Atwan notes that the United States consumes roughly 20 million barrels of oil per day and only produces 5 million barrels, which makes it very vulnerable to higher oil prices.
Asharq Al-Awsat commentator Khalis Jalabi notes that because a majority of all oil transactions are conducted in dollars, the dollar has not completely collapsed, despite huge American deficits and military spending. However, the deteriorating dollar has caused some oil-producing countries to consider switching to euros or other currencies. Jalabi says the dollar "can barley stand on it feet," which has made oil transactions very difficult.
Bin Laden's suggested economic tactics are provoking economic debates that are played out in Arab media; clearly, he is now an influential player in the region.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper attributed the strengthening of Bin Laden's role to "the American bloody adventures in Iraq." Bin Laden calls these adventures "a very rare and precious opportunity (for Arab and Muslim nations) to get out of dependency and slavery to the West."
January 7, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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