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Oil’s Paradox: Free Speech Restrain and Totalitarianism

By: Lana Kamaran Khalid It’s a strange paradox. Citizens of countries with abundant natural resources such as oil and gas tend to suffer more than those citizens who live in a land where the natural resources tend to be scarce. It is natural that those countries and lands with a plethora of oil and gas tend to be more attractive to live in, do business in, and stay in power in.

Politicians of countries that pride themselves with their natural resources of oil and gas are more power-seeking and more corrupt. As the saying goes, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think when power is mixed with oil and gas and the enormous revenues they bring it becomes a tool of intimidation and cooptation, and the citizens of that country are the first to be intimidated, and in many cases also tortured to stay silent. This also results in a lack of press speech and free press. It is a chain where at the end of the day the average citizen is the ultimate loser.

Governments of countries with abundant oil and gas resources have proved throughout history that they tend to be more of a dictatorship than a democracy. Iraq, for example, hasn’t found peace since it began to depend solely on its oil revenues. It has entered wars with its neighbors, suffered civil wars, been invaded, and lately tangled in a sectarian and ethnic conflict that has only added more woes to its citizens. Starting from the north and the Kurdistan region, the citizens are suffering from a corrupt regional government. Going down south to the federal government of Iraq, the corruption has led to a very unstable and unsafe environment to live in. The citizens are left to live and try to survive in the middle of a sectarian and ethnic conflict, which is the aftermath of an ongoing power struggle. The oil has proved to be a curse for the citizens of Iraq and not a blessing.

Iraq might be the easiest example when writing about oil and gas being a curse. However, if we dig deep and do our homework properly, we see that a country like Qatar is just as corrupt and its citizens suffer their fair share too. Qatar has been accused of crimes against humanity, and not only against its citizens, but also against the blue-collars that go to there for a living. They have their passports taken from them, are given only a portion of the money they are promised, and suffer from dreadful living conditions. However, all the world sees are their shopping malls and state-of-the-art football stadiums in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which there are question marks over how they won the votes. Long story made short, the enormous oil and gas revenues have led to the same family staying power in Qatar, growing its economy, and providing the perfect investment hub for Western countries in the Middle East. This has in turn led the Western powers giving a blind eye to the Qatari government’s humanitarian crimes against its citizens and its foreign workers and a deaf ear to those that talk about it.

I once roamed around several Iraqi cities and asked average citizens what they think of the country’s oil revenues, most provided a very simple and similar answer: take away our oil, but let us live. Several governments and cabinets have come and go in Iraq, but they all have made sure to make the people suffer in the struggle to stay in power and get richer through their never ending consumption of petrodollar. Iraq’s oil resources seem to have no end as does its citizens’ suffering.


*Lana Kamaran Khalid: An English-Journalism student of The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani

About Sarkawt Shamulddin (61 Articles)
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst on Middle East Affairs and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation

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