With the end ofthe Second World War and decline of European dominance, a new power strugglehad emerged in which the United States and the Soviet Union were at loggerheadsas to who could assume the role of global hegemon. Accordingly this rivalry shapedUS foreign policy in the Middle East. It became one hell-bent on containingcommunism and did so by advocating nationalism, the protection of resources,the maintenance of regional stability and the promotion of neoliberalism..
Thusthis essay will argue how the US desire to safeguard these policies andinterests both advertently and inadvertently fuelled authoritarianism and preventedsocial justice in the Middle East. Before the Second World War,American involvement in the Middle East was extremely minimal in that theregion in that it was much perceived to be the arena of the French and Britishin. As James Gelvin points out that “even when the government looked towardprotecting American Oil interest in the Gulf from the ‘rapacity of the Britishand French oilmen, during the interwar period, it was with the idea thatothers- the French in particularly the British – had primary responsibility forthe area.”1However with the onset of the Cold War and the fierce ideological war thatensued America looked towards promoting a policy that aimed to contain Sovietexpansion while “promoting the security of friends, assuring the security andavailability of resources and protecting vital transportation and communicationnetworks”2Although America at the beginning of the Cold War did not depend on MiddleEastern oil for domestic purposes, a desire help European recovery in the wake ofthe Second World War and prevent the spread of socialist revolutions necessitatedan interest therein. This in turn can be seen as having had seriousconsequences for social justice in the region because it led the US to support anumber of repressive and authoritarian governments. With this in mind let usanalyze the case of Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the American company’Aramco’ who to a large extent can be seen as having dictated US foreign policyand significantly impacted social justice.
At the close of the second World WarSaudi Arabia was not only emerging as one of the worlds leading producers ofoil but it became of particular significance in its ability to operate as a’swing producer’ a necessary requirement to maintain the scarcity of oil and promoteprofit. Coupled with this was a period of de-colonialism in which oil companiessuch as Aramco, who had replaced its British counterparts could no longer forcethrough oil concessions as had once been the case by imperial edict, instead theywould have to bargain with the Saudi government, which in turn led to theprivatization of oil income whose profits directly supported the autocratic governmentsof house of Saud. The capital secured from Aramco then allowed the Saudigovernment to strike a deal with the Wahhabi religious establishment, who usedthis money to better impose ideas of Islam on the population and in returnpledged their support to the State and looked to prohibit protest movementswherever possible. Despite this support a number of protests arose in 1956,which demanded social justice through constitution, the right to form politicalparties, the closure of US military bases and limitation of Aramco’s role inSaudi politics. As Timothy Mitchel points out in his essay ‘McJihad ‘Islam andthe U.S Global Order’ Aramco’s role in helping repress these movements was not byproxy but was an active one too “Aramco’s security department identified theleaders to the Saudi security forces…hundreds of protestors were arrestedtortured and sentenced to prison terms or deported from the country. In suchevents, American oil executives and the forces of Jihad worked hand in hand tokeep the political economy of oil in place”3.
We can also acknowledge that there was a joint effort to suppress the dissentoutside of Saudi borders. For example in the 50’s when the nationalistgovernments of both Iraq and Egypt denounced Saudi Arabia for corruption andembezzlement of ‘Arab oil’ the state responded by utilizing Aramco’s capital tofinance Islamic political movements, which in turn would export moral authorityand social conservatism to these countries. It should also be noted that the USgovernment was itself directly involved in a number of coup d’états whichactively throughout the region. For example in 1951 when a democraticallyelected socialist leader Mohammed Mossadequ became president of Iran andpromised to nationalize its oil, restrict the power of the shah and affirm hiscountries neutrality in the cold war, the US with the help of the British financeda force capable of overthrowing him and reinstating the Shah as the head ofState for which they won a 40% stake in the future of Iranian oil. Similarly roughlya decade later, Mitchel points out that “former Aramco employees now workingfor the CIA helped hatch plots to kill the Presidents of Egypt and Iraq, whosegovernments had introduced land reforms, women’s rights, universal educationand other populist programs”4. While Nasser successfully thwarted theseplans the same cannot be said of Iraq, when in 1963 the socialist andprogressive Baathist government was overthrown by a US supported militarycoup. In 1961 President Nasser of Egypt produced a speech at Port Said on theanniversary of the Suez war, which looked toward promoting Egyptian nationalismwhile also advocating support for his socialist government and theredistribution of wealth. By the same he denigrated the forces of imperialismand capitalism “The proof of this is that today we are living in freedom, Weare neither dominated by open imperialism nor by disguised imperialism….
“Thecapitalists the five thousand capitalists, took thrice as much as the pay ofone million workers as profits, is this the law of God?” 5.Yet in the post Nasser period of the 70’s and 80’s it would not take long forthe US government to deem this form of ‘economic nationalism’ as a directthreat to its foreign policy. In turnthey collaborated with the IMF and a number of international financialinstitutions it had sway over to advocate that economic growth and politicalstability would only be realized if MENA countries developed their economies. HoweverIn Egypt for example it soon becomes evident that developmentalist discourse andthe solutions espoused by these institutions have in fact not only failed toaddress the real problems of social inequality but have also exacerbated them.As pointed out by Timothy Mitchel in his essay ‘Americas Egypt’ Institutionssuch as USAID have presented Egypt’s economy being stagnant which by extension encouragedand warranted the intervention for US aid and subsidies “USAID… used this imageof “traditional” agricultural system to justify technological solutions to theproblems of rural Egypt”6This solution was meant to transfer both technology and expertise to Egypt andthus be beneficial but instead Mitchel highlights how this only promotedinequality by providing greater profits to machine owners and foreignmanufacturers.
Moreover it also becomes apparent that inequality was alsodirectly affected by U.S government “USAIDoperates as a form of state support to the American private sector, whileworking in Egypt to dismantle state supports,” giving America influence from within theEgyptian state while promoting solutions, such as decentralization, which increasedinequality, and structural adjustment, which subjected Egyptian commodities tomonopoly and oligopoly power. Mitchell’s argument undermines the benevolence of U.S.
aid and funding by proving that it has a more selfish basis and exacerbatedproblems while meaning to solve them. We are forced to reflect on the truenature of the U.S.
‘shelp in other countries.1 P.3032 p.3053 P. Micthel p.10 4 P.Micthel 115 Gelvin p.3596 Mitchell 25