GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Politics of Energy Policy in the Gulf Arab States: Shortage and Reform in the World’s Storehouse of Energy
Paper Proposal Text :
The thirst for oil and gas inside the six Gulf Arab states, driven by deep subsidies on electricity, desalinated water and gasoline, has given rise to unsustainable consumption, reduced export potential and even domestic shortages. Most theories of the politics of these states, devised in the era of seemingly endless supply, are also under pressure. Thus, the energy crunch in the Gulf not only creates the impetus for autocratic regimes to modify relations with their citizens, but it also threatens the academic models that frame that relationship.

This paper, stemming from the second year of a Cambridge University PhD dissertation, analyzes the future direction of both of these streams. First, it surveys expert opinions to examine shifts in government policy, including both historical changes and expectations of future changes. Second, it examines how those policy changes compare with the expectations of the Rentier State Theory literature, a genre that, more than any other, has shaped understanding of state-society relations in the energy-rich Middle East.

Where evidence of reform is unavailable, the methodology of Expert Elicitation has been used to survey energy policy experts and policymakers regarding their expectations for subsidies and reforms. Many of these surveys have been finished at the time of writing, and I have a reasonable hope of presenting initial aggregate findings at the conference. Complementing the expert surveys is a public survey of GCC nationals that was completed in December 2011, with responses revealing citizens’ attitudes towards energy and government reform, framed within their expectations as citizens.

The day is approaching when Gulf oil and natural gas reserves will be unable to meet global as well as domestic demand, and when the state-society relationship would have to be redrawn. Here, the hypothesis tested is that states will be forced to curtail domestic consumption of energy in the interest of protecting the long-term basis for their economies and the longevity of their regimes. It is the flow of rents, after all, that allows Gulf autocrats to block the advance of democracy and maintain their families in power. The signs of a new direction in energy policy are strong enough that even the alarmed responses to the Arab Spring uprisings did not, for the most part, derail them. Many of the prescriptions being devised, including the retraction of subsidies, run counter to Rentier State Theory.

I am hopeful that the data now being collected will give an initial sign about the viability of the hypotheses being tested for this Cambridge University PhD dissertation.