Analysis: The crises in Japan and the Arab world have both shaken the global energy status quo to its core. What will re-emerge from the chaos is anyone's guess.
What if Gaddafi holds onto power? It's a possibility that can't be excluded, even after the approval of the UN Security Council resolution, which could lead to an intensified war on the ground or prove an ultimately hollow gesture. The first outcome is clearly undesirable, the second even worse.
Once again the West has to demand that Arab states capable of doing so react not only with words but with deeds. Intervention by the West would only pour new fuel on old myths. Should the Libyan dictator win this fight, he will find himself in an isolated position.
Sooner or later he will have to yield to pressure from his neighbors. But until then he will be helped by his accumulated mountain of petro-dollars, his mercenaries and a large portion of the Libyan security forces and the army.
He's also being helped by the disaster in Japan, which is further driving up energy prices, especially oil. Overall, history is in motion again in a way it hasn't been for a long time. The Arab world is in turmoil, and the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactors has shaken the global energy status quo to its core. Can a stable world order – a prerequisite for sustainable trade, commerce, global security and trust – rise from the ashes?
What is the connection between the two crises? It remains to be seen whether the Japan disaster will usher in a new global energy era. However, it follows market logic that as demand for oil and natural gas grows due to power shortfalls from the nuclear industry, prices will rise.
A look back at the energy crises of 1973-74 and 1979-80 offers further insights into what all this means for global politics, and the potential for a broader shift in consciousness. Not that the oil dried up back then. The first spike in oil prices followed the Yom Kippur War. The second not only triggered the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in revolutionary Iran, but altered the course of world history. It shifted the balance of power between the Muslim world and the West, including Japan, and prompted social and moral shifts, toppling leaders and fuelling the rise of new parties in Europe. The Western world hasn't been the same since.
Back then, anger and the commercialism of the Arab world caused deep upheavals in the West. It could happen again. There's still everything to play for in the arc of revolutionary Arab-Islamic crises. It remains to be seen whether Egypt, the most important tone setter among the Arab states, finds a balance between democracy and military rule. But one thing is clear: after Tunis and Cairo, the fighting in Libya, the social and religious unrest in Bahrain, the huge protection payments from the Saudi king to his subjects, and the military intervention in neighboring Bahrain, nothing will ever be the same.
A "new Middle East"?
Europeans must realize that it is their futures that are being decided from the southern shores of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. As such, it is now momentously important that the West understand the interrelated upheavals in the Arab world so that they can develop targeted and enlightened strategies of crisis management that don't require military intervention. We must handle with caution the self-fulfilling prophecy of the "Clash of Civilizations' and fears of the "Arab street".
Didn't the youth in Tahrir Square in Cairo recently bring about a completely different clash? Perhaps theirs was a clash between the stuffiness of the regime and a generation of youth that feels cheated of their happiness, dignity and their own future and, for the first time, has the technical means in their pockets to discover their own power.
But will all this result in the "New Middle East" that the Israeli President Shimon Peres has been dreaming of? We can only hope that in the end, it isn't power, old habits and the oil bonanza that win the day. And there is cause for hope. The old slogans denouncing the "Zionist entity" Israel, the West and America have been conspicuous in all protests by their absence.
War and Peace
The peace process in the Middle East, as necessary and desirable as it is, was exposed in Tunis and Cairo for what it is: the divorce proceedings of other people. In truth, the dominant conflicts in the region are fights between generations, between Sunni and Shia, between those who own oil and those who own sand. Last but not least, the conflicts reflect Arabs' lasting suspicion that the Persians are striving for cultural, political, strategic and more recently, nuclear dominance in the region.
In these truly interesting times, the West – perceived by some to have long ago lost the moral high ground– has now been bolstered by support it didn't even seek. The demands for freedom, a fulfilling life and in the language of the U.S. Constitution, the right to the "pursuit of happiness," cannot be allowed to die away unheeded, masked by routine and prejudice.
This may be a once-in-a-century chance, and Europe must seize it. Today there is the possibility of moral convergence where previously segregation and mutual mistrust reigned. The EU's policy in the Mediterranean, no different from the "Neighborhood Policy" it cooked up in Brussels, is based more on fear than confidence. It would be tragic to willfully ignore the new message of the old Enlightenment, this time coming from the south. It is not just about trade, it's about war and peace. In the 1920s, the great French expert on the region Marshal Lyautey said, "There's a drummer in the East, and when he beats his drum, it will be heard from the Atlas to the Hindu Kush." The drummer has awoken, but the beat sounds different than we expected.
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