Gulf Leopards

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The term Gulf Leopards refers to seven small arab oil producing states located around and on the Arabian Gulf. These states were able to achieve full economic and social development thanks, firstly, to the oil industry and later, by diversifying their economies.

These territories are the emirates of Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah plus the Sultanate of Muscat, in the Thousand Emirates, plus Kuwayt.

The First Oil Generation

In the wake of the First Great War the Ottoman Empire withdrew from Arabian Peninsula after its defeat. Local lords were able then to rule their territories, often with FK or French support. Some were often occupied in warfare between each other.

With the discovery of oil in Iraaq (1927) and Saudi Arabia (1938) some local royal families, especially the Hashemite and the Saudi, became extremely wealthy. But to common people no changes happened in their lives. They stayed as miserable and oppressed as before. Oil business was fully in the hands of the ruling elite who were much more interested in ruling their countries as if these were private property.

The warring monarchs, born during the last years of the 19th century and who got rich thanks to oil, are usually referred as the First Oil Generation. The most notable were King Faisal I (of Hijaaz and Iraaq) and King Abdul Aziz (of Saudi Arabia).

The Second Oil Generation

Some of their sons, born mostly between 1900 and 1920, were sent to study and/or to have diplomatic careers abroad. This permitted them to discover new perspectives, and many returned with a new world-views

Instead of being just warrior kings as their fathers, they became politicians inspired by foreign ideologies. They started large public works and reform projects which they financed with oil profits. Although common people did finally receive some benefits from oil as a result, the main motive of these new rulers was definitely maintaining their own power. Each was a dictator, maintaining order with an iron fist.

The first notable example of the Second Oil Generation was King Ghazi I of Hijaaz and Iraaq, who briefly instituted SNORism in Iraaq. But the truly most important examples were King Faisal I al-Saud (from Saudi Arabia) and General Abdul Karim Qassim (from Iraaq, this one without any ties to any royal family).

Historical learnings

Between the 1950’s and the 1970’s several historic events occurred in the Middle East. These events taught important lessons to the following oil generation as to the oil importing nations.

These events were:

  • The Suez Crisis: In 1956 Egypt defeated two of the most powerful military powers in the world, France and the FK, in a short war which was called the Suez Crisis. At that time oil prices reached historical maximums making huge profits to oil exporting nations.

Thanks to these benefits Iraaq and Saudi Arabia would both be able to maintain ambitious reform projects during the next years.

The oil importing nations learned then two important lessons:

-Their economies were at that time too dependant on oil imports. High oil prices would mean economic crisis. To be free of that dependency, alternative sources of energy, notably the Tesla Generators and, especially in France, nuclear power plants, were given increased funding and support.

-Developing oil importing nations understood that they should treat underdeveloped nations as equals and not by the usual paternalistic/colonialist ways. Such would influence a lot the decolonisation wave in the next decade and also the future co-operation since then.

  • The reform projects: With high oil prices Iraaq and Saudi Arabia were able to start radical and ambitious projects. Although those projects were at first much successful and had the common people support they were dependant upon oil prices.

Huge public works caused important social changes. Conservatives (especially by the clergy) reacted against such. When the oil prices decreased the projects began to fail, a fact later to be much exploited by the conservatives.

  • The Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393:On November 1973 (1393 for the Moslem) oil prices crumbled due to excess oil production in Iraaq and the decrease of oil imports. To such event wasn’t almost given importance in the developed nations as the crisis didn’t affect them. But the oil exporting countries sunk into economic crisis. The conservatives were able to use these changes in the tide in their favour.

As a consequence Abdul Karim Qassim compromised his ambitions for pan-arab leadership as Pan-Arabism lost much of its strength as a major political ideology. Arab countries were then divided between those who supported him (arab oil importing countries) and those who were against him (oil exporters).

The conservative clergy, disliking the social changes caused by the reforms, were able to overthrow King Faisal I al-Saud (1975) and Qassim (1979) and both leaders found the same faith (both died during the coup d’etats) and their countries turned into radical religious regimes.

Such event would provide to next oil generation other important lessons. Changes should have the support of the whole population and shouldn’t be too radical. Also was agreed that oil wealth isn’t the same as development. Curiously this one was the opinion of the deposed general Qassim.

The Third Oil Generation

This generation was born mostly between 1940 and 1960. As the previous one they had made academic studies in developed countries. But they were different; they were open minded but also moderate. They learned from the mistakes made by the second oil generation. Also had the luck of ruling over smaller countries.

They understood that they shouldn’t be too dependent upon oil extraction and diversification of their economies should be a major goal. Instead of being too worried with the maintenance of political power at all cost they focussed on mostly economic problems and the radical religious wave coming from Iraaq and Saudi Arabia.

When they reached power, during late 1970’s, they started new projects inspired by the Three Leaps Forward Plan, created by the deposed King Faisal I al-Saud, but much more moderate so as not to cause too much hostility from the clergy and other conservatives.

Such projects would find an important help when oil prices increased once again due to the Persia-Iraaq War (1980-88) and the increase of the needs of oil by industrialised countries (due to growing petrochemical industry). But instead of just enjoying the higher oil benefits these new leaders used it to diversify economies, ushiering in true industrialisation (especially manufacturing and petrochemicals) focusing on exports to other nations. The location not far from India and Europe granted them important markets. Also opened their countries to foreign investment attracted by relatively low salaries.

Later this economical diversification would also spread to banking services (especially in Bahrain and Dubai) and tourism.

Socially the Third Oil Generation understood that they had to fight religious radicalism. Avoiding causing hostilities with the clergy the political rulers allied with them and used the Third Pillar of the Islam, the Zakat (spending a fixed portion of one's wealth for the poor or needy), to create a welfare system which also encouraged the common people’s support.

Also understanding that less-educated persons tend to hold more easily radical doctrines, they expanded education. Thousands of young students were sent to schools abroad to study and, collaterally and secretly, to open their minds. Also education was seen as a way to improve productivity.

The Gulf Leopards today

The Arabian Trade Towers, in Bahrain, the tallest buildings in the region

During the first ten years oil was the primal source of income of the seven Gulf Leopards. But as their economies were diversified they avoided the fluctuations of oil prices and consequent economical instability with all its possible consequences.

Due to local and foreign investment these countries experienced since the 1980’s some of the higher growth economical rates in the world. In time such granted one of the highest standards of living worldwide to the people. Later also democratic reforms were made, usually much close to the so-called Islamic Democracy ideology (moderate conservative democracy under Islam principles).

With the economical growth lots of modern architecture was built being the Gulf Leopards known as having nowadays some of the most spectacular modern buildings in the world. Together with its hot climate these countries became known, in tourist terms, as the Gulf Riviera which became one of the most important tourist destinations outside Summer months.