Investing Around the Chaos in the Arab World

The mainstream media is playing this as some sort of “democracy” revolution, where the hip, savvy, tech-head youngsters want to challenge the authority of the old princes and emirs, etc. Soon, the Middle East will be run just like Madison, Wisconsin…or something like that.

Not to be too flip, but that’s way too tame.

Nope, this is religion and demographics boiling over. The Facebook folks might be part of it…but that’s not the key to the story.

We need to assemble the pieces of this puzzle, and be prepared for what it may show…a civilization in open conflict and likely collapse.

Back in the 1990s, I spent a fair amount of time in Bahrain.

Bahrain is about 70% Shiite, and 30% Sunni. The Sunnis run things, as in… government, industry, business, banking, commerce. Which is another way of saying that the Shiites are consigned to the other side of the camel-tracks.

I recall driving (and walking, too!) around Bahrain, and encountering these surly-looking groups of under-employed young men – mostly Shiites, locked out of the economy. Nothing to do but smoke cigarettes, make a few dinar in the underground economy (as in, hauling 100-lb bags of stuff on their shoulders, loading trucks and such)… and nurse grudges against the guys on top.

It always struck me that Bahrain was a pot – one pot among many on the stove – that would boil over, sooner or later. I guess we’re there….

Across the Middle East, we’re watching a large-scale earthquake occur within Arab-Muslim culture. Different elements in different places, of course. In Bahrain, the lines are between the Shiite majority and the Sunni bosses, who lord it over. This aspect of Arab religious feudalism is falling apart. My bet is that the Bahraini bosses have dusted off the Chinese playbook from Tien an Minh Square.

Elsewhere (Egypt, maybe Libya?) we’re seeing the end of the secular-military bosses running things – Egypt’s 1952 coup that spawned “Col.” Nasser, and the subsequent ruling junta – Gens. Sadat & Mubarak.

And Libya with its 43 year rule by “Col” Khadafi. (I guess he let it get too public that he’s hanging out with that buxom Ukrainian babe who goes everywhere with him.)

Now the “rule by colonels” is giving way to a rising desire for rule by clerical principles – in lands where there’s little in the way of a real economy to support what’s coming.

As to that last item, at least in Iran, post-1979, they were exporting 5 million barrels of oil per day. That kind of oil money can subsidize a lot of utter stupidity.

So what to do?

Here in the West, we’ve seen nations collapse… Germany, Japan after WWII. We’ve seen empires collapse – USSR. We’ve seen upheaval in global relationships – the 1990s, as the “Soviet Bloc” unwound.

We’ve never seen a civilization in upheaval – like now across that North African & Middle East arc. We’re looking at the past 75 years or so of the “basic assumptions” about the Arab world breaking down in front of us.

Even when China had its war & civil war (1920s through 1940s) – it was contained within China. What happened in China stayed in China. China had no key, crucial exports for the world. And the Chinese worked it out internally – not pretty, but they worked it out.

We’ve never seen something like what’s about to happen in the Arab world.

We in the West had better batten down the hatches for this one. And do our best to invest around it.

Byron King
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning