While Sweden may be thousands of kilometers away from the Middle East and North Africa, the Nordic country and its southern counterparts depend on one another.
The evidence is as plain as an open-faced sandwich: in 2010, Sweden consumed 351,000 barrels of oil per day, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook, up almost 4.5 percent from 2009.
In other words, the nations in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) are important business partners for the world’s 33rd-largest economy, and the 22nd-largest oil importer. Changes in MENA governments may change Swedish trade relations, which in turn may dramatically change the lives of everyday Swedes.
But what, exactly, is taking place that may change Swedes’ lives? To understand how the Arab Spring may be life-altering, one must look at the potential results of the uprisings taking place.
Though not a Swede, Christopher Hill knows a thing or two about adversity.
“If you ever want to spend a good time with good people, don’t spend it with the North Koreans (in negotiations about ending the nation’s alleged nuclear weapons program),” said Hill, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Poland and Macedonia.
So when Hill speaks about the potential challenges a nation faces after overthrowing an unpopular and repressive dictator, people tend to listen.
Hill delivered the keynote address to a half-full Simplot Ballroom at Boise State University’s 28th annual Frank Church Conference Thursday, Oct. 27 in the U.S. state of Idaho. Panel discussions, presentations, and speeches throughout the day covered a dearth of topics related to the current uprisings spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa that began in Tunisia in December 2010.
“What happens [as a result of the Arab Spring] awaits the judgment of history,” said Hill.
Hill cited what happened in Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein following the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion as a warning as to how tensions can escalate under a fractured government – the kind that, thus far, many of the uprisings in the Arab Spring are producing – and impact trade.
“[The Arab Spring] is one of the most inspiring things that’s probably happened in recent years,” said Hill. But, “not everything in the Arab Spring has been peaches and roses, either.”
Though Hill believes progress has been made in Iraq, he acknowledged the U.S. and much of the world was not prepared for the large-scale Sunni insurgency and Sunni-Shiite bloodshed that resulted following Saddam’s removal. Neither, he believed, were the Iraqi people.
“It’s important to understand these circumstances,” said Hill, who stated that a failure to understand what happened in Iraq could spell disaster for the Libyan rebels who in October deposed Col. Muammar Gadhafi, who had ruled the country since 1969.
Though Hill claimed the war in Iraq was not a “war for oil” as some have claimed, Hill did state he believed the Iraqi insurgency resulted due to poor post-combat planning by the United States, and a failure to understand the complexities surrounding the power structures and demographics of Iraq before Saddam rose to power in 1979.
Yet, Hill cited increased Iraqi oil production – from less than one million barrels per day in 2008 to almost 2.5 million per day in 2010 – as a sign of “progress” that benefits both Iraq and the nations that buy its oil, creating an interdependence that facilitates peaceful relations.
Hill was one of many speakers throughout the day that speculated as to the potential results of the Arab Spring. During an invitation-only luncheon address, American Society for Muslim Advancement Executive Director Daisy Khan spoke of the need for understanding between groups in order to avoid bloodshed.
“All human being are ambassadors of divinity on this earth,” said Khan, who created the charities Same Difference and Cordoba Bread Fest in the aftermath of 9/11. “Extremists don’t know what an Islamic state is. The Qur’an does not require the establishment of a state.”
Khan emphasized that the Islamic tradition in countries such as the U.S. and parts of Western Europe could serve as an example of how multiple groups can peacefully co-exist, an especially important example for some MENA nations, and that extremist groups such as al-Qaeda or Hamas should have no place in democracies.
“Islamic values and American values are the same,” said the Kashmir-born, New York resident Khan. “The global Muslim community is here in the United States. It’s in Europe.”
Others agreed that the Arab Spring is an important social movement that could impact people’s way of life in many countries.
“This (the Arab Spring) is important and affects everybody’s life at one level or another,” said George Moses, former president of the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA, which merged with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 2002).
In addition to Hill and Khan, other speakers throughout the day included Ambassador Hesham El Nakib of the Consul General of Egypt in Los Angeles, U.S. State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Regional Affairs Strategic Analyst Dr. Peter Howard, and University of Denver Assistant Professor Dr. Nader Hashemi.
The Frank Church Conference is an annual event named in honor of Frank Church, a U.S. Senator from Idaho who served from 1957 to 1981 and was best known for heading the Church Committee, which investigated abuses in U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Arab Spring is a wave of uprisings occurring in the Middle East and North Africa that so far has resulted in the overthrow of the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The uprisings have cost more than 300 billion kronor and thousands of lives have been lost, according to Al Arabiyah.
Perhaps only history will be the ultimate judge as to the outcome of the Arab Spring and its impact on Sweden. But, with thousands of Swedes of Middle Eastern origin and Sweden’s oil consumption continuing to increase despite the program proposed in a 2005 Swedish government report entitled “Making Sweden an Oil-Free Society” (Swedish: På väg mot ett oljefritt Sverige), one can be sure there will be an impact.
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