Monday, March 07, 2011

People power "virus" infects Saudi Arabia: Will the Philippines implode?

Latest to be infected with the Twitter and Facebook vectored democracy "virus" is absolutist Saudi Arabia. This Islamic Kingdom supplies the world with much of the oil, earns over 90% of its revenue from oil sales, and over the years had to "walk the talk" with the USA. Thus the Kingdom had to back the USA in its wars and interventions in the region short of sending the Kingdom's army to these trouble spots. The Kingdom also hosts the largest contingent of Filipino workers who have no rights of permanent residency. The USA hosts the biggest group of overseas Filipinos but many have rights of residency or have been granted American citizenship.

The Kingdom's monarchs are also the Guardians of the Islamic Holy Places of Medina and Mecca. The state according to its constitution is governed according to the Quran and Islamic law. It is one of two sovereign states where a religious constitution is absolute, the other one is the Vatican. However like in Christianity, there are several strains of Islam, the two major ones roughly analogous to the East -West differentiation of Christianity, are Shia and Sunni Islam. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni state although it hosts a sizeable Shia population in the Eastern Provinces. Religious or political dissent is not tolerated and all demonstrations are banned.

Since many Saudis have lived or studied overseas, they have seen the advantages of a democratic polity even within an Islamic context. So just like in neighbouring Shia dominated Iran, they are demanding an end to absolutist and theocratic rule and a more pluralist society. This appears to be at the root of protests in the more Shia Eastern Provinces.

The West worries that these democracy movements may disrupt oil production and may cause oil prices to break the 200 dollar per barrel barrier. This will surely  arrest the global economy's recovery from recession. In the Philippines things will become more dire as the Philippine economy is kept afloat by OFW remittances. The political turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia and most recently Libya have seen the repatriation of foreign workers. In Libya with 30K Filipino workers, the Philippines proved it has not the logistical capability to support the repatriation unlike economic superpower China, which has strategic economic interests in the Arab world and the rest of Africa.

Saudi Arabia hosts 1 million Filipino workers. Political turmoil there will force the repatriation of these workers. Also the "virus" which has earlier infected Bahrain and Yemen will surely infect the various emirates and shiekdoms all over the Persian Gulf. These small states host Filipino workers in the tens of thousands!

And on the Pinoy home front, we expect the price of gasoline to exceed the 100 peso per liter level with diesel not far behind. The millions of repatriated OFWs will find little or no job opportunity for most of them did not invest their earnings in job generating businesses. One reason is that the corrupt government bureaucracy is not favourable to small and medium scale businesses. Together with soaring food prices as a result of possible climate change effects, and a widespread public perception of insane corruption by the ruling elite, the recipe is ripe for an implosion of the social and political order.

BTW, climate change too has forced the repatriation of OFWs. Madagascar based OFWs were sent home due to a threat of a malaria outbreak which was worsened by rainfall shifts in that country.

This is the end of the country's addiction to OFW remittances and flings into the face of  ideas of labour export fantasies for growth by economists like Bernie Villegas. Economic growth is guaranteed by investment both domestic and foreign, but can only be sustained by robust domestic investment.

Can the Aquino administration deal with a possible implosion or would it just wheeze by it by driving a Porsche?

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