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The Politics of Oil in Today’s Middle East

Old Gas Station. Image: Rob Brewer/Flickr

On 26 March 2015, the ISN hosted an Evening Talk on “The Politics of Oil in Today’s Middle East.” The featured speaker was Dr. Gawdat Bahgat, who is currently a Professor of National Security Affairs at the US National Defense University’s Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies. The following video excerpts highlight the observations Dr. Bahgat made in his prepared remarks and in a follow-on question and answer (Q&A) session which was moderated by the ISN’s Peter Faber.

In the first video, Dr. Bahgat outlines the shifting patterns of global oil supply and demand and how these changes have caused prices to fall.

In the next video, Dr. Bahgat focuses on the geostrategic dimensions of oil. Among other things, he discusses 1) whether China’s growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil will translate into a larger security role for Beijing in the region; 2) why Saudi Arabia might be interested in keeping oil prices low; 3) how low prices might facilitate greater cooperation between Russia and Iran; 4) whether low oil prices will force Middle Eastern governments to implement economic reform; and 5) whether the unwritten ‘oil for security’ bargain between Western and Middle Eastern states is still in place.

In this first extract from the Q&A session, Dr. Bahgat discusses whether the recent fluctuation in oil prices differs from oil price changes in the past. He also comments on how the growing reliance on liquefied natural gas (LNG) will impact the global energy market.

In this last segment from the Q&A session, Dr. Bahgat considers a range of energy-related questions, such as under what conditions can interstate cooperation on energy issues help promote peace; how the oil price drop has affected Saudi-US relations; what is the potential for solar energy in the Middle East; and who are the near-term ‘winners and losers’ from the drop in oil prices?

*Note: The opinions expressed in the talk are those of the presenter and do not necessarily reflect official US policy.


Dr. Gawdat Bahgat is professor of National Security Affairs at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies. He is an Egyptian-born specialist in Middle Eastern affairs. His specific areas of expertise include energy security, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the politics of North Africa, and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

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