Before the end of this month, Libya will preside over the meeting of OPEC states due to take place in Vienna. Surprisingly, no one knows who the Libyan minister of oil is, simply because no one knows which government runs this country. The rebels who took over Tripoli have their own oil minister. And though the parliament in Tobruk abolished the Ministry of Oil, it put the head of the National Oil Corp. in charge of Libya’s oil. OPEC, on its part, thinks a third man is running the show.
The story of the oil minister is very much a sum up of the situation in Libya, which no one knows for how long its neighbors or the world community will stand the fighting there. As far as the world community is concerned, we should admit that the US and its allies are busy fighting the Islamic State (formerly ISIL) in Syria and Iraq though the Kurds are the ones being killed at the front lines. So, until further notice, the US or the world community will keep a distance. In fact, NATO member states were hesitant to interfere in Libya in 2011, until promises were made to honor oil contracts by representatives of the rebel coalition in Benghazi who spoke to the US- Libyan Business Council in Washington as well as representatives of oil companies. Only then was the NATO humanitarian mission launched.
When NATO left the country after its ‘noble mission’ to protect civilians was accomplished, no one expected that what was left behind was the debris of a state, if there was any that merit this definition. So until further notice, Washington will not in be a hurry to help Libyans settle their disputes. Betting on Egypt’s patience, the US adopted the policy of ‘let us wait and see’. Egyptians have two options: either interfere thus launching a by proxy war against the Islamists militias or keep a distance and pay the price of living alongside a disrupted neighbor. The two options suite the US administration simply because the new regime in Egypt will be besieged from the three corners of its borders. In the east, there is Ansar Beit Al- Maqdis, which recently vowed allegiance to the Islamic State. From the west, there is Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militias are fighting both the government and the army in Benghazi. From the south, there is the Islamic state of Sudan that hosts a significant number of the Muslim Brotherhood members who found in Khartoum a safe haven close to their lost dream in Cairo. Due to the relentless efforts by terrorists’ militias, Egypt was forced to establish a security zone on its eastern borders. But how long will Egyptians tolerate the terrorists’ infiltrations from the western borders…No one can tell.
Currently, US oil companies are not rushing to go back to Libya. The prices of crude oil are going down which affects the producers, favouring the exporters. The US is self-sufficient as far as oil is concerned and the EU exports a slice of 15 per cent of its needs which are already met, at least for this winter. Thus, the absence of Libyan oil is a blessing to the market because it will give the US exported crude a good piece of the market share and at the same time, the prices will continue to move down. Only China was expected to be in a dilemma, which has relatively been settled through its second mammoth contract with Russia and a blessing slow down of its economy.
US oil companies used to receive a barrel of oil from the Middle East for less than the price of a water bottle until 1973 when Arab oil producing states threatened to cut off oil supplies to the West in support of Egyptians fighting against Israel. At the time, a drastic change of oil prices took place marking an increase from $4 per barrel to $37-40 a barrel. So, until Arab oil producing countries learn the lesson ‘the American way’, the fighting will go on and the Libyan minister of oil will remain anonymous.
Mervat Diab is Assistant Editor-In-Chief of Al-Ahram newspaper.