By Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press - Monday, May 6, 2013 - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The 2011 Arab Spring uprising in the Middle East came as a…
OTTAWA – The 2011 Arab Spring uprising in the Middle East came as a surprise to the Canadian government, which risks getting caught off-guard again without a new approach to gathering intelligence, an internal government report says.
Among other developments, analysts underestimated the repercussions of regime change in Tunisia, the Egyptian military’s efforts to control dissent and the duration of the civil war in Libya, says the assessment of how well the Privy Council Office did in keeping an eye on the Middle East two years ago.
The Privy Council Office, or PCO, is the bureaucratic arm of the prime minister’s office and includes an Intelligence Assessment Secretariat, which provides a regular range of reports to senior government officials.
Earlier this year, the research arm of the Department of National Defence published an analysis of how accurate their predictions were as part of a broader look at the state of human analytics.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:33 PM - 0 Comments
Street artist Omar ‘Picaso’ Fathy explains
I am Omar Fathy. I am an artist and a painter.
For me the thing that has changed most after the revolution is that I can express my opinion and be aware of my rights… I know at my rights are and how to demand them.
Before the revolution, it wasn’t in our heads, and we didn’t give it attention. We were not interested, or they made it so we would not demand it.
Now even though I will be fought, I will ask for my rights, even if the price is my life.
The important this is for me to get my freedom and be free.
I believe that people have woken up and know their rights now, more than before. People know their rights and they know how to demand them.
This means it will be difficult to deceive them again.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:33 PM - 0 Comments
Muslim Brother Tamar Omar explains
My name is Tamar Ommar. Thirty-five years. After revolution, we [are] feeling freedom. We [are] moving in freedom. We live freedom. We are opening to the whole world and we push to create relationships to other youth in [the] whole world.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:32 PM - 0 Comments
Amr Ibrahim, who was shot during the Tahrir Square protests and lost sight in one eye, explains
My name is Amr Ibrahim. I am an employee of the Ministry of Finance…
We should give [President Mohamed Morsi] time and be patient. Because this is a whole country. To build a home, you need [time]. We are building a state, so we should be patient with him. And if he doesn’t give us … what we want and demanded, we have free elections. And this is the democracy that we got as a result of the revolution…
By macleans.ca - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:32 PM - 0 Comments
Psychologist and Tahrir vet Farah Shash explains
What I think has changed since the revolution is basically that people are not fearing standing up for their rights as before. We broke the fear, the culture of silence. More people are asking for their rights. More people actually know their rights. We have…more people are aware of politics and how politics affect their daily life. More people are participating in the political sphere—more women are participating in the political sphere. We have some issues with…we might have a more conservative culture because of the Islamists in power, but I think that that’s a phase and that we will keep working on it.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:31 PM - 0 Comments
Liberal activist Mahmoud Salem explains
What changed in the revolution is that the party in power has been replaced by the forbidden opposition. And the forbidden opposition bacme the party of power and tried to make the ex-party of power the forbidden opposition. That is what’s happened, so far.
Q: How has your life changed, if at all?
A: I’m a Sunni Muslim male. I run this country. I have no problems. Okay? My life will not be affected. It’s the women who are walking down the street and getting sexually harassed. They’re the ones who are suffering. It’s the Christians who daily deal with the ideas that anyone could file against them a lawsuit of disdain for religion who are getting affected, or are getting immigrated or attacked. Or the Christian women who probably get it worse of them all on the street. But no, personally affected, I’m good. I’m fantastic. I’ll be fine because Sunni Muslim males run this country and they run the Middle East. But that’s not going to happen for everybody else.
Q: Tell me again how Egypt has changed since the revolution.
A: It hasn’t.
Q: Just the parties have switched.
A: Yeah. Mostly. If we’re talking essential change, then yes. Symbolic change? There are other things. For example, an armed population that is not afraid of confrontation with the government. We have that now. However we still have a government that doesn’t care about the problems of women. We still have an intelligentsia and opposition figures who can’t find their own butts with a flashlight. And we still have a political situation that very much looks like something out of Monty Python.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 1:31 PM - 0 Comments
A feature report by Michael Petrou on the dynamics at play in the streets of Cairo
Foreign correspondent Michael Petrou travelled to Egypt earlier this fall where liberal activists told him that their revolution is far from over. Petrou filed his report days before President Mohammed Morsi seized new powers in his country. In a feature report from the Nov. 26 issue, Petrou explored the ways political Islam had taken firm hold in Egypt.
Cairo’s Saladin Citadel appears to float above the heart of the Egyptian capital, a collection of seemingly impregnable battlements, towers, soaring minarets and the beetle-like domed roofs of its mosques.
Tonight its walls are bathed in pink light. In one of its courtyards, a men’s orchestra and a singer are belting out songs before a nimble-toed conductor. Young men dressed like medieval Muslim warriors, with flowing robes and wide swords on their hips, stand guard on rock platforms or mingle casually with the watching crowd. The yard is full of leather chairs; TV crews scramble to film arriving politicians. Egypt’s new government is commemorating Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187.
“This event is to remind people of the hideous Israeli acts that are committed against Jerusalem and the Palestinians,” says Ahmed Salah, a member of the ministry of culture’s media office. Enass Omran, a young woman staffing a table for the Al-Quds International Institution, an NGO the U.S. alleges is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, says the night is about more than long ago history. “Maybe,” she says, “we can enter Jerusalem again.” Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 6:20 PM - 0 Comments
With the Muslim Brotherhood government in charge, head scarves are back on TV
Head scarves have returned to mainstream Egyptian life for the first time in 50 years.
The Arab Spring may have deposed dictators and ushered in free and fair elections, but increasingly, women in the Arab world worry the uprising’s link to fundamentalist Islam will render their new-found freedoms irrelevant, particularly in Egypt. This month, its Muslim Brotherhood government made history when a female newscaster, Fatma Nabil, appeared on state-run TV in an Islamic head scarf for the first time in 50 years—to some, another sign of Egypt’s steady shift to conservative Islam.
Women were barred from delivering news wearing a hijab during Hosni Mubarak’s reign. But the government of new President Mohamed Morsi—whose wife, Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, wears a head covering that flows past her waist—has reversed that ban. Some welcome the move: why shouldn’t Muslim women be permitted to do their jobs and uphold their beliefs at the same time? Others are not so enthused. Sally Zohney, a member of the women’s rights movement Baheya Ya Masr, fears a growing faction of TV viewers will “believe this is how a woman should look like in order to be respectful or modest.” She adds, “This is what is scary. I’m against discrimination completely, but that does not mean society should start harassing non-veiled girls.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister talks to a certain news channel.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 6:30 PM - 0 Comments
A return to the Mubarak era—or Sharia law? That’s the choice facing voters in Egypt’s presidential runoff
Despite all the deaths and injuries during demonstrations that brought democracy to Egypt, and despite nationwide votes in parliamentary elections and the first round of a presidential poll, the choice Egyptians now face in the election’s final round on June 16 and 17 is between the two forces that dominated Egypt before the Arab Spring bloomed: the Muslim Brotherhood and a military-backed autocracy.
The two candidates contesting this week’s runoff vote are Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohamed Morsi, candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
By Luke Simcoe - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
Less than a year and a half ago, the world received a lesson in how vulnerable the contemporary Internet is to top-down control. Faced with ongoing protests organized in large part through social media, the government of Egypt simply turned off the country’s Internet.
As we all know, the move backfired. It let the rest of the world see how authoritarian the Mubarak regime was and caused countless free speech groups–including Anonymous–to rally behind the protesters in Tahrir Square. To this day, the chart showing the country’s Internet traffic all but disappear remains one of the most iconic images of the Arab Spring.
It was also a stark reminder that the Internet is indeed a series of tubes. And whoever controls those tubes, controls the Internet. Even here in Canada, much of the country’s traffic moves through an Internet exchange point. Shut that down, and Canadians would be left in the digital dark.
In the wake of Mubarak’s decision to hit the kill switch, it seems that a number of activists have begun to rethink their approach to net neutrality. No longer content to lobby those who control the existing Internet, they’re trying to create a new one. Whether it’s the “Freedom Towers” that could be found at various Occupy protests, or Reddit users’ Darknet plan, there’s an increasing push towards developing decentralized mesh networks as an alternative to the now-centralized Internet.
By Jamie Dettmer - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
Maclean’s reports from Tripoli
TRIPOLI — At the ripe age of 118, Nuwara Faraj Fahajan has become the poster-child of Libya’s upcoming general elections. Photographers from all over the world snapped frantically when she held up her registration card after signing up to vote in the town of Zliten, some 100 kilometres east of Tripoli.
It is anyone’s guess, though, whether the frail centenarian will still be around when the country actually picks its new leader.
Libya’s election commission has recently announced voting initially slated for June 19 may be delayed by several weeks. And even those elections would merely pick a constituent assembly to replace the current transitional leadership and oversee the drafting of a new constitution.
The time when Libyans will choose a new president and parliament is still months away, and an air of uncertainty is hanging over the country.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM - 0 Comments
Despite the arrests and suppression of dissent, the current presidential race shows how far the country has come
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow last February, following massive protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, was stunning in its seemingly definitive resolution: the people rose up; the dictator stepped down.
In reality what was accomplished was more of a leadership shuffle than a political transformation. Mubarak was gone. But the military, through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), held on to power, as it has since ousting the monarchy more than 50 years ago.
“The revolution has so far managed to get rid of the dictator but not the dictatorship,” Maikel Nabil Sanad, an Egyptian activist and blogger, wrote last March in an essay titled “The army and the people were never one hand” (which skewered the Tahrir chant “The army and the people—one hand”). The essay promptly got him arrested and sentenced by a military court to a three-year prison term for “insulting the armed forces.” Sanad was pardoned and released this January, after some 300 days in jail, including more than 100 on a hunger strike. He is one of more than 12,000 Egyptians convicted in military tribunals since Mubarak’s departure—all evidence of the gulf between what seemed within reach during the revolution and what has in fact changed.
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM - 0 Comments
It is being billed as the first exercise in true democracy since civilization sprang…
It is being billed as the first exercise in true democracy since civilization sprang up in the Nile Valley 5,000 years ago. Egyptians are lining up outside polling stations as 50 million eligible voters cast ballots to choose the country’s first president since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in the face of revolution 15 months ago.
“We have been ruled by pharaohs, sultans and kings, but this is the first time we have elected one of our own to lead us,” one Cairo woman told the CBC as she waited to cast her ballot. “This is amazing.”
Ahmed Shafiq, a former commander of the air force and briefly prime minister during February 2011 protests
Amr Moussa, who has served as foreign minister and head of the Arab League
Mohammed Mursi, who heads Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party
Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent Islamist candidate
A military council has ruled Egypt since February 2011. Its leaders have promised fair elections and a total transition of authority following the swearing in of the new president July 1.
By Jamie Dettmer - Monday, May 21, 2012 at 8:13 AM - 0 Comments
Maclean’s reports from Tripoli
TRIPOLI — For most Libyans, the death from prostate cancer of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, closes an embarrassing chapter–the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, was a reminder of a past they would rather forget.
The circumstances of Megrahi’s long-anticipated death–when he left prison in August 2009 he had been given just three months to live–were a far cry from the hero’s welcome he received on his arrival in Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.
Since Gadhafi’s overthrow in the third revolution of the Arab Spring, Megrahi and his immediate family had maintained a low profile and were increasingly ostracized, even by elders of their own tribe, the Megraha. They remained holed up in a luxury villa in Tripoli, lavished on them by the former dictator. Its thick walls kept out journalists eager to record one last interview with the ailing bomber.
Megrahi was reportedly worried about mistreatment by the rebels, and his family concerned that the new Libyan authorities might strike a deal to have him a returned to jail in the U.K. or dispatched to the U.S. for trial, as some U.S. lawmakers have demanded.
By Gabriela Perdomo - Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 9:31 AM - 0 Comments
If you haven’t already, do read this piece by Angelique Christafis for The Guardian:…
If you haven’t already, do read this piece by Angelique Christafis for The Guardian: The Arab World’s First Ladies of Oppression.
Christafis catalogues the wives of Arab dictators and exposes the shameless whitewashing they provide for their cruel husbands in the West. The most poignant example amongst them is the wife of Syrian president Basher al-Assad, First Lady Asma al-Assad, who, while her husband had already started plunging his country into an unspeakable bloodbath, appeared as a glamorous, British-educated lady in a Vogue magazine feature:
The row over a shockingly fawning, lengthy puff-piece in American Vogue last year depicting Asma’s Louboutin shoes and charity work, as well as a recent appearance at a rally hugging her children in support of her husband and an email to the Times explaining her backing of him, has reopened the debate about the role of dictators’ wives in the Arab spring.
She goes on to describe Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the deposed Egyptian dictator:
Meanwhile, Suzanne, the half-Welsh wife of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, benefited from a fortune of billions in a country where around 40% of the population lives on less than £1.20 per day. She is now being investigated alongside her husband on allegations of crimes against the state and has relinquished disputed assets worth nearly £2.5m. Before the Egyptian revolution, whole newspaper pages were “allocated” to cover Suzanne’s “charitable engagements” and “actions” for women.
It’s a pathetic portrait of Western media, all well deserved.
By Alex Ballingall - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Spin doctors silence democratic dissidents and help lobby Washington
A year after the Arab Spring took root in Bahrain—and 35 protesters were killed—its streets are once again filled with dissidents and police. But this time, the government in Manama has some aid from Western PR firms like Qorvis Communications, hired to help lobby Washington and soften Bahrain’s image in the Western media. As Salon.com recently reported, Tom Squitieri, a self-styled journalist who blames protesters for violence in Bahrain in his blogs for Foreign Policy and the Hufﬁngton Post, is paid by Qorvis to work “with the Bahrain government on media awareness and press freedom.”
Bahrain also appointed former police chiefs from the U.S. and Britain to help reform its security forces, which have faced accusations of human rights abuse. Even so, more than 120 people have been injured in clashes between police and protesters, as arrest raids are conducted house to house in villages outside the capital. Maybe Bahrain needs more than spin doctors and “kettling” experts to silence its democratic dissidents.
By Sally Armstrong - Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
The crowds were sparse, but hope remains in Tahrir square
It has all the trappings of a circus—tents with guy wires, wagons of fast food, green tea, trinkets and Egyptian flags being hawked to families with small children. The only item missing is the crowd at Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, the anniversary of the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak and the day the protesters have called for a national public strike. A year ago, more than a million Egyptians massed at the square and accomplished what everyone in the world thought impossible: they tossed out the bully who’d been controlling them for 30 years. But now, with Mubarak in a sickbed in jail, and after the first free elections in Egypt’s history and just months before a presidential election, the sun is setting on Tahrir Square and its famous 18-day protest.
Egyptians may well be biding their time, poised to come together again, but like the players in a chess game they are waiting for the government, a.k.a. the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to make the next move. The military had gained their adoration for seemingly supporting the people during the uprising a year ago, but are now the hated remnants of the old regime that continue to rule the country. Still, it’s the diehards and the discontents who are here on Tahrir Square on this anniversary, punching their placards into the air, shouting their slogans, leading the sparse crowd in the old battle cries: “Those who chant will never die,” and, “We will not be quiet.”
Marchers arrive and hoist a leader onto young shoulders, who demands the military get out of the business of governing (even though the rulers have promised to step down after the June presidential elections). Then, like a travelling road show, the marchers move on.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Pro-democracy protesters talk to ‘Maclean’s’ about the toll of fighting the regime and their fears for the future
With scores of people seemingly dying by the day, the situation in Syria appears to be spiralling even more out of control as the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad tries to hang on to power. But the brutality of the government’s response to pro-democracy protesters has been ongoing for almost a year—and the victims will bear lifelong scars from their experiences. Yahya Hawash, 27, is among them. When he joined the peaceful demonstrations in Damascus last April, he was filled with hopes for the future. Marching with the crowds through the city streets brought an unprecedented exhilaration, and a fleeting taste of freedom. Almost a year on, paralyzed from the waist down and hiding from the “shabiha”—government thugs—Hawash spoke to Maclean’s about the innocence of those first days, his ensuing ordeal, and the fears he holds for his country that is now plunged deep into civil war.
“We were at the demonstration in al-Midan in central Damascus in April last year—thousands of people had gathered,” he says. “We were unarmed, just calling for freedom. We didn’t imagine in those days that the security forces would shoot.” The first rounds came within minutes of the demonstration beginning. Panicked demonstrators tried to flee, scrambling over the wounded, pushing into side alleys and back streets to get out of the “kill zone.” Hawash saw a friend hit the ground as a bullet smacked into his head. He was trying to drag the body from the street when he felt a searing pain as a bullet entered his back. Then everything went dark.
“There were six of us taken to hospital,” recalls Hawash, where the staff treated them like traitors. “They handled us roughly, they pushed injections in in painful ways, and spat insults at us. If someone threw up from the pain, they would beat him.” But nothing could have prepared Hawash for what happened next. Three armed security officers in leather jackets, with moustaches emulating the small one sported by Bashar al-Assad, stopped at the bed beside his. “I overheard a security man say, ‘He was injured in the protest. Let him die,’ ” says Hawash. Hospital staff then wheeled the sedated man to a nearby operating theatre. Then, says Hawash, “We heard gunshots. They killed him there in the operation room. There is no question.”
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Will new technologies make North American energy self-sufficiency a reality?
The rural state of North Dakota is famous mainly for its rough weather. Its largest city, Fargo, is best known to outsiders as the title of a noir movie in which a body is fed through a wood chipper. With a population half the size of Winnipeg’s scattered across rugged plains, it once held the distinction of being the least-visited state in the U.S. But today, so many people are flocking to North Dakota that there is nowhere to put them. In a nation beset by joblessness, workers are coming here in such numbers that an estimated 15,000 people are now living in trailers, cars, corporate “man camps” and other forms of makeshift housing. So scarce are places to sleep that in 2010 one firm housed some of its workers by trucking in a chunk of Vancouver’s recently used Olympic Village to the overwhelmed city of Williston.
The reason is an oil boom. Production in the state has surged from 100,000 barrels per day in 2007 to 500,000 barrels per day and growing—almost overnight making North Dakota the fourth-largest producer in the U.S., and on its way to becoming second only to Texas. And, like the Alberta oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurray—whose mayor recently visited to offer advice (“Plan ahead!”)—Williston is abruptly bursting.“First it got hard to find the hotel rooms. Then it was housing. Now it’s everything,” says Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The state is racing to build more houses, roads, schools and hospitals. The biggest sign of change: “Young people in the communities,” says Ness—sons and daughters are not leaving the state to look for work as soon as they turn of age. It’s been, he says, a “renaissance—and a challenge.”
A rebirth of the local economy is the least of it. The oil boom under way here is part of a global transformation with far-reaching consequences for matters of warfare, the environment and modern life. Like Alberta’s oil sands, the sudden bonanza in North Dakota is driven by recent technological advances that have, for the first time, made it economically viable to extract oil (and natural gas) from previously untappable geological formations—so-called “unconventional” fuel trapped in rock. Such formations have been discovered elsewhere around the United States, but for years sat fallow as a mere curiosity. Suddenly, however, the technology is available to get the oil and gas out. And the rise of the feasibility this type of oil and gas extraction is poised to transform the geopolitics of energy.
In spite of the considerable environmental and logistical challenges involved, these developments have led to feverish calls for “energy independence.” The prospect that the U.S. could fulfill all its own energy needs from domestic sources, plus those from friendly neighbours such as Canada, has become a rallying cry for the Republican presidential candidates who are attacking President Barack Obama for standing in the way of job creation and “energy security.” Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved Alberta oil sands crude to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, has become a staple topic on the Republican presidential trail. In November, the Obama administration did move to open more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to offshore drilling, but banned development along the East and West Coast, fuelling more criticism from industry groups and Republicans.
The debate over North American energy security has been unfolding against the backdrop of the unpredictable Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa, home to 70 per cent or more of the world’s known conventional oil reserves. “The Arab world is very possibly at the beginning of the great revolutionary period of the 21st century,” says Paul Sullivan, an economics professor at the National Defense University in Washington. “Nobody really knows how long this will go and how it will all play out.” Of course, non-oil-producing states like Egypt and Syria are in chaos. But tensions continue to threaten some of the region’s largest producers, like Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia.
And now the discussion has been sent into overdrive by recent threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz—a choke point on the Persian Gulf separating Iran from Oman—as retaliation for harsh economic sanctions over its nuclear program and the threat of a military attack on its nuclear facilities. The Strait of Hormuz is only 54 km wide, but each day, 15 million barrels of oil—17 per cent of the oil consumed by the world—move through the waterway. It would be a global disaster.
The rise of North America as an energy power is starting to get attention overseas. “A few years ago, much of the global debate was based on the premise of acute resource scarcity and its economic and political ramifications,” said Khalid al-Falih, the head of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned energy company, Aramco, in a speech on Nov. 21. But, he added, “Rather than supply scarcity, oil supplies remain at comfortable levels, even given rising demand from fast-growing nations like China and India.” The reason? Abundant supplies and a “more balanced geographical distribution of unconventionals”—such as the new sources now being developed by Canada and the United States.
Canadians are among the loudest voices in the U.S. selling a vision of continental energy independence. One of the pitchmen is Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, who gives several U.S. speeches a year on energy. Speaking in December to conservative lawmakers from around the U.S. who had gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., he urged the audience to choose Canadian oil over what he calls “extreme oil” that depends on the U.S. military presence abroad. “I think we should have a broader goal continentally to move toward energy independence,” Wall told Maclean’s afterward. “Maybe this should be the moon mission of the next couple of decades.”
There is also a view that North American energy independence should include “Canadian energy independence.” Currently, Canada is a net exporter, producing more oil (2.5 million barrels per day) than Canadians consume (1.85 million). However, most Canadian production is exported from western provinces to the U.S., while about half of the crude used by Canadian refiners to meet domestic demand comes from imports—44 per cent of that from OPEC countries and 37 per cent from the North Sea, according to Natural Resources Canada. (The reason is the cost-effectiveness of exporting western oil to relatively closer American refineries, rather than moving it to refineries in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec.)
But are the Canadian and American unconventional sources enough to fuel continental energy independence—or, at the very least, to wean America off Middle Eastern oil? The number to start with is 19.1 million barrels—the amount of petroleum products the U.S. consumed per day in 2010, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration. Most of that was used for transportation.
The U.S. only produced about half of that—9.4 million barrels per day (counting crude oil, natural gas liquids and biofuels)—leaving a gap of about 9.7 million barrels to be supplied through imports. Canada contributed the largest share—one-quarter. The next biggest supplier was Saudi Arabia, at 12 per cent, followed by Nigeria, Venezuela, Mexico and others. All told, OPEC members (Persian Gulf states, African countries, Venezuela and Ecuador) supplied about half of U.S. imports—already down from a peak of 70 per cent in 1977. So in order to eliminate oil from hostile or unstable sources at its current level of consumption, the U.S. would have to replace roughly five million barrels per day. Can it?
The U.S. domestic oil industry says yes—“Drill, baby, drill!” By ramping up domestic U.S. production and increasing imports from Canada, the United States could end its reliance on all other sources. “If the full potential of domestic oil and gas production could be achieved while also increasing imports of Canadian oil, all of America’s liquid fuels could come from secure North American sources within 15 years,” says Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group.
The API hired consulting firm Wood Mackenzie to analyze a scenario of maximal North American oil production. They looked at what would happen if “all impediments” to extracting oil within the U.S. and off its shores were lifted. Under their scenario, drilling would be allowed in currently restricted areas off the coast of Alaska, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and in portions of the Rocky Mountains. This would also include lifting a moratorium on shale drilling in New York state, and speeding up drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico that were slowed after the BP oil spill. In addition, Canadian oil sands pipelines into the U.S. would be fully developed so that the United States can absorb the expected increases of Canadian oil sands production.
The report concluded that without any change to current policies, U.S. production would increase only slightly above current levels. But if development was encouraged, U.S. production could surge to 15.4 million barrels per day in 2030 (not counting biofuels). The extra six million barrels would slightly exceed the portion of current consumption that comes from overseas. In addition, if enough pipeline capacity is built, Canadian oil sands production would increase from 1.6 million barrels per day in 2010 to 5.8 million in 2030. “By 2030, we could be very close if not equal to not having to import from other places in the world.” says John Felmy, chief economist for the API.
Already, the United States has seen a boom in natural gas production, thanks to the same technology that is enabling the oil boom: hydraulic fracking. This process pumps millions of litres of water and chemicals underground to break apart rock and release natural gas or oil. It is used to extract natural gas from underground shale formations such as the Marcellus in the northeastern part of the country, and the Eagle Ford and Barnett in Texas. Not only does the U.S. now produce enough natural gas to cover its own needs, but it is expected to soon become a natural gas exporter. Meanwhile, the abundant supplies have driven down prices for consumers, and have raised the possibility of replacing gasoline with natural gas for some vehicles such as buses and trucks, and for industrial plants to be adapted to run on natural gas—helping to reduce dependence on oil.
“Natural gas could conceivably become the basis of a vehicle fuel in the long run,” says Washington-based independent energy analyst Joseph Dukert, although, he adds, “We still have a long way to go before that happens. There is room for natural gas to penetrate the industrial energy market to a greater extent—but it would involve bringing in new types of equipment. Industry has been reluctant to move in that direction so it might take some nudging from the government.”
As for oil supplies, Canada is not the only neighbour that could help the U.S. move off of Middle Eastern oil. Oil giant BP has looked at the broader picture in the western hemisphere and concluded that if oil reserves trapped deep below the ocean off the coast of Brazil are developed, self-sufficiency is within reach by 2030. “The growth of unconventional supply, including U.S. shale oil and gas, Canadian oil sands and Brazilian deep-waters, against a background of a gradual decline in oil demand, will see the western hemisphere become almost totally energy self-sufficient by 2030,” the company concluded in a report on Jan. 18.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum are advocates for the surest form of independence: ending reliance on oil altogether. According to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, a “comprehensive but achievable” clean energy strategy could cut America’s oil consumption by seven million barrels a day by 2030—more than enough to displace all imports, at today’s consumption level at least, from hostile and unstable countries.
The biggest piece of the NRDC’s strategy is a major increase in fuel efficiency. Already the Obama administration has taken a substantial step in that direction. Last November, the President announced new mileage rules for passenger cars and light trucks. Beginning in model year 2017, fuel-efficiency rates will have to start rising five per cent until they reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—nearly double the fuel efficiency of today’s car. If the vehicle fleet on the road today had that efficiency rate, it would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.7 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the NRDC’s plan, emissions standards should be increased further—to 60 miles per gallon by 2025—and seven per cent of all passenger-vehicle miles be travelled using plug-in electric vehicles. The estimated savings if the plan went into effect would be 2.8 million barrels a day by 2030. For additional savings, fuel-efficiency standards for new medium- and heavy-duty trucks would be increased from six to 10 miles per gallon, old vehicles retrofitted, and large numbers of heavy trucks switched from diesel fuel to natural gas. The rest of the plan consists of long-term changes to urban design and lifestyles—such as expanding public transit and planning “smart communities” that require less driving and commuting, a savings of 1.6 million barrels per day. Another 1.6 million barrels per day could be saved by a combination of conservation initiatives, including fuel-efficient replacement tires and motor oil. “The fact of the matter is that the lowest hanging fruit lie in efficiency and clean fuel technology,” says Anthony Swift, an attorney for the NRDC.
Environmentalists also argue that reducing supply is a more “secure” form of energy independence. The price of oil is set by global markets regardless of whether oil is produced in the U.S. or imported from Canada, so instability in the Middle East that leads to price hikes will still be felt by North American consumers. “Should OPEC or any other major exporter choose to cut off supplies to any country, supply shortages and a price spike are likely to affect every major importing country regardless of where they get their oil,” says Swift.
The National Defense University’s Sullivan, though, says that energy security is greater when supply is guaranteed, even if prices are high: it’s the difference between paying more at the pump—and a scenario under which no oil can be had at any price. Still, the maximalist North American production scenario is unlikely to happen in the kind of time frame contemplated by the oil industry, or ever, given environmental concerns, political opposition and infrastructure challenges. Witness the years of delay and impediments to building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would have helped move not only Alberta crude but also domestic U.S. shale oil. Or take the mounting opposition to the hydraulic fracking that underpins so much of new domestic production—a major concern for environmentalists as well as local communities concerned about the possibility that the aquifers that supply their drinking water could be contaminated by chemicals.
There is also reason to be pessimistic about the political prospects of achieving independence purely by reducing fossil fuel consumption through greater conservation and the use of renewable “green” energy sources. A case in point is the controversy that erupted over the Obama administration’s half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to solar-panel-maker Solyndra Corporation in 2009. The company went bankrupt and taxpayers were left on the hook, in a debacle that critics have made into a poster child for wasteful government efforts to expand clean energy production faster than market forces would do on their own.
Indeed, the most likely way to reach oil independence by 2030 is probably a combination of some increase in production, alongside further reductions in demand. “In order for North America to become energy independent, there would have to be substantial changes in the demand side of the equation as well as supply,” says Joseph Dukert, an independent energy analyst in Washington. Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister and the province’s former envoy to Washington, agrees. “If you sat down and formed a presidential commission and said, ‘How do we do this? How do we get to the math?’ you could come very close to energy independence. It would require some increased availability of drilling in the U.S., changing natural gas into a transportation fuel, and it would require further savings on making the hydrocarbon molecule more efficient, and increasing the level of diesel engine penetration in the marketplace.” Smith adds, “I don’t think it’s a dream out of reach—but it’s an elusive dream. You have to commit to it.”
But rather than Americans uniting around a plan for the future, the politics have become divided. The pro-drilling advocates and the anti-oil advocates have taken to the barricades, as the Keystone and Solyndra clashes show. Republicans and Democrats have made energy a partisan issue. Each side has enthusiasm and fundraising for their cause—be it from the oil industry or national environmental groups. There is little evidence of a constituency for a compromise approach that could realistically take North American energy independence from buzzword to reality.
“It would be best to have a full, comprehensive energy security policy, but this is unlikely to happen any time soon,” Sullivan testified to a congressional committee earlier this year. “It seems we will need to settle for ad hoc improvements in the diversification of supplies and other ad hoc policy measures, until the real shocks hit us in waves upon waves upon waves of economic and energy security woes.”
By Jen Cutts - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Cypriot officials let a Russian ship loaded with ammunition sail on to Syria
A Russian ship’s clandestine cargo has made plain the country’s cosy relationship with Cyprus, says the U.K.’s Guardian. The MS Chariot was carrying 60 tonnes of ammunition bound for Syria when it made an unplanned stop at the Cypriot port of Limassol. Cyprus, a member of the European Union, should have held up the ship; the EU has banned arms sales to the Syrian regime, to hamstring its brutal backlash to its citizens’ calls for change (Russia is unwavering in its support of Syria, a key ally). Instead, Cypriot officials skipped inspections and allowed the Chariot to refuel and set sail, after its captain gave his word he would alter his course and head for Turkey. The ship then fell off radar screens. It docked in Syria on Jan. 12.
It’s all evidence of Cyprus’s “embarrassing subservience” to Russia, says an anonymous columnist in the Cyprus Mail. The Guardian points to the many Russians now living in Limassol, a resort town offering all the comforts of home. There’s also the siren call of Cyprus’s low corporate tax rate for Russian businesses. And, last but not least, there’s the 2.5-billion-euro loan Russia has promised to boost Cyprus’s flagging economy. The second instalment was delivered on Jan. 26.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 6:15 AM - 0 Comments
Last year’s revolutions of the Arab Spring were, and remain, the greatest opportunity for the global growth of democracy since the end of the Cold War and the resulting spread of freedom in Eastern Europe.
Democracy promotion is ostensibly a priority for this government. In the 2008 Throne Speech, Canada was promised: “a new, non-partisan democracy promotion agency will also be established to support the peaceful transition to democracy in repressive countries and help emerging democracies build strong institutions.”
More than three years later, that promise is unfulfilled. But Canada still has the framework to pursue democracy promotion through the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Both CIDA and DFAIT claim democracy promotion as part of their core mandates. It should follow, therefore, that the Arab Spring presented them with an unprecedented opportunity. Continue…
By Peter Fragiskatos - Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 7:34 AM - 0 Comments
Why the economy matters more than Islam
In early December, the future of post-Mubarak Egypt became a little clearer after the results of the first round of parliamentary elections were announced. Islamist factions—led by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood—dominated with 60 percent of the vote.
The second round of the process was held last week. Although the outcome has yet to be announced, early reports indicate that the FJP will again come out on top. The third stage will take place in January and if the rural provinces continue to vote as expected—efforts to blend Islam and politics find more sympathy here than in the cities—Islamism will have quickly secured a place for itself.
On the surface, the implications of this seem obvious. The Sharia (Islamic law) is bound to be introduced. The status of women and Christians, who make up around 10 percent of the total population, will be threatened. And, because Islam is apparently hostile to democracy, the demands for liberty and human rights that continue to be voiced in Tahrir Square will fall on deaf ears. In short, Mubarak’s tyranny will simply be replaced by an uncompromising fundamentalism. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Monday, December 12, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Will Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown bring down the Syrian regime?
There is a point at which a regime has committed so much cruelty against its citizens that it will never again have their consent to be ruled. Its choices are then to continue and increase its brutality, or be toppled.
Surely this stage has now been reached in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is trying to crush, with force, the anti-government uprising that has taken the country to the brink of civil war.
Protests in Syria began cautiously, with demands for reforms, demonstrations against police brutality and displays of solidarity with protesters in Egypt and Libya. But each time Syrians marched, security forces arrested, beat or shot them. Their defiance grew.