Netflix’s History 101 Introduced Me To The History Of Oil In The Middle East

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Binge-watching episodes of our favorite television series are a huge source of entertainment for most of us. The ‘Netflix and Chill’ culture has increased online streaming globally, leaving us hungry to devour more and more content online. With its diverse range of shows and documentaries, Netflix is today the most popular Over-the-Top platform with over 37% subscribers of the total global population. I recently had the opportunity to watch History 101 on Netflix. With bite-sized history lessons on major global topics shaping our world, it offers something for everyone. One of the episodes of History 101 that I enjoyed the most was ‘Oil and the Middle East’. 

Oil has been a crucial element in shaping the global political stage and has been the root cause of major uprisings and instability, especially in the Middle East. There have been 5 major wars and 5 uprisings in the last 60 years alone. Despite these negatives, oil has been a major blessing to the world as a whole and has brought a lot of wealth to the Middle East. Some of the initially poorer countries have turned wealthy overnight with barrels of oil being exported to other countries, the benefits of which we enjoy even today. 

The History Of Oil In The Middle East 

The vast expanse of desert that forms the Middle East today, was the bed of an inland sea many million years ago. When microscopic organisms sank to the bottom, they got trampled and transformed into crude oil under pressure. Eventually, the waters receded and dry dunes emerged in the Middle East bringing the oil deposits closer to the surface. Oil was first discovered by a British geologist George Reynolds in the 1900s in Persia. This discovery proved to be a gamechanger after the subsequent World Wars. The coal used in ships was replaced by oil, and later on tanks and planes. 

Before the end of World War I, Britain and France collude to carve Middle east between them without consulting the Arabs, thus planting the first seed of a long-standing conflict in the years to come. With more oil being discovered in the years between the two wars, there was a spike in demand for oil. As more and more companies set out to hunt for oil, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar followed by UAE, Yemen and Oman also discovered oil. The years following the wars were filled with major uprisings and coups to gain control over oil and to end the influence of the Western countries in matters of oil and production. Countries like America offered weapons to Saudi Arabia in exchange for oil after a huge spike in demand for oil was seen after the Pearl Harbour incident of 1945. In the 1958 Iraq coup, the army rose to power and overturned the reigning monarch who was highly supportive of the West. After Saddam Hussein rose to power, many countries in the Middle East joined hands to protect their oil fields and formed OPEC- Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries with a mission to stabilize oil prices and supply. 

middle east oil field
The first oil field in middle east (Image Credits: AAPG Explorer)

The OPEC members eventually grew suspicious of their fellow nations after the 1973 oil crisis. They waged wars within themselves and invaded each other to claim more oil. This led to the West intervening again as they couldn’t afford any more disruptions to the oil supply. One of the placards in a peace march after the Gulf War rightly said “If Kuwait exported broccoli, we wouldn’t be there now.” Even though America discovered Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11 was from Saudi Arabia, they thought punishing Saudi Arabia wasn’t a good move with the supply of oil control in their hands. It was only many years later that the United States discovered oil through Fracking – Hydraulic Fracturing becoming the world’s single biggest oil producer.

India’s Stance With Oil:

India imports around 85% of its oil that it consumes, mainly from Iraq and Saudi Arabia making us the biggest oil importers globally. India used to import 10% oil from Iran as well but stopped after coercion from the United States. India has been attempting to diversify its sources of supply for the last seven years. With the oil prices soaring, it is becoming increasingly expensive for the country along with the plummeting economy. 

No doubt that our lives have transformed with the development of oil. We travel constantly and enjoy better gratification of many other material needs. However, the myriad of uprisings and coups bring with it great devastation physically and emotionally. It is the people of the Middle East getting caught between the crossfires amongst the danger and uncertainty with increased prevalence of mental health issues and disorders, anxiety and depression and PTSD. These issues persist even after many years and result in a much poorer quality of life.

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