The Saudi-Iran conflict escalates: Impact on the Philippines

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - January 7, 2016 - 9:00am

We just arrived from, among other countries, Egypt and Jordan, two major allies of the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia, and while in Amam and in Cairo respectively, we could ''smell'' some growing tensions in the Middle East. Albeit the tensions these times, have nothing to do with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the problem may even prove to be more serious that the Israel-Arab conflicts. When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed Sheik Nimr al Nimr, a much-revered and beloved among the Shiite Islamic world, Iran reacted violently. Extremists attacked the Saudi Embassy and stormed the Saudi Ambassador's residence in Tehran.

The Kingdom reacted by recalling its ambassador and expelling the Iran ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It also stopped all trading and commercial transactions between KSA and Iran and stopped all air flights to and from that country. In due time, a close ally of Saudi, also Sunni-led, Bahrain also cut off diplomatic ties with Iran and accused that country of blatant and dangerous interferences in the internal affairs of other countries. Sudan and Kuwait followed.  We should remember that Sheik Nimr was not an Iranian but a Saudi, only he was a Shiite Arabian, while the whole kingdom is populated by more than 90% Sunni Muslims. Thus Saudi also accuses Iran of interference in its internal affairs.

Now, what are the implications of these escalating tensions in the Middle East to our country? Two very important matters: OFWs and Oil. We should never forget that we have more than one million Filipinos working and residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and about 2.2 million in the whole Middle East. Any serious conflict between or among Middle Eastern nations would necessarily displace the Filipino migrant workers, put them in the crossfires of great jeopardy, and poses a grave and imminent danger to their lives and livelihoods. Our government does not have enough resources to immediately evacuate one million to 2.2 million Filipinos within a span of twenty-four hours or even a little longer. That would be a major, major crisis for our country and people.

The second major implications is oil. Such tension could disrupt the flow of crude oil and gas from our main sources, the two most major sources of which are none else but both Saudi and Iran.  If the conflict between the two shall escalate into a shooting war, then our oil supply will be in serious jeopardy. We will be looking at only at Indonesia our most friendly ASEAN ally to tide us over while we hope and pray that the Saudi-Iran conflict could simmer down or lead to a negotiated ceasefire. But, as these days, peace is very elusive in the Middle East, with too many bilateral and multi-lateral collisions and conflicts. There is Israel, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and now Iran and Saudi. It shall be a global conflagration.

This conflict has led the three major superpowers, the US, China, and Russia, to respectively voice out their grave concerns and called upon the two Muslim nations to resolve their conflict via the peace means of diplomacy. The US through President Barrack Obama and State Secretary John Kerry has urged the protagonists to negotiate a peaceful solution. Moscow also advised both parties to show restraint and to avoid any step that may unduly escalate the situation and raise tensions in the region. Beijing also declared that it is paying a very close attention and expressed hopes that the parties should remain calm and use dialogues to settle their differences.

Saudi however, asserting its leadership in the Islamic world, alleged that it has organized a coalition of 34 Muslim nations, reportedly composed of, among others, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Arabia has a lot of issues with Iran. It is not just Iran being Shiite-led while Saudi being Sunni-led. Both countries always collide in their respective ambition to be the leader in the Islamic world. They have conflicts on policies relative to the oil trade, and on their divergent views on relations with the US and the rest of the West. Whatever their disputes are, what matters most to us is the safety and well-being of our one million OFWs and our unimpaired supply of oil.



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