By Dave Harbour

A year ago our family visited countries now ablaze in rebellion. We toured museums, pyramids, mosques and ancient byzantine cathedrals. We easily distinguished the sheiks arrayed in king-like robes with golden and black headwear – from proud but poorer Bedouin with dusty, camel hide sandals and plainer, cotton robes.

We walked the markets of Cairo, Aswan and Luxor suspecting 50 percent unemployment: markets colored with exotic fabrics … multi-colored cones of spices piled high for sale by the kilo … all amid the din of haranguing vendors, squawky cane flutes, camel odors and a dozen dessert dialects.

I’ll never forget the thousands of young men between the ages of 16 and 40 who poised behind street bazaar counters selling oranges or sitting on curbs, staring at tourists like me: analyzing our shirt fabric, our faces and the cost of our shoes.

I remember visions from the deck of our Nile tour boat: sunsets over ancient castles, sand dunes, belching smokestacks, seagulls and a million of the Nile’s famous felucca sailboats.

I remember that everywhere we went a friendly and cocky, 30-year-old “tourist guard” accompanied us with a machine gun poking out of his back pocket, causing his blue suit coat to bulge proudly in the rear.

We’ll never forget our evening with Dr. Zahi Hawass and how proud he was of his Cairo Museum, now violated by rioting and thefts of priceless artifacts.

It seemed the humanity of Egypt and Jordan boiled quietly but powerfully, awaiting relief like contained contents of a very hot pressure cooker.

While life is dramatically changing for the great Middle Eastern humanity, so will our lives change. The question is: will America use this sobering, historical upheaval to improve our lives or not?

One way America could benefit from events 6,000 miles away is becoming more aware of our dependence on Middle East oil. While we rely more on Canada than the Middle East for our own energy use, as of last year we were still sending to the countries around the Sahara and Persian Gulf $300 billion to $500 billion a year, depending on how you calculate the price of oil. In total, I’d guess that with today’s higher oil prices we’ll probably ship well over $750 billion from America to all foreign producers this year in return for their oil. And with the money, we’ll ship jobs, our national wealth and economic stimulus.

Any school child could cite a better energy policy: develop our own resources. Why not develop our billions of barrels of oil from areas the Obama Administration keeps off limits: offshore East Coast, Florida, California, the Rocky Mountains and, yes, Alaska?

Another way America could benefit from events “over there” is to quit throwing away our kids’ money on subsidies for wasteful energy projects. I say our kids’ money because subsidies for political cronies’ alternative energy projects get America deeper into debt that others must later pay. Hey, I’m for alternative energy — the more the better — as long as it pencils and you don’t make me give you a grant to subsidize your dream.

Here’s an example: renewable energy currently provides less than 2 percent of our energy needs. Yet the current administration supports providing thousands of acres for solar farms to produce intermittent electricity at nearly 10 times the cost of a coal-fired plant.

Meanwhile, it delays issuance of permits to Shell Oil to explore some of the Alaska outer continental shelf leases it purchased in good faith from the federal government three years ago at a cost of more than $2 billion. Now, the company has spent nearly $4 billion — fighting lawsuits and trying to please hostile bureaucrats in Washington. The delaying tactics of those regulators is shameful and has resulted in no 2011 work and 800 lost Alaskan jobs.

This month, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) scheduled hearings in Anchorage, in coastal villages and in the Lower 48 to determine the interest of Alaskans and others in its 2012-2017 Lease Sale Planning. We can only hope that this agency gets the message that it works for all Americans – not for foreign oil suppliers and eco-extremists.

We can only hope that sorrowful events a half-world away impress upon decision makers the importance of conducting robust domestic lease sales – then issuing timely permits to leaseholders. Following this path, Alaska could stimulate America’s economic recovery and secure the next generation’s future.

Dave Harbour is former chairman of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Council on Economic Education. He is publisher of:

The Alaska Journal of Commerce