Nehad Ismail, who has spent a career connected to the oil business reviews ‘Out of the Desert: My Journey from Nomadic Bedouin to the Heart of Global Oil’ by Ali Al-Naimi.NI2

‘Ali Al-Naimi, former Saudi oil minister between August 1995 and May 2016, was once described by Alan Greenspan the ex US Fed chairman as ‘the most powerful man you’ve never heard of’.

Al-Naimi was born in a humble desert tent in 1935.  He was brought up as a nomadic Bedouin. He was 3 and Saudi Arabia was only 5 years old when vast quantities of oil were being discovered by American companies.

He began his journey in Aramco as an office boy in the late 1940s and progressed through scholarships and rapid promotions to reach the top position as Chief Executive of Saudi Aramco. He was the first Saudi national to be named President of the company in 1984 and became the first Saudi CEO in 1988.

Besieged by journalists before and after every OPEC meeting in Vienna and elsewhere his remarks moved markets and were dissected by oil experts.Al-Naimi was blamed for the slump in oil prices in the summer of 2014. He was also blamed when prices rocketed to 103 US dollars in 2009 and reached above 100 dollars during 2013 and the first six months of 2014.

He remembers once being urged by ex UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to pump more oil so that prices would fall. Naimi replied – ‘Ok are you willing to buy the additional quantities we produce? Brown said no. Naimi concluded that the leaders of the West don’t understand the workings of the oil markets and the mechanics of supply and demand and they need some lessons.

In the summer of 1995 he was looking forward to some fishing in Alaska arranged by the Bechtel Corp. the giant US construction company, when he got a call from King Fahd’s special advisor demanding he return to Saudi Arabia as he was being appointed Minister of petroleum and mineral resources.

The book offers an insight into 35 years of Saudi Arabian oil policy as Al-Naimi served first as chief executive officer of the country’s state-owned giant Saudi Aramco and then as petroleum minister. He goes into detail about Saudi participation in the huge military effort to liberate Kuwait which was occupied by Saddam Hussein in August 1990. He makes it clear that Saudi Arabia, like many other countries, supported the invasion of Afghanistan by the USA but opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Despite previously defending oil prices at around $100 a barrel as fair to consumers and producers, he now admits that was a big mistake. It encouraged shale oil producers to enter the arena in a big way.

At an OPEC meeting in May 1983, Riyadh accepted the role of “swing producer. This too he now believes was a mistake. He is very circumspect about the wrangling and struggles inside Saudi Arabia itself which led eventually this year to his replacement by Khalid al Falih which in turn has given him the time and space to write his memoirs

This is a remarkable story of an incredible journey which proves that anyone can make it – even a poor Bedouin shepherd boy.’


9 Comments on "The W&Y Book Review: ‘Out Of The Desert’."

  1. Dominic Shelmerdine | 15th November 2016 at 8:26 am | Reply

    An interesting article.

    I remember Ahmed Yamani’s less turbulent but longer tenure 1962-86 as Saudi oil minister.

    Perhaps the recently retired Al-Naimi can now fight to install some form of democracy to Saudi Arabia.

    I believe Saddam Hussein should have been allowed to annexe Kuwait in 1990. Kuwait’s corrupt Al Sabah family maintains an iron grip on the country.

    At least the iranians got rid of their cowardly Shah in 1979.

    Nehad will, I suspect, in the near-future, be impelled to write a review of, or even a book about, terrorists or the supposedly rouge regime of Iran acquiring a nuclear device which, in my opinion, will surely be used.

    This will be a fast moving and developing event of which will surely be difficult to control.

    On the so-called liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Saudi forces only partipated with the massive assistance of US troops.

    Saddam’s big mistake was not seizing Saudi Arabia itself at the same time at it did Kuwait.

    The Al Sabah family of Kuwait, Saudi’s House of Saud, and the other Gulf monarchies are as corrupt as each other. Democratic republics should replace them.

    Nehad’s pen will be hardly dry when the ink needs refilling as when he’s called upon to give another compelling review.

  2. Thanks Dominic for your observations. Although you are entitled to your opinion I must respectfully disagree with you about Saddam’s big mistake not occupying Saudi Arabia.

  3. Dominic Shelmerdine | 15th November 2016 at 10:10 am | Reply

    Dear Nehad,

    It was a massive mistake, purely from a military pint of view, as if Saddam had occupied Saudi Arabia in August 1990, the coalition forces wouldn’t have been able to use that nation as a base to build up sufficient strength for a strike in 1991.

    By that year, Iraqi forces would have been to entrenched to easily dislodge by an invasion force looking for a safe spot to invade and the necessary lines of supply being overstretched.

    The moment the West signalled its determination to retaliate, Saddam should have seized the initiative.

    By not doing so, his army was devastated, his nation faced crippling sanctions, and in 2003, Bush junior avenged his father’s defeat (defeat by not going into Baghdad in 1991) toppled Saddam, resulting in his demise at the scaffold in 2006.

    So, from both a personal and military point of view, failing to occupy Saudi Arabia was a disastrous mistake in as much as Hitler’s failure to eliminate the British at Dunkirk in 1940 helped in no small way to his own demise five years later.

    • Dominic, I too respectfully disagree. An invasion of Saudi by Saddam would have likely precipitated an Israeli intervention. Something Saddam previously experienced with the destruction of his nuclear reactor.

    • Not joining a coalition against you Dominic but it is very unlikely that an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia would have been successful. Not only did the Iraqis lack the logistical capability to carry it out, the Saudi Army was a better equipped, better trained force that could have held them at bay for a significant time. In addition there were two US carrier groups and 50 F15s deployed to the area within a week of the invasion of Kuwait which would swung the balance against them. I just think from the moment they invaded Kuwait they were doomed one way or the other.

      • I am inclined to agree with Rob. Not wishing to be bogged down with the Saddam’s mistakes as argued by Dominic, I would say this is detracting attention from the main theme of the book

  4. Dominic Shelmerdine | 15th November 2016 at 11:09 am | Reply

    Yes, that was in 1981 by Begin’s government against his nuclear reactor.

    However, any Israel response would have been countered by Saddam’s massive conventional armed superiority and he didn’t hesitate to use scud missiles in 1991 against Israel which was forced to show constraint against replying.

    I think if Israel had retaliated Saddam was more than able to deal with it.

    Wait until Iran acquires nuclear weapons then see how Israel will have to cope.

    Personally, I see a future conflict between Israel and Iran’s regime as inevitable with the use of nuclear weapons also inevitable.

    The West backed then betrayed Saddam, much to its future peril, as it did the criminal Shah of Iran, as it did the Philippines Marcos.

    The current status quo in the Middle East is only transient until the next conflagration occurs as it surely will, but will the West be able to control that outcome?

  5. Dominic thanks again for commenting, but I still hold the view that I disagree on this. Had Saddam invaded Saudi Arabia, he wouldn’t have survived until 2003. He would have been toppled much sooner.

  6. Dominic Shelmerdine | 15th November 2016 at 11:52 am | Reply

    Maybe he would have beem toppled much earlier say around 1991, but he would have gone down greater than Nasser of Egypt instead of ignominy at the end of a rope.

    I disagree about The Saudi’s being better armed at that time, they weren’t, had no battle experience unlike Iraq, and no stomach for war.

    Wait until Iran acquires and threatens to use nuclear weapons then all this will be academic.

    Personally, I believe the House of Saud to be rotten to the core as are all the Gulf absolute monarchies which should be swept away and replaced with as democratic republics as soon as possible.

    Saddam should have either taken out the Saudi’s and confronted the Americans on his terms or not ventured at all.

    He was misled by an American ambassadress whom he believed said America would turn a blind eye to the invasion of Kuwait.

    It is the British and Americans who have dabbled in the Middle East’s affairs for too long and whose governments complain of the massive instability in the region they created.

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