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.
‘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.’