Voices from the Arab Press: Saudi Arabia Aramco idea and deal

Saudi Arabia today is far more innovative, open-minded, and tolerant than ever before.

AN EMPLOYEE in a branded helmet is pictured at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on October 12. (photo credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS)
AN EMPLOYEE in a branded helmet is pictured at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on October 12.
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, November 29
 At the beginning of 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman dropped a bomb: he outlined his plan to put a percentage of the shares of Aramco Oil – Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company and the biggest oil producer in the world – on the market as a part of a new plan known as “Vision 2030.” Few voices in the Western world took this pledge seriously. Most economists and political pundits viewed it as a marketing ploy for the new political star. Today, nearly four years later, Aramco’s IPO is expected to be the biggest in history; nearly three times bigger than the previous record set by China’s Alibaba.
Even in our region, the idea was not well received at first. In Middle Eastern thinking, it is almost inconceivable to sell stakes in a state-owned oil company. Some viewed it as selling one’s own children. This is because the region has a long history of nationalizations that sought to bring back Arab nations ownership over their rightful resources. Indeed, the Saudi government did not fully acquire Aramco until 1981, after several US companies were obliged to sell their shares. Here, in the Middle East, people believe that the state owns the sea, the sky, the soil – and, obviously, the oil. Some expressed fear that the Aramco deal would open a window through which foreign colonialism would creep into our region.
In the West, lack of enthusiasm stemmed from fears of investing in a state enterprise that is economically inefficient. However, in the two years that followed the announcement, the Saudi government ensured that Aramco is fully prepared for its IPO in terms of both transparency and efficiency, which improved the company’s performance and reputation. It opened Aramco, once the world’s most secretive company, to external auditors. The results confirmed that Aramco is a company managed with administrative efficiency and effectiveness similar to other international companies. It proved that its production cost per barrel is only about $2.8; the cheapest cost in the market. What about geopolitical risks? Last September, Iran attacked Aramco’s facilities. The attacks were even worse than the Kuwait oil blaze sparked by Iraqi forces in 1991. However, within a single week, Aramco regained its market share, and in six weeks, it managed to repair damaged facilities and proved it was capable of addressing the most serious of challenges. Now, with all doubts removed from the table, Aramco is ready for its IPO.
Saudi Arabia does not have to sell a single share of Aramco, but the idea itself reflects a different approach to state management. This is something that can be easily observed by anyone who visits Saudi Arabia today: it is far more innovative, open-minded, and tolerant than ever before. Since the idea of the Aramco IPO was first presented, Saudi Arabia has come a long way. The kingdom jumped 30 ranks in the world in government administrative reform, according to a World Bank report. It introduced many reforms in the role of government, the private sector, and women’s rights. It opened the country up to tourists and foreign investors.
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed
Al-Ittihad, UAE, November 30
Last week, the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee concluded a round of public hearings on US President Donald Trump’s conduct regarding his relations with Ukraine. The Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, claim that Trump compelled Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelinski to launch an investigation into the affairs of former vice president Joe Biden, who is running against Trump in next year’s presidential election. In exchange for such an investigation, Trump offered to meet Zelinsky in the Oval Office and ensured him of the continued supply of US military equipment to Ukrainian troops fighting pro-Russian forces in the east of the country.
The nine witnesses who testified about the Ukrainian deal at those hearings were all US officials who have recently served or are currently serving under the Trump administration. They testified despite pressure from the White House not to do so. By the second day of the hearings, it became clear that the basic facts of the matter were indisputable – namely that President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tried to link Zelinsky’s visit to the White House and the provision of US weapons to the Ukrainian army with the launching of an official state investigation by Ukrainian authorities into Biden and his son.
For Democrats, this was a clear case in which Donald Trump used his influence on a US ally to dig up dirt on a political rival. Trump’s behavior had nothing to do with the goals of US policy toward Ukraine.
Conversely, Republican committee members argued that Trump had strong and valid reasons to investigate past Ukrainian activities toward the United States, including its supposed interference in the 2016 US presidential election in favor of then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
The next step in the impeachment process will therefore be a report by the Democrats over the next few weeks for submission to the House Judiciary Committee, which has a responsibility to prepare a list of indictable charges if evidence is sufficient and strong. Then, if the House of Representatives votes in favor of the indictment, the case will go to the US Senate, which would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to remove the president. But it seems highly unlikely that Democrats will get Republican support in their fight against Trump, both in the House and the Senate. In this case, we will have to wait until the November 2020 elections to see how the public views Trump’s Ukraine affair. – Jeffrey Camp
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 30
The Internet is now the space through which rebels and protesters manage most of their coordination efforts, and its shutting down means that the demonstrators are deprived of their most important tactics in the face of adversity from the authorities. The Iranian revolution and protests over high fuel prices were massive uprisings, which spread to almost all Iranian territory. The regime was only able to crush these demonstrations when it began shutting down the World Wide Web.
However, there are some indications that protests are continuing to take place in some cities adjacent to the border at the time of this writing, as confirmed by the spokespersons of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran. The difficult problem for the mullah regime is that it is now in conflict with technology. Their success in shutting down connectivity in the Iranian space does not mean that they will be able to block this medium forever. More Iranians are choosing to connect to the Internet through satellite, which eliminates the ability of the state to monitor its citizens’ activity.
Needless to say, the mullah regime in Iran is a highly repressive regime that couldn’t care less for the welfare of its people. The Iranian opposition is now in the process of searching for a leader that would guide the masses from within, with the hope of recreating the 1979 protests against the Shah. Therefore, I am sure that the increasing prevalence of satellite connection will be the first step toward the fall of the regime, unless it adapts to these technological changes and finds a way to tamper with it as well.
The last hope the mullahs have is that US President Donald Trump will be defeated in the presidential election, and that a Democratic president would save them from their economic crisis. However, if Trump wins in the upcoming election, the mullah regime is a done deal. – Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Al-Mada, Iraq, November 29
Anyone who thinks that the war in Iraq has ended is hallucinating. This is confirmed in a new exhibition titled “Theater of Operations,” which opened this month at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The exhibition, which will last until March 2020, includes 300 works by 80 artists, mostly Iraqis, some who live at home and others in the diaspora, as well as works of Arab and Western artists who opposed the invasion of Iraq. The show explores the complex reality of war, as well as the notion of patriotism. Most notably, it brings together some of the youngest Iraqi artists, such as Ali Ayal (born in 1994), and the oldest ones, such as Zia Al-Azzawi (born in 1939).
The works displayed at the Museum of Modern Art paint the difference between different Iraqi generations and their experience of violence and conflict. Ali Eyal’s centerpiece is a mural formed from real pillow cases that express the dreams and nightmares of the Iraqi people. Another interesting display is that by the artist Hana Malallah, who created a mural of 400 photographs of the victims of the 1991 Amiriyah shelter bombing; a massacre of innocent civilians who were killed by US Air Force guided munitions.
The uprising of Iraqi expatriate artists and their brethren at home reveals that the war in Iraq is far from over. The exhibition is a huge international festival that features daily film screenings by Iraqi directors, including people like Sinan Anton, Uday Rashid, and Qutaiba al-Janabi. The timing of this exhibition coincides with the 29th anniversary of the Gulf War, providing a stark reminder of how the gruesome war continues to affect the people of Iraq almost three decades later.
Muhammad Aref
Media Line.