Saudi Arabia’s sell-off of Aramco: Risk or opportunity?

By Jean-François Seznec, November 1, 2016

For several decades, the source of Saudi Arabia’s wealth has been the country’s oil. Or, to be more precise, the control and operation of Saudi Aramco – the company dedicated to the exploration, extraction, and export of the country’s oil – state-owned since the mid-1980s. Now, Saudi Arabia wants to sell 5% of the shares in the firm to the public and transfer ownership to the country’s sovereign wealth fund, making it the world’s largest such fund. They say that this will be a major step in attempting to wean the Saudi economy from its reliance on oil and make it more diverse. But can this attempt to deal with the economic and environmental disadvantages of oil and gas succeed? Can the desert kingdom be transformed into a cutting-edge, industrial country – a vision described as “an Arab Germany”? This article examines some of the difficulties in making Saudi Aramco’s ownership transform from opaque to transparent. It evaluates the potential upheavals this process could trigger in Saudi society and lists a few of the international security ramifications if the transition succeeds – and if it fails.

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