Abdulateef Al-Mulhim | Arab News
After the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation, about 750 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire. These fires were set by the Iraqi forces before leaving Kuwait. At that time, every non-American analyst, firefighter, and environmental expert said that extinguishing the fires would require tens of billions of dollars and take more than four years. The Kuwaiti government gave a blank check to the companies that could extinguish the fires, but gave no deadline when to finish the job. Many of the world’s known firefighting companies wanted to participate. But at the end of the day, the highly experienced American companies got the deal, Red Adair, Boots and Coots, Wild Well Control and Safety Boss to name a few. The American firefighters extinguished the fires in about six months and at a cost of only $1.5 billion. After the fires were extinguished, I heard an American firefighter say, “Why the rush? Didn’t we simply fire ourselves from a job?” This was in November 1991.
In Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, we all see American companies do and finish jobs ahead of schedule and with better results. It is a known fact that many Saudis have respect for American goods and products, so, where are the American companies when it comes to the current Saudi mega projects?
Saudi mega projects have been changing the face of Saudi Arabia since the day oil well Number 7 started extracting oil in 1938 near Dhahran. We saw the Ras Tanurah oil refinery, the Trans Arabian Pipeline, hundreds of kilometers of rail road tracks, highways connecting major cities, huge sea ports, and many other projects. In the process, new towns were built, such as Dhahran, Abqaiq, Ras Tanurah, Udhaylyah, Othmanyah, Shedgum and many others. The common thing about these mega projects is that they were all planned and built by American companies, namely the Aramco subsidiary, California-Arabian Standard Oil Company, or CASOC.
Saudis watched these projects being finished ahead of time and with quality. Today, all of these American-run projects, along with hundreds of others, are still operating decades after the day they were built. When Saudis saw the American engineers who supervised these projects wear cowboy hats or safety helmets, they started calling them cowboys and Abu Kaboos, or “wearer of a hat.” At that time, the Americans were with Aramco-CASOC or other associated companies before the name Aramco came to be. And with these projects, Saudis grew to love the words, “Made in America.”
The Saudis loved the American-built mega projects for many reasons. American engineers finished the work before schedule with top of the line quality, and the American companies were able to help Saudi society in many ways. Not only did they build the necessary infrastructure for the oil production and exportation, but they also built many useful societal structures for the local Saudis like roads, hospitals, schools, and sports facilities, enabling Saudi employees to own homes. This was something unique at the time and not seen anywhere else in the world. Only in Saudi Arabia could a company employ you, provide the best health care, and help you own a home. And I am not talking about a two-bedroom home—I am talking about an eight-bedroom home or larger. The most important positive impact on Saudi society, however, was the training of the Saudis. After many years, other companies from different countries came to Saudi Arabia, and the local Saudi citizens gained very little from them. For example, Japanese companies ran mega oil projects in northeast Saudi Arabia, but the type of development in that area didn’t benefit any of the local Saudis. These days, Chinese companies receive billion dollar contracts, but are slow to finish jobs and do not contribute to the Saudi job market in any way.
I am not trying to downplay what other companies from different places did for infrastructural development in Saudi Arabia, but, I have noticed that mega projects are finished faster when done by American companies. Also, from a legal and cultural perspective, the U.S. is the only country where the brother-in-law of the CEO would volunteer to be your lawyer against his national company and relative if the contract is not fulfilled. In some other cultures, that is not heard of.
Until the 1990s, mega projects had been carried out by American companies. The American projects and infrastructure were easily maintained, and the manuals were simple. So, the question is — why are the American companies not involved in the Saudi mega projects?
At present there are many mega projects in Saudi Arabia worth billions of dollars. But many of these contracts are won by non-American companies. Between solar, electric, desalination, major highways, railroad tracks, port expansions, and new refineries, most are being built by non-American companies. As a Saudi, when I hear about a mega project costing billions of dollars, the most important things for me are seeing the project being finished on time, finished in top quality, and knowing the company is giving the Saudis priority in being a part of the work force.
In 1938, Aramco hired and trained many Saudis in complicated oil industry technologies. While many foreign companies earn billions of dollars through Saudi mega projects, the Saudi youth are not given the training opportunities for many of the jobs. In a future article, I will speak from the Saudi perspective on why Americans do not win the billion dollar projects in Saudi Arabia, and also discuss who really is more loyal to “Made in America” products—the Saudis or the Americans?
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to the SUSRISblog. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
Also by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim:
- Questioning the Roots of the Arab Spring – SUSRIS – July 17, 2012
- Fighter Jets and Sword Dances – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRIS – June 29, 2012
- Russia, Bridesmaid, but Never the Bride – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRIS – June 22, 2012
- Crown Prince Nayef and World Security – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRIS – Jun 19, 2012
- Gulf States and An Era of Cooperation – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRIS – June 2, 2012
- Saudi Pioneers and Mega Achievements – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRIS – May 12, 2012
- Is Visiting Jerusalem Recognition of Israel? – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – May 1, 2012
- Muslims’ Hijrah to Europe – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Apr 23, 2012
- The Legacy of Saudi Aviation: Dhahran Airport, Pan Am and TWA – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Apr 20, 2012
- The Eastern Province, Land of Opportunities – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Apr 17, 2012
- Syrian Spring, Israel’s Easy War – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Apr 4, 2012
- King Abdullah and the Young Ambassadors – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Mar 20, 2012
- Saudi Cancer Foundation and the Giant Steps – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Mar 14, 2012
- Syria – Where are the Americans? – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Mar 6, 2012
- Arab Spring and the Hidden Apartheid – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Feb 21, 2012
- KFUPM, from Jabal Al Dhahran to Pasadena’s JPL – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Feb 17, 2012
- The Expatriate Who Forgot His Home Address – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Jan 24, 2012
- Atlanta and the US-Saudi Business Forum – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Dec 6, 2011
- America Fired Itself From a Job – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Nov 17, 2011
- September 11 and the Longest Ten Years – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Sep 10, 2011
- Airline Diplomacy – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Jul 17, 2011
- President Ahmadinejad: Iran Doesn’t Need Enemies – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Jun 8, 2011
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- Improving Saudi Tourism Prospects – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – April 14, 2011
- What if Arabs had recognized Israel in 1948? – Adulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – April 5, 2011
- Reflections on the Foundations of US-Saudi Relations – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Jan 22, 2011
- Is there a larger role for Saudi Aramco? – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim – SUSRISblog – Jan 12, 2011