Oil and gas exports are the backbone of Arab Gulf economies, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the state budget in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest oil exporter. Plans to diversify rent driven economies is gaining momentum, yet, with the exception of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which emerged as a major logistic, financial and touristic hub, progress are slow and uneven.
Citizens of the Gulf nations are entitled to a significant share of oil and gas revenues, mainly redistributed through generous wages in the public sector - more than eight Kuwaitis out of ten are employed by the state - and subsidies. Youth fear the energy transition would imply a gradual demise of this unique welfare system and a shift towards less advantageous private-sector jobs.
For the absolute hereditary monarchies that rule over the Arabian Peninsula and buy political allegiance as well as social peace by redistributing fossil fuel revenues, the far-reaching implications of a decarbonizing world could signify a redefinition of state-society relations as demand for new forms of political participation and social rights are gaining momentum among citizens.
“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and
the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”
Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia's oil minister from 1962 to 1986
Sebastian Castelier is a journalist and visual storyteller who documents the structural changes forced upon the Arab Gulf economies and societies by the energy transition. Over the past six years, his reports have been published on four continents by more than 60 news outlets, in 15 languages...