The last decade has seen a resurgence of state-owned oil companies. From Russia to Venezuela, and everywhere in between, governments have pushed aside the privately-owned international oil companies such as Shell or Exxon Mobil in favor of firms owned by the governments. Also squeezed out have been the privately-owned firms based in producing countries such as Lukoil and Yukos in Russia. In country after country, populist politicians have claimed that the "national oil companies," as they are known, will look out for the nation's interests better than do the international majors. The Middle East has for decades been the part of the world most suspicious of the international oil companies and most protective of national oil companies. The tentative openings for the international majors discussed in the early 1990s are now almost all forgotten.
Marcel and her collaborator Mitchell, both of London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, have written by far the most detailed account available about Middle Eastern national oil companies, specifically those in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Iran, and Algeria. Marcel had remarkable access to senior officials at the companies and the associated government oil ministries. She brings out the differences among the firms, but the main story is the same across the region: The companies are focused on the technical side of the industry rather than on politics; the firms take considerable pride in their business and technological expertise, and neither the national oil companies nor the local governments see the international oil companies as being particularly useful for achieving local objectives. Marcel, who is quite sympathetic to the national oil companies, does not provide much information by which to judge their performance relative to that of international oil companies. It is by no means clear that the national oil companies actually deliver on their claims that they provide better benefits for society, such as skilled jobs for locals, while also maximizing revenue for the local government.