In Saudi Arabia, which has a vast number of mineral deposits in the Arabian Shield, mining now forms a major part of the government’s strategy to diversify the economy away from oil. Its 2004 Mining Law, which permits companies to own mining tenements entirely, is seen as a template for the rest of the region.

It is the template that has been used by the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, to revise Yemen’s mining laws. Yemen’s minister of oil and resources, Ameer Salim Al Aydrus, has approved the signing of the agreement for opening the first mine of metallic minerals (zinc and lead) in the Nihm-Sana’a district, according to a ministry document. Yemen has many minerals that it wants to exploit, from metallic metals and gold to decorative stones.

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Libya’s National Mining Company chairman told mergermarket it would like to enter into joint-venture arrangements with foreign companies and, pending changes in the law, make it increasingly attractive for foreign companies to enter the country. While Law No 443 of 2006 required foreign companies to have a local partner that holds a minimum joint-venture share of 35%, the government has been mulling over new laws on ownership rights that will allow foreign companies to acquire majority shares in domestic businesses, according to a Libyan industry analyst. Changes in Law No 5 will allow investors to acquire a stake in Libyan entities of up to 65%, which can be increased to 85% if long-term benefits to the economy can be proven, according to a mergermarket report.

So after years of nationalisation and state control, foreign companies are looking at the new opportunities with considerable interest.

Lucia Dore is the Gulf correspondent at mergermarket, part of The Financial Times Group.

E-mail: lucia.dore@mergermarket.com