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Ed Webb

UAE Says It Can't Control Yemeni Forces - Even as It Hands Them Bags of Cash - 0 views

  • The Yemeni National Resistance fighters aiming to take Hodeidah cannot possibly do it alone. Time spent with the fighters on the front lines makes it clear that they depend on air power from the Saudi-formed coalition, as well as UAE ground support. A former senior White House official told The Intercept that multiple U.S. officials have indicated that the UAE said it would not attack Hodeidah without U.S. backing.

    “Those forces cannot succeed against the Houthis without the UAE, and the UAE cannot succeed against the Houthis without the American green light and support,” said Joost Hiltermann, International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa program director.

  • the potentially disastrous consequences of such an attack. The port of Hodeidah has been crucial to getting humanitarian supplies and commercial food imports into the country despite severe restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia that have included a ban on containerized cargo entering Hodeidah’s ports. The United Nations’ humanitarian office estimates that 340,000 people are likely to be displaced if fighting reaches Hodeidah city, adding to the 3 million already internally displaced since the Saudi coalition intervention in Yemen began in March 2015
  • The disruption of Hodeidah port could effectively kill any hope of averting a greater humanitarian catastrophe
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  • The military document viewed by The Intercept also highlights recent setbacks for the UAE-backed Yemeni fighters when they attempted to push east toward the city of the Taiz, which remains partially controlled by the Houthis. “The [UAE Presidential Guard] indicated operations east of Mukha did not go as planned and suffered numerous casualties,” the document notes. It also mentions a 2017 attack against the Houthis in the same area of the Red Sea coast by the UAE’s elite forces. The Emiratis came under fire and suffered “weapon employment issues and malfunctions”; they later described the battle as “hellish,” according to the document.
  • Emirati officials have claimed that they have no control over the actions of its surrogate forces, raising concern that Yemeni anti-Houthi resistance fighters may advance on the city without authorization
  • More than a half-dozen field and brigade commanders acknowledged taking their orders from the UAE, including from Emirati senior officers stationed on the Red Sea coast. The strength of the Emirati chain of command is important because the notion that the U.S. and UAE don’t really control the fighters gives those countries “plausible deniability” in case of an attack
  • More than 22 million Yemenis, three-quarters of the population, are already in need of humanitarian assistance, compounded by restrictions on imports imposed by the Saudi-UAE-led coalition and a complete blockade on humanitarian aid last November in response to the Houthis firing ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials claim Iranian missiles are being smuggled into Yemen via Hodeidah despite a U.N. monitoring system for vessels entering the port.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment - 0 views

  • Inward investment into Saudi Arabia collapsed last year
  • According to the latest UNCTAD World Investment Report, published on June 7, foreign direct investment (FDI) into Saudi Arabia last year amounted to just $1.4 billion, down from $7.5bn the year before and as much as $12.2bn in 2012
  • the likes of Oman and Jordan overtaking it in 2017, with inward FDI of $1.9bn and $1.7bn respectively
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  • While the Saudi economy has been losing out, others have been gaining a bigger piece of the pie. The UAE has seen its share of regional FDI more than double over the past six years, from 19% in 2012 to 41% in 2017
  • even Qatar – which has been the subject of an economic boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June last year – managed to increase its FDI take in 2017, attracting $986m compared to $774m a year earlier
  • significant divestments and negative intra-company loans by foreign multinationals
  • FDI to Saudi Arabia has been contracting since the global financial crisis in 2008/09. And although there has been a similar pattern across the region – inflows to West Asia have fallen in most years since hitting a peak of $85bn in 2008 – the performance of Saudi Arabia last year is still appreciably worse than any other economy in the immediate neighbourhood. It is also far worse than the global picture – worldwide FDI inflows were down 23% last year to $1.43 trillion
  • the authoritarian tendencies of the Saudi regime have at times undermined the confidence of potential and actual investors alike
Ed Webb

GCC crisis, one year on: What's the impact on Gulf economies? | GCC | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • A year ago, the four Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a full land, sea and air blockade on Qatar

    Since then, the richest country in the world per person, was forced to tap into its sovereign wealth fund and do everything it could to shore up its economy, banking system and currency.

  • Ayham Kamel, head of MENA at global risk consultancy Eurasia Group, talks to Counting the Cost.
  • I think one year after the beginning of the Qatar crisis with the other GCC members, the economy is not crashing and Qatar seems to have adjusted to what is a very challenging situation.
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  • on the diplomatic front, we've seen an effort to engage with alternative powers - not only the US, but broadly to establish new trade links, try to cement those.

    So you have Qatar not really in an isolated position internationally, and that's a function of both, the importance of the gas reserves and gas exports, but also the financial cushion that Qatar has through its sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority

  • when it comes to the UAE and Dubai specifically, some of the repercussions have been more serious or more tangible. Be it financial transactions being shifted from Dubai to London or New York where Qatar has been involved, so there's a loss of business volumes there. And certainly when it comes to Jebel Ali and the exports through Jebel Ali, that have now been rerouted to Oman. So, we've seen a bit more of an impact there
Ed Webb

How Two Persian Gulf Nations Turned The US Media Into Their Battleground - 0 views

  • Two rival Persian Gulf nations have for the past year been conducting a tit-for-tat battle of leaked emails in US news outlets that appears, at least in part, to have been an effort to influence Trump administration policy toward Iran.
  • On one side is the United Arab Emirates, a wealthy confederation of seven small states allied with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s bitter foe. On the other is Qatar, another oil-rich Arab monarchy, but one that maintains friendly relations with Iran, with which it shares a giant natural gas field.
  • unfolding battle alarms transparency advocates who fear it will usher in an era in which computer hacking and the dissemination of hacked emails will become the norm in international foreign policy disputes
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  • “You could spend years campaigning traditionally against someone or you could hack an email account and leak salacious details to the media. If you have no scruples, and access to hackers, the choice is obvious.”

  • This is the new warfare. This is something the governments use for commercial reasons, use for political reasons, and use to destroy their opponents
  • Tensions have been building for years between the UAE and Qatar. The two have feuded over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that many Persian Gulf monarchies see as a threat to their hereditary kingdoms. They’ve also been at odds over Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran and its backing of the Al Jazeera television channel, whose newscasts are often critical of Arab autocrats.

    The feud broke into the open on May 24 last year when someone hacked into the website and Twitter account of Qatar’s government news agency, QNA, and posted news stories and tweets that quoted the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, making bizarrely pro-Iran statements.

    Qatar disavowed the remarks within an hour, and its foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, quickly texted the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, that the statements weren’t true. Qatar took its official news website down, and still hasn’t brought it back online.

    But the damage had been done

  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the Trump administration, used the hacked news stories as a pretext for severing relations with Qatar, imposing a blockade, and making 13 demands, including that Qatar cut all ties with Iran and shut down Al Jazeera and all other state-funded news sites.
  • “They weaponized fake news to justify the illegal blockade of Qatar,” said Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Washington-based media attaché. “In the year since then, we have seen their repeated use of cyberespionage, fake news, and propaganda to justify unlawful actions and obfuscate underhanded dealings.”
  • he FBI concluded that freelance Russian hackers had carried out the operation on the UAE’s behalf
  • In June of last year, someone began leaking the contents of a Hotmail account belonging to Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s flashy ambassador to the United States. The leaks were distributed to a group of online news sites, including the Huffington Post, the Intercept, and the Daily Beast.

    “The leakers claimed the documents had been provided to them by a paid whistleblower embedded in a Washington, DC, lobbyist group, though it’s clear from even a cursory examination that they were printed out from Al Otaiba’s Hotmail account,”

  • “It’s not clear whether Otaiba’s inbox was hacked or passed along by someone with access to the account,”
  • The most damaging email leaks came in March when someone went after Elliott Broidy, a 60-year-old American hired to lobby for the UAE, and whose company, Circinus, has received more than $200 billion in defense contracts from the country. In recent years, he’s been one of the loudest American voices against Qatar, employing tactics ranging from anti-Qatar op-eds to personally lobbying Donald Trump to support the blockade against it.

    Broidy was in a prime position to lobby the president. He was the Republican Party’s vice chair of fundraising until April 13, when he resigned after the Wall Street Journal revealed that he’d used Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay a 34-year-old former Playboy model $1.6 million in hush money after he’d gotten her pregnant. The Journal said leaked emails played no role in that coverage.

  • “There was thought and calculation behind how this material was being distributed,” Wieder, who wrote about the emails in a follow-up story, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not the old-school, WikiLeaks, ‘everything’s up on a site; make what you will of it.’”
Ed Webb

Under Sisi, firms owned by Egypt's military have flourished - 0 views

  • Maadi is one of dozens of military-owned companies that have flourished since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces chief, became president in 2014, a year after leading the military in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
  • In interviews conducted over the course of a year, the chairmen of nine military-owned firms described how their businesses are expanding and discussed their plans for future growth. Figures from the Ministry of Military Production - one of three main bodies that oversee military firms - show that revenues at its firms are rising sharply. The ministry’s figures and the chairmen’s accounts give rare insight into the way the military is growing in economic influence.
  • Some Egyptian businessmen and foreign investors say they are unsettled by the military’s push into civilian activities and complain about tax and other advantages granted to military-owned firms
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  • In 2016, the military and other security institutions were given exemptions in a new value-added tax (VAT) law enacted as part of IMF-inspired reforms. The law states that the military does not have to pay VAT on goods, equipment, machinery, services and raw materials needed for the purposes of armament, defense and national security.

    The Ministry of Defense has the right to decide which goods and services qualify. Civilian businessmen complain that this can leave the system open to abuse. Receipts for a cup of coffee at private sector hotels, for example, add 14 percent VAT. Receipts at military hotels do not. Employees at the military-owned Al-Masah Hotel in Cairo told Reuters that no VAT was charged when renting venues for weddings and conferences.

  • The Ministry of Military Production is projecting that operating revenues from its 20 firms will reach 15 billion Egyptian pounds in 2018/2019, five times higher than in 2013/2014, according to a ministry chart. The ministry does not disclose what happens to the revenues. The chairmen of two of the firms said profits go to the ministry or are reinvested in the business.
  • “I don’t want to be a local shop. I want to be a company that has the capacity to export and compete internationally.”
  • Egypt’s military, the biggest in the Arab world, has advantages.

    It enjoys financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, staunch supporters of Sisi since he toppled the group they see as a threat to the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood. Western powers see Cairo as a bulwark against Islamist militancy. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the United States alone.

  • Among projects the Ministry of Military Production announced in 2017 was a plan to plant 20 million palm trees with an Emirati company and build a factory to make sugar from their dates. It agreed with a Saudi company to jointly manufacture elevators. The military inaugurated the Middle East’s biggest fish farm on the Nile Delta east of Alexandria.
  • The Ministry of Military Production signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s GCL Group last week to build a solar panel factory worth up to $2 billion. The military has taken over much of the construction of intercity roads from the Ministry of Transport and now controls the toll stations along most major highways.
  • Economists and investors say reforms tied to a $12 billion three-year IMF program signed in Nov. 2016 should lay the ground for economic expansion. But foreign investors are still shying away from Egypt, apart from those focusing on the more resilient energy sector. Non-oil foreign direct investment fell to about $3 billion in 2017 from $4.7 billion in 2016, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank statistics.  
  • foreign investors were reluctant to invest in sectors where the military is expanding or in one they might enter, worried that competing against the military with its special privileges could expose their investment to risk. If an investor had a business dispute with the military, the commercial officer said, there was no point in taking it to arbitration. “You just leave the country,” he said.

  • The chairmen of two military engineering companies, Abu Zaabal Engineering Industries Co and Helwan Engineering Industries Co, said in recent years it had become much easier to access financing through the Ministry of Military Production.
  • In 2015, the defense minister issued a decree exempting nearly 600 hotels, resorts and other properties owned by the military from real estate taxes
  • Military companies receive an exemption from import tariffs under a 1986 law and from income taxes under a 2005 law. Cargoes sent to military companies do not have to be inspected.
  • At bustling Cairo squares, people line up to buy subsidized meat and other food handed out from trucks sponsored by the military. Sisi said he had instructed the military to enter the market “to supply more chicken to push down prices.”

    Some disagree with such measures on the grounds the military’s mission is to protect the country from external threats.

    “We have reached a point where they are competing even with street vendors,”

Ed Webb

Opinion | Why Are American Troops in the Yemen War? - The New York Times - 2 views

  • In the latest expansion of America’s secret wars, about a dozen Army commandos have been on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen since late last year, according to an exclusive report by The Times. The commandos are helping to locate and destroy missiles and launch sites used by indigenous Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi cities.

    This involvement puts the lie to Pentagon statements that American military aid to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and intelligence, and is not related to combat.

    When senators at a hearing in March demanded to know whether American troops were at risk of entering hostilities with the Houthis, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, assured them, “We’re not parties to this conflict.”

  • In at least 14 countries, American troops are fighting extremist groups that are professed enemies of the United States or are connected, sometimes quite tenuously, to such militants. The Houthis pose no such threat to the United States. But they are backed by Iran, so the commandos’ deployment increases the risk that the United States could come into direct conflict with that country, a target of increasing ire from the administration, the Saudis and Israelis.
  • checks and balances have eroded since Sept. 11, 2001, as ordinary Americans became indifferent to the country’s endless wars against terrorists and Congress largely abdicated its constitutional role to share responsibility with the president for sending troops into battle
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  • Congress never specifically approved military involvement in the Saudi-Houthi civil war
  • While the war is effectively stalemated, Saudi Arabia’s rising new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seems committed to a military victory despite the horrors caused by the fighting. He has been emboldened by Mr. Trump, who has been willing to sell the kingdom almost any new military hardware it wants
  • Saudi Arabia is less secure now than when it began its air campaign three years ago
  • the United Nations is planning to put forward a new proposal to restart peace negotiations. Congress could improve the chance of success by cutting off military aid to Saudi Arabia and voting to bar the use of American troops against the Houthis in Yemen
Ed Webb

Saudi Crown Prince: Palestinians should take what the U.S. offers - Axios - 0 views

  •  
    Ugh
Ed Webb

Senators Demand Answers From Trump Team on Yemen - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Grilling top officials from the State Department, Defense Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed frustration that the administration could not articulate a clear strategy, use its influence with Riyadh to safeguard civilians, or promote a diplomatic settlement.

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the committee, said the Trump administration’s approach to Yemen was marked by an “alarming absence of strategy.”

  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) questioned whether the Pentagon could confidently say its efforts have reduced civilian casualties, given that it is not able to provide numbers to back up that claim.

    “The proof is in the results, and we don’t know whether the results are there or not,” he said. “This is the U.S. reputation on the line, and we expect you to know if you report something. If you can’t report it, fine. But don’t make statements that you can’t back up.”

  • the Saudi-led coalition has carried out 16,847 air raids, or an average of 15 airstrikes a day
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  • Saudi-led airstrikes were responsible for 61 percent of the civilian death toll
  • Administration officials at the hearing painted the conflict as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional archrival, Iran
  • Aid groups that do work in Yemen say more than 8 million people on the brink of famine, more than a million people have contracted cholera, and more than 1,300 cases of diphtheria have been reported.
  • “Absent a compelling articulation of how continued U.S. military support to the coalition is leveraging movement towards a political track to negotiate an end to the war, it is reasonable to expect that the next vote on U.S. military support may have a different outcome,”
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off... - 0 views

  • There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base.

    If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
  • The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region
  • the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
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  • The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.
  • The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.
  • Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
  • A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation.

    Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.
  • Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge
  • “I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.
  • if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy
Ed Webb

UAE and the Horn of Africa: A Tale of Two Ports - 0 views

  • On February 22, Djibouti seized control of the Doraleh Container Terminal from its joint owner and operator, the Dubai-based DP World. The seizure was not wholly unexpected and was the culmination of Djibouti's deteriorating bilateral ties with the United Arab Emirates and a lost legal battle with DP World to renegotiate the terms of the port concession that gave it a 33 percent equity stake in 2006. The London Court of International Arbitration Tribunal ruled against Djibouti's claims, lodged in 2014, that DP World paid bribes in order to secure the 30-year concession
  • Doraleh opened in 2009 and is the only container terminal in the Horn of Africa able to handle 15,000-ton container ships. It quickly became the most important entrepot for the region's largest country and economy, Ethiopia, which was rendered landlocked by Eritrea's independence in 1993. Ethiopia receives around 97 percent of its imports through Doraleh — around 70 percent of the port's activity — in what has become an unacceptable strategic reliance on a neighbor
  • the increasingly complex dynamics animating the geopolitics, and the more localized politics, being shaped by the competition among aspiring regional powers of the Middle East — particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey — and China for influence in the Horn of Africa
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  • A year after DP World finalized an agreement with the semiautonomous region of Somaliland to develop a $442 million commercial port in Berbera, Ethiopia inked a deal with the port operator and Somaliland's government to acquire a 19 percent stake in the port. There are reportedly plans for DP World to upgrade the connectivity infrastructure linking Berbera to the Ethiopian border that would allow Addis Ababa and potentially greater East Africa to reduce their sole dependence on Djibout
  • Bashir also agreed to lease Turkey the Red Sea island of Suakin for development. Though Turkey has denied it, concerns quickly arose that Ankara planned to build a new military base on the island, which would be its second in the Horn of Africa with the first in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
  • Along with the competition by outside players has come greater leverage for Horn of Africa countries, whose elites have long been adept at playing external patrons off one another. Ethiopia has to some degree succeeded in diluting Abu Dhabi's reliance on its enemy, Eritrea, by supporting its plans for the Berbera port. In 2015, after losing access to Djibouti for military operations, the UAE constructed a base in the coastal Eritrean city of Assab, which has been vital to its operations in southern Yemen. By supporting the UAE's military and commercial infrastructure plans in Somaliland, Ethiopia — the Horn of Africa's largest and most powerful country — also contributed to the fracturing of Somalia by encouraging the de facto consolidation of Somaliland's independence
  • In Sudan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led efforts to rehabilitate President Omar Bashir in the international community by lobbying for U.S. sanctions on Sudan to be lifted. Bashir agreed to cut ties with Iran and send troops to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
  • The intra-Gulf Cooperation Council crisis has added another destabilizing variable, as countries, parties, and elites in East Africa have been forced to choose sides
  • The confidence with which Horn of Africa elites are pursuing their own interests at the risk of angering new patrons underscores the high stakes for the participants in this so-called "new scramble for Africa," and also their long-term intent. Djibouti in particular emerged over the past decade as a strategic focal point next to the Bab el-Mandeb shipping lane, existential for the flow of Gulf energy to Europe and goods between Asia and Europe. It has leveraged its location for lucrative basing deals for current and emerging world powers alike. The United States, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and former colonial ruler France all have bases in Djibouti.
  • the UAE's longer-term interests — as well as those of its competitors — are economic and strategic. The country is working to make itself an essential component of China's Belt and Road Initiative and secure Dubai's Jebel Ali as the key logistics and trade hub linking Asia to Africa via DP World infrastructure, in the face of competition by a glut of new ports built by rivals with similar ambitions in IranPakistanOman, and elsewhere along the Horn of Africa
  • ports projects in Rwanda, Mozambique, Algeria, and Mali
  • State-backed and private investors from the UAE have invested in a wide range of non-energy sectors, from finance and banking to construction, tourism, food, entertainment, and agri-business
  • The UAE is also trying to make the nature of its engagement more attractive for African governments and private sector partners: Rather than following the path of China, which has been perceived negatively as following a pseudo-colonial model in Africa, it is looking more toward the Turkish model. Investments such as DP World's in Somalia or military bases come with packages of infrastructure investment, training, and education for workers and security forces, as well as inducements such as greater numbers of visas to the UAE
  • Food and water security continues to be an important interest for the UAE and other Gulf countries in East Africa. Emirati companies are seeking to avoid the political pitfalls that have caused past investments in land for food production to fail. Privately owned Al Dahra Holding, which owns farmland in Africa, claims to use a 50-50 sharing formula for produce with local companies and hires local workers
Ed Webb

Mohammed bin Salman Isn't Wonky Enough - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Like Western investors, the kingdom’s elites are uncertain about what the new order means for the country’s economy. The new Saudi leadership has indeed created new opportunities, but many of the deep structural barriers to diversification remain unchanged. The bulk of the public sector remains bloated by patronage employment, the private sector is still dominated by cheap foreign labor, and private economic activity remains deeply dependent on state spending. Addressing these challenges could take a generation — and it will require patience, creativity, and a clearer sense of priorities.
  • While a band of Al Saud brothers used to rule collectively with the king as a figurehead, decision-making has now become centralized under one man
  • ruthlessness and willingness to take risks radically at odds with the cautious and consensual political culture of the Al Saud clan
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  • Saudi Arabia has tackled fiscal reforms more vigorously than most local and international observers expected, introducing unprecedented tax and energy price measures, including the introduction of a 5 percent value added tax, new levies on foreign workers, and increases in electricity and transport fuel prices. The government is now experimenting with new non-oil sectors with an increased sense of urgency, including information technology and defense manufacturing.
  • While space for political opposition arguably has narrowed, women will soon be allowed to drive and the religious police force that once harassed them has been almost entirely neutered. By relaxing religious controls over the public sphere, the crown prince is seeking to attract more foreign investment and facilitate diversification into tourism and entertainment
  • New policies and programs are announced constantly, while the delivery capacity of the sluggish Saudi bureaucracy continues to lag. Below the upper echelons, the Saudi state remains the deeply fragmented, bloated, and slow-moving machine that I described in my 2010 book. The government seems to have no clear strategy for reforming this bureaucracy
  • Local economic advisors fear that the majority of private petrochemicals firms — the most developed part of Saudi industry — would lose money if prices of natural gas, their main input, increase to American levels.
  • public sector employment remains the key means of providing income to Saudi nationals. Cheap foreign labor dominates private sector employment, thereby keeping consumer inflation at bay and business owners happy. Citizens, however, are parked in the overstaffed public sector. Out of every three jobs held by Saudis, roughly two are in government. The average ratio around the world is one in five. Public sector wages account for almost half of total government spending, among the highest shares in the world
  • As limits on government employment kick in, young Saudis will increasingly have no choice but to seek private jobs. But they will face tough competition on the private labor market where employers have become accustomed to recruiting low-wage workers from poorer Arab and Asian countries
  • Saudi wage demands will have to drop further if private job creation is to substitute for the erstwhile government employment guarantee. For the time being, private job creation has stalled as the government has pursued moderate austerity since 2015 in response to deficits and falling oil prices
  • The government has also underestimated how dependent private businesses are on state spending. The share of state spending in the non-oil economy is extremely high compared to other economies. Historically, almost all private sector growth has resulted from increases in public spending
  • As long as oil prices remain below $70 per barrel, the goal of a balanced budget will cause pain for businesses and limit private job creation. This will pose a major political challenge at a time when an estimated 200,000 Saudis are entering the labor market every year. More than 60 percent of the population is under 30, which means that the citizen labor force will grow rapidly for at least the next two decades.
  • It would be far more prudent to gently prepare citizens and businesses for a difficult and protracted adjustment period and to focus on a smaller number of priorities
  • The key structural challenge to non-oil growth is the way the Saudi government currently shares its wealth, most notably through mass public employment — an extremely expensive policy that bloats the bureaucracy, distorts labor markets, and is increasingly inequitable in an era when government jobs can no longer be guaranteed to all citizens. A stagnating economic pie that might even shrink in the coming years must be shared more equitably.
  • A basic income would not only guarantee a basic livelihood for all citizens, but also serve as a grand political gesture that could justify difficult public sector reforms. A universal wealth-sharing scheme would make it easier to freeze government hiring and send a clear signal that, from now on, Saudis need to seek and acquire the skills for private employment and entrepreneurship. The government could supplement this scheme by charging fees to firms that employ foreigners while subsidizing wages for citizens to fully close the wage gap between the two.
  • Focusing on such fundamentals might be less exciting than building new cities in the desert or launching the world’s largest-ever IPO — but they are more important for the kingdom’s economic future. No country as dependent on petroleum as Saudi Arabia has ever effectively diversified away from oil
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen: A view from the ground | TheHill - 0 views

  • the air campaign in Yemen is now being fought at least as cleanly as contemporary U.S. air campaigns, with stringent target vetting and, to my trained eye, extremely restrictive rules of engagement
    • Ed Webb
       
      Given what we are learning about civilian casualty rates from US (and allied) air operations in Syria and Iraq, this bar is not particularly high, and certainly is insufficient to be certain that war crimes are not being committed.
  • It is the Houthis, not the Yemeni government or the coalition that is seeding Yemen’s farmlands with tens of thousands of landmines, who are creating a whole generation of civilian amputees. It is the Houthis who are taxing and impounding humanitarian food and fuel imports, making these commodities unaffordable to Yemenis
  • As long as the Houthi rebels control the Yemeni capital and the country’s largest port, they have no incentive to negotiate: they must fear losing these prizes to return to the peace table.
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  • it is notable that the U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen has gradually shifted towards stronger criticism of the Houthis than the coalition in its most recent annual report
    • Ed Webb
       
      A right-leaning, pro-Israel think tank. Noteworthy that Israeli and Saudi interests overlap a lot these days. That doesn't invalidate the perspective and observations. But it is important to understand the position of sources.
  • the war is poorly understood in Washington and other capitals. In fact, U.S. military support is helping to set the military and humanitarian conditions for an end to hostilities and a reduction of famine and cholera
  • Mistakes were made, but they were corrected much faster than was the case in many U.S.-led interventions over the years.
Ed Webb

Patriot Missiles Are Made in America and Fail Everywhere - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • we found that it is very unlikely the missiles were shot down, despite officials’ statements to the contrary. Our approach was simple: We mapped where the debris, including the missile airframe and warhead, fell and where the interceptors were located. In both cases, a clear pattern emerged. The missile itself falls in Riyadh, while the warhead separates and flies over the defense and lands near its target. One warhead fell within a few hundred meters of Terminal 5 at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. The second warhead, fired a few weeks later, nearly demolished a Honda dealership. In both cases, it was clear to us that, despite official Saudi claims, neither missile was shot down
  • there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has intercepted any Houthi missiles during the Yemen conflict
  • I am deeply skeptical that Patriot has ever intercepted a long-range ballistic missile in combat — at the least, I have yet to see convincing unclassified evidence of a successful Patriot intercept. During the 1991 Gulf War, the public was led to believe the that the Patriot had near-perfect performance, intercepting 45 of 47 Scud missiles. The U.S. Army later revised that estimate down to about 50 percent — and even then, it expressed “higher” confidence in only about one-quarter of the cases. A pesky Congressional Research Service employee noted that if the Army had correctly applied its own assessment methodology consistently, the number would be far lower. (Reportedly that number was one — as in one lousy Scud missile downed.)
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  • there was not enough evidence to conclude that there had been any intercepts. “There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War,” a summary of the investigations concluded dryly, “and there are some doubts about even these engagements.”

    This report — which called on the Pentagon to declassify more information about the performance of the Patriot and request an independent evaluation of the program — never saw the light of day. A fierce lobbying campaign by the Army and Raytheon spiked it, save for a summary.

  • There is enormous pressure on the Saudi government to show that it is taking steps to defend its citizens. By asserting successful intercepts — assertions that are uncritically spread in headlines — the Saudi government is able to present itself as fulfilling its obligations to protect its population. And, like in 1991, the perception that a defense is working helps keep a lid on regional tensions
  • The danger here is that leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United States will come to believe their own nonsense. Consider this: Despite that the fact that anonymous U.S. officials have confirmed that there was no successful intercept in November 2017, President Donald Trump had a very different impression: “Our system knocked the missile out of the air,” Trump told reporters the following day. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” This is a theme Trump has returned to again and again. When asked about the threat from North Korea’s nuclear-armed missiles, Trump said, “We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked down.” Trump has repeatedly given every indication that he believes missile defenses will protect the United States.
  • Missile defense systems do not represent a solution to the challenge posed by growing missile capabilities or an escape from vulnerability in the nuclear age. There is no magic wand that can “knock down” all the missiles aimed at the United States or its allies. The only solution is to persuade countries not to build these weapons in the first place. If we fail, defenses won’t save us.
Ed Webb

Saudi megaproject harnesses Egypt's Sinai, but Sisi will pay the - 0 views

  • The almost 11,000 square mile total project is to be designed and supervised by US, German, Japanese and possibly other western experts. It represents the largest single component of the Saudi Crown Prince's "Vision 2030", by which he intends his country to diversify its economy away from dependence upon oil.

    Egypt, in other words, is being harnessed to Prince Mohammad bin Salman's project to consolidate his personal political power, transform the Kingdom into a centre of high tech development in what heretofore has been a relatively peripheral region within the Middle East, and exert yet greater Saudi influence over both Jordan and Egypt.

  • The most immediate, tangible potential benefits are to lend support to the effort to convert the Suez Canal Zone into a globally important logistics hub, combined with opening up the Red Sea and Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba to a new surge of tourist development.
  • Suez Canal revenues and numbers of ships transiting have been essentially flat since the parallel channel was opened amidst great fanfare in February 2016 following a two-year, $8.4 billion upgrade
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  • even if Suez Canal traffic were miraculously to increase, the benefits of a major logistical hub on its flanks are less than certain.

    Neither Egypt nor any other Middle Eastern or North African country is a major manufacturing centre. Intra-industry trade, which is that essentially conducted within multinational corporations as they integrate production of goods in many countries, is abysmally low in the Middle East and North Africa, whereas it is booming in East Asia.

    So the question of what purpose a logistical hub would serve is highly pertinent.
  • the Red Sea is not exactly a hospitable political environment. The ongoing war in Yemen, increasing instability in Eritrea and Ethiopia, persisting violence in Somalia and Egypt, protracted conflict in Sudan and South Sudan, piracy, and growing competition for port access between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, China, the US and others contain the seeds for turmoil that could negatively impact tourism in the region
  • What benefits then might Egypt anticipate from the reported $10 billion investment?

    The principal one seems to be contracts for military owned or associated construction companies, just as was the case with the digging of the parallel channel to the Suez Canal.
  • As military men they are interested in generating business for that sector of the economy they have come to control. From their perspective the $10 billion is not an investment in Egypt's future so much as it is a payment to the Egyptian military for being supportive of Mohammad bin Salman and his ambitions
  • costs of what appears to be a large scale, military dominated construction project are economic, environmental and political
  • Turning military owned and associated construction companies loose in the southern Sinai and along the foreshores of the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez is a recipe for environmental disaster, as the current situations on the Mediterranean North Coast and western shore of the Gulf of Suez attest. The fragile marine environment has already sustained enormous damage to reef and other aquatic life.
  • buying Egyptian political insurance for his $10 billion, a price that Egypt may ultimately find to be very high
Ed Webb

The Limits of Mohammad bin Salman's Vision - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Americans are being told, by their leading pundits and their government, that the future Saudi king is a bold reformer with his country’s—and the world’s—best interests at heart
  • For every highly publicized reform he’s instituted, like allowing women to drive (a reform that doesn’t actually address the deeper mistreatment of Saudi women), Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has taken the country in the opposite direction in other ways, like his severe crackdown on free speech and his brutal suppression of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority—to say nothing of the myriad atrocities he’s perpetrated in Yemen
  • economic vision likewise blends flashy elements, like robot citizens and entire new cities, with the introduction of neoliberal austerity measures that will hurt the Saudi people (who are already struggling with high unemployment)
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  • He doesn’t want any competition, any counter-opinions, any criticism. So he’s almost shut down everybody, and he’s moving ahead with his reform. When he arrested intellectuals last September, it was meant to silence everybody. The purge on corruption was planned to make everyone dependent on his mercy. If he succeeds, he will succeed alone. If not, maybe he will include the Saudi people in his reforms. I wish he could do that today, but right now he has all the power and the international community is not pressuring him on human rights.
  • selected reforms aimed at certain purposes, but not necessarily towards developing human capital or investing in people, or women, at large
  • These reforms are not targeting the root causes of restrictions on women, but are selected to portray certain types of reforms that can be promoted in international media
  • He’s raising expectations to riskily high levels. If in two, three, five years nothing significant has really changed for the prospects of individual people looking to get ahead, they may begin to question whether Mohammad bin Salman is really the revolutionary he claims to be. We’ve seen a lot of his supporters here in Washington buying into that revolutionary, Arab Spring-like figure-of-change image, embracing his top-down approach without pausing to think about the extent to which there is a bottom-up counterpart
  • meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday was punctuated by a particularly uncomfortable exchange in which Trump went into detail about the $12.5 billion in new U.S. weapons the prince agreed to buy and then said to the prince, “that’s peanuts for you.” Ulrichsen suggested that the scene would not play well in Saudi Arabia:

    I think if I were watching yesterday’s press conference with Donald Trump, I would have been quite dismayed to have seen a U.S. president treat his Saudi counterpart as if he were just a source of opportunities for the U.S. Some of the president’s tenor and demeanor was quite remarkable.

    Khashoggi agreed that Trump’s performance was not helpful for the crown prince:

    President Trump is wrong when he says that money is “peanuts” to us. Saudi Arabia has a serious poverty problem—money is not “peanuts” to us. To spend billions of dollars on military equipment is a serious thing. Today the Saudi Shura Council is talking about 35 or 40 percent unemployment—the official figure is 12 percent. So as much as Donald Trump is concerned about providing jobs for Americans, Mohammad bin Salman should be concerned about providing jobs for Saudis.

Ed Webb

A glimpse inside Saudi Arabia in photos - 0 views

  • photos in the gallery below illustrate Saudi Arabia’s rapid urbanization, rising national identity, and some of the changes underway in society and politics as King Salman’s Vision 2030 gets underway
Ed Webb

Spoiler alert: Saudi television network bans Turkish soap operas | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • A Saudi-owned television network has announced it will pull hugely popular Turkish dramas from its schedules, in what experts inside Turkey say is an attempt by Saudi Arabia's crown prince to pacify clerics already outraged by his push to modernise the kingdom.
  • the Arab world’s largest private broadcaster, MBC, was ordered to stop broadcasting often racy Turkish television shows. The MBC Group is Dubai-based and controlled by Saudi investors
  • growing tensions between Turkey and the Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates axis in the row over Qatar's support for, among other things, the Muslim Brotherhood
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  • there has been pressure for a long time now to block Turkish programmes that often take up prime time slots from both Lebanese and Egyptian producers and filmmakers
  • Before the recent - and most likely politically motivated if not sponsored - spate of Turkish Ottoman history-based dramas, Turkish television programming was still a major hit in the Arab world
  • To many Middle Eastern viewers, drawn-out Turkish soap operas combining love affairs, drama and mystery more than just being quality television productions represented hope that it was possible to harmoniously merge east and west without sacrificing local identity
  • depiction of a lifestyle choice that is not an option in the Gulf
  • “Producers and TV/film firms have their costs covered before they commence filming via the deals they make with domestic broadcasters,” he said.

    “Other than that Turkish television has never been more popular. It has a market in eastern Europe, Africa and even Latin America.”

  • “There are so many dimensions to this ban. Another one is that Bin Salman has also launched a big drive on restoring historical places in the kingdom. But with their own Saudi interpretation," Hayek said.

    "And then you have these Turkish historical-based programmes being beamed into peoples’ homes who are very keen to learn about their past and heritage. They can’t be happy about that”.

Ed Webb

Russia's Rosatom says ready to build 16 Saudi nuclear power stations - Energy,GCC,Europ... - 0 views

  • Russia's Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Cooperation has announced that it is ready to build 16 nuclear power units in Saudi Arabia in a $100 billion deal.

    Yury Ushakov, aide to the President of the Russian Federation  outlined the company's plans for the Gulf kingdom to journalists at a briefing, a statement said.

    The announcement comes a year after Russia and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to work together on “peaceful” nuclear energy projects.

  • Rosatom brings together over 360 nuclear companies and research and development institutions that operate in the civilian and defence sectors and the world's only nuclear icebreaker fleet
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.

  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
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