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Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and the UAE Could Spoil Oman's Smooth Transition by Fomenting Regional Ins... - 0 views

  • Oman remains vulnerable to both foreign and domestic sources of instability as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seek to expand their regional influence. Potential causes of domestic unrest—including high unemployment, budget deficits, and dwindling oil reserves—lack clear-cut solutions. Sultan Haitham faces multiple challenges even without the threat of foreign meddling, yet Oman’s neighbors may view the death of Qaboos as a unique opportunity to advance their own expansionist agendas.
  • Oman resisted Saudi Arabia’s attempts to use the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a tool to serve the Saudis’ foreign-policy agenda, most visibly when Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs publicly rejected King Abdullah’s plan to deepen the GCC into a Gulf Union in 2013, and was the only GCC state to not participate in the Saudi-led military incursion against Yemen that began in 2015.
  • Sultan Haitham comes to power at a time when the Trump administration has repeatedly signaled its support for Saudi Arabia and antipathy toward Iran. The belated naming of low-ranking U.S. officials to attend the official ceremony honoring Sultan Qaboos was widely interpreted as a slight against the Omanis; the U.K., in contrast, sent both Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pay their respects.
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  • Saudi leaders likely hope that Sultan Haitham will be more amenable to a Saudi-led Gulf, and without U.S. support, Oman may feel pressure to acquiesce or face potential repercussions. Omani officials have privately expressed concerns that Oman could be the next target of a Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade
  • Despite precipitating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has used its military presence there to declare its intention to build a pipeline through the Mahra region and construct an oil port on the Yemeni coast. Saudi Arabia currently ships oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, whereas the proposed pipeline would allow direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Mahra has close links to the adjacent Dhofar region of Oman, which has long viewed the province as an informal buffer from the instability in other parts of Yemen. Sultan Qaboos offered aid as well as dual citizenship to residents of Mahra as a means of eliminating the potential for another conflict resembling the Dhofar War of 1963-1976, which drew cross-border support from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen operating from Mahra into Dhofar
  • Inhabitants of Mahra have expressed frustration with the presence of both the Saudis and Emiratis, given that these kingdoms’ alleged foes—the Houthis as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—are not present in Mahra
  • The UAE has taken control of the Yemeni island of Socotra, building a military base in a unique ecosystem nominally protected by UNESCO. The UAE is also building bases in Eritrea and Somaliland as part of a plan to develop a “string of ports” that will allow it to project power and escape possible pressure from Iran in the Persian Gulf.
  • Other Emirati ambitions include the Musandam Peninsula, an Omani enclave that forms the narrowest point in the Strait of Hormuz. The inhabitants of the peninsula have close ties to the UAE, as Musandam connects geographically to the emirates of Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah, rather than Oman. Oman’s control of the strategic chokepoint reflects the sultanate’s history as an empire whose territory once stretched from southern Pakistan to Zanzibar. 
  • The border between Oman and the UAE was only formally demarcated in 2008, but Omanis see a circle of potential threats arising from Emirati activity in or possible designs on Musandam, Mahra, and Socotra.
  • the UAE may feel that Oman’s new sultan may be more receptive to alignment with Emirati objectives than his predecessor
  • Oman has failed to significantly diversify its economy
  • As in many oil-dependent economies, unemployment is high, especially among young people
  • During the popular uprising of 2011, which brought thousands of Omanis to the street for the first time, the government used its nest egg to pay for a massive expansion of the government payroll.
  • there are no available resources to try to finance a transition away from oil, and the low price of oil has further impeded the government’s efforts to meet its obligations
Ed Webb

Is Oman ready to mourn Qaboos? - 0 views

  • Despite maintaining a low profile, Oman remains an extremely important regional actor, particularly as it is on good terms with both Iran and the Saudi-West alliance. In particular, Oman was the only gulf state to recognise the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel and more recently it has played a significant role in supporting the P5+1 talks over Iran's nuclear programme, including hosting the latest round of talks.
  • the Sultan rules through decree and occupies several positions at the top of government
  • Oman has managed to cultivate a reputation as the "world's most charming police state".
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  • if we follow the categorisation of the region's regimes discussed by Henry and Springborg in Globalization and the Politics of Development in the Middle East, we can see that Qaboos' Oman represents an almost completely different approach to government from most other regimes in the region. Indeed, it reflects neither the kind of practices of a bunker state – associated with rule "through military/security/party structures that are in turn controlled by alliances of these leaders' families and tribes", such as was the case in Salah's Yemen, Assad's Syria or Gaddafi's Libya – nor the kind of "bully praetorianism" which characterised the kleptocratic regimes of Ben Ali's Tunisia, Mubarak's Egypt or the PLO/PA under Arafat. Moreover, it also differs from the strife riddled monarchies in Riyadh and Manama particularly in as much as the ruling family has not gone out of its way to ostracise, exclude and oppress particular sections of the population. Instead, according to Henry and Springborg, "being the sole GCC ruler without a solid family and tribal base ... [Qaboos' Oman has] been the most assiduous in seeking to build an identity that simultaneously glorifies the Sultan himself".
  • Under a 1996 constitutional provision a council comprising members of the ruling family and senior officials is granted three days from the Sultan's death to choose a successor. If this process fails to provide a clear transition, then a contingency plan would be activated. This, as Qaboos himself told Foreign Affairs in a 1997 interview, would mean that: "As for a successor, the process, always known to us, has now been publicised in the Basic Law. When I die, my family will meet. If they cannot agree on a candidate, the Defence Council will decide, based on a name or names submitted by the previous sultan. I have already written down two names, in descending order, and put them in sealed envelopes in two different regions."
  • the Oman 2020 plan, launched in 1995. With the goal of diversifing the economy away from hydrocarbons and increasing the ratio of nationals in public and private employment to 95 per cent, from 68 per cent in 1996. However, these two goals have proven somewhat contradictory. The high rate of foreign labour in both the public and private sectors has increased since 2009 when a Free Trade Agreement with the US came into force– more than doubling the 2005 figure. High rates of unemployment, low wages and the concentration of wealth among elites aligned to the government were contributing factors to the popular unrest of 2011-12.
  • Oman faces a number of pressing, and distinctly Omani-challenges in the immediate and mid-term
  • 49 per cent of residents under the age of 20
  • some dissatisfaction arose during the height of the uprisings across the region in 2011-12. Though initially it appeared that Qaboos had handled popular protests deftly – through increased public sector spending, and some political reorganisation and an anti-corruption campaign – frustration at the slow pace of reform contributed to strikes by workers at Petroleum Development Oman and protests elsewhere. Authorities countered with arrests and a draconian crackdown on freedom of speech including hacking the social media accounts of intellectuals involved in the protest
Ed Webb

Oman says time to accept Israel in region, offers help for peace | Reuters - 0 views

  • Oman described Israel as an accepted Middle East state on Saturday, a day after hosting a surprise visit by its prime minister that Washington said could help regional peace efforts
  • Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa voiced support for Oman over the sultanate’s role in trying to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace, while Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom believes the key to normalising relations with Israel was the peace process
  • Oman has long been to the Middle East what neutral Switzerland is to global diplomacy. The country helped to mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to the historic nuclear deal signed in Geneva two years later.
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  • In 1996, the late Shimon Peres went to Oman and Qatar when he was prime minister and opened Israel trade representative offices in both Gulf countries. His predecessor, the late Yitzhak Rabin, made the first trip to Oman in 1994.
Ed Webb

'Five years ago there was nothing': inside Duqm, the city rising from the sand | Cities... - 0 views

  • a long line of plans stretching back to the 1980s aimed at developing and populating barren parts of Oman. Around 70% of the country’s population resides within a thin 150-mile-long coastal strip in the north near Muscat. The government now sees its hundreds of miles of unused coastline as full of economic potential.
  • “Duqm is a huge industrial city being built out of thin air,” says Manishankar Prasad, a local researcher who worked on the new city’s environmental and cultural impact assessments. “It will essentially change the locus of industrial activity from the northern parts of the country, which are heavily urbanised. [Having this] huge geographical expanse with this sparse population and no industrial activity is really not the way forward.”
  • We are in the midst of an era of new cities – with more than 200 currently under construction. Remote deserts all over east Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa are being urbanised. There’s Nurkent in Kazakhstan, Aylat in Azerbaijan, New Kabul City in Afghanistan, New Baghdad in Iraq, Rawabi in Palestine, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, New Cairo in Egypt … Morocco has nine new cities in the works, and Kuwait has 12.
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  • Oman is desperate to diversify away from its oil and gas dependency. Research by the US Energy Information Administration puts Oman’s known crude oil reserves at 5.6bn barrels. While this is only enough to rank the country 21st in the world, its economy is disproportionately dependent: oil and gas accounts for nearly half of the country’s GDP, 70% of exports and between 68% and 85% of government revenue.
  • “Several dozen new cities are being constructed in the Middle East, mainly to transition away from the petroleum industry to a variety of other industries, including tourism, manufacturing, education and hi-tech,” says Dr Sarah Moser, a McGill University geography professor and author of an upcoming atlas of new cities.
  • Duqm sits on the Arabian Sea near the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf – and the world’s most glaring oil supply chokepoint. Nearly a fifth of the world’s oil currently flows through this passage, ever prone to disruption. If the Duqm project succeeds, the shipping industry would be able to dock at the gates of the Middle East without needing to go all the way inside.
  • attracted the attention of Beijing’s much heralded Maritime Silk Road. More than three-quarters of Oman’s crude oil exports go directly to China.
  • While Duqm was never very densely populated, around 3,000 Bedouin – mostly fishermen and semi-nomadic herders – called the area home before the bulldozers arrived. These villages have now been demolished and the Oman government has built a new, modern town for them to relocate to. The houses look as if they were copied and pasted from Muscat – bright, white buildings two storeys high with garages and ornate gateways. There is a mosque in the centre. The houses stand empty. The local Bedouin prefer their traditional way of life – and want space to keep camels.
Ed Webb

Oman minister describes role as 'facilitator' of diplomacy in turbulent region - 0 views

  • Oman will consider supporting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Persian Gulf security plan — the "Hormuz Peace Endeavor" — if the Iranian plan is based on "stability." 
  • no one really wishes to use force the hard way. Even when the leader says all options are on the table, they do not mean using power, but they mean that they are determined to resolve the problem.
  • Russia should also be involved on the world stage outcome of this crisis.
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  • Al-Monitor:  Oman is one of the few countries that has maintained very strong relations with the Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership, and you also hosted the prime minister of Israel in Oman. Assuming this process takes shape, would Oman consider something like establishing formal relations with Israel? Bin Alawi:  We'll see, everything is on the table.
  • You met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in July. How do you see the situation evolving in Syria? Bin Alawi:  I think it's very promising. They are still fighting some pockets of terrorists in the north, but in general, they feel it's a hopeful and very promising situation. And I see that the committee of — the constitutional committee — has been agreed, so [they] should start putting together the [new] constitution. Within a year, probably, people might vote for their representative, and that will give more hope, more promise to the people of Syria.
Ed Webb

Who in the GCC wants a union? - 0 views

  • Citing “security problems, economic challenges and other serious issues confronted by the region,” Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa recently announced that the transformation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to a union is an “inevitable goal” of this month’s Manama Dialogue (Dec. 9-11).
  • With absolutely no illusions that Oman — historically the most independent member of the GCC — has changed its position, last month Ghanem al-Buainain, Bahrain’s minister of Parliament Affairs, stated that he sensed “great enthusiasm for the union from the other Gulf members.”
  • Many non-Saudis in the GCC view Saudi Arabia as an important ally, yet they also see the oil-rich kingdom as an overbearing neighbor who does not always respect the smaller Arab Gulf states’ sovereignty. Due to a host of domestic issues in the GCC and regional developments, which the Arab Gulf families see through different lenses, Riyadh and Manama officials may see their plan for a union falling on deaf ears.
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  • Kuwait is the GCC state with the most vibrant political life and democratic institutions. Opposition to a union from Kuwait is largely attributable to concerns about “collective security actions” that Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states could pursue to silence dissent and activism in Kuwait. Last month’s snap elections in Kuwait will bring in parliamentarians to the National Assembly from an opposition made up of liberals and Islamists whom other GCC states would not permit to hold any position of power in their own political systems. As many Kuwaitis take pride in their “half-democracy” and relative transparency and openness, the concept of a union has met its share of resistance in the country from voices across its political spectrum.
  • Doha has established ties with Islamist factions throughout the region and hosted many Muslim Brotherhood members — often done so at the expense of healthy relations with other GCC states. If other Arab Gulf countries such as the UAE, which designate the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group, and Qatar belong to a union, what will be the future of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and other prominent Islamist figures who live in Doha?
  • Emiratis view themselves as a rival of Saudi Arabia for a dominant role in the region’s financial landscape, Abu Dhabi would not lend its support to a Riyadh-based Gulf central bank. In the UAE, where the authorities are waging a crackdown on Islamists, there has long been a belief that the Muslim Brotherhood operates in the Emirates on behalf of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the purpose of undermining the UAE’s national sovereignty and independence.
  • Oman’s interest in deepening ties with Iran in commercial, diplomatic, energy and security spheres is a major factor driving Omani opposition to a union
  • Given the Kuwaiti and Qatari royal families’ cordial relationship with their countries’ Shiites who are loyal to the Al Sabah (Kuwait) and Al Thani (Qatar) rulers, threats of an Iranian-inspired Shiite revolution or rebellion have not provoked substantial sectarian tension in Kuwait since the end of the first Gulf war, nor has it ever done so in Qatar at any point following Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rise to power in 1979. This outlook fundamentally contrasts with Saudi Arabia’s and Bahrain’s outlook, which is based on an understanding of Iran being a predatory state committed to toppling the Al Sauds and Al Khalifas through a violent revolution. Manama and Riyadh’s shared view of the Islamic Republic as an existential threat has closely aligned the two kingdoms and led Bahrain to maintain its strong support for a de facto Saudi-led union.
  • the option of perhaps one day importing Iranian gas may receive greater consideration if they remain relatively independent from Saudi Arabia in the framework of a council (not union) and their economic ills increase their interest in importing more natural gas. Yet a union would erase any realistic Kuwaiti or Emirati plans for signing gas contracts with Iran
  • there are grave concerns in the GCC about the US’ long-term commitment as the council’s security guarantor
Ed Webb

GCC to form unified military command - Al Arabiya News - 0 views

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council has approved the formation a unified military command structure, announcing the move in a closing statement of a two-day annual Gulf summit held in Kuwait City on Wednesday. The bloc also agreed on the formation of a unified police force, to protect the six-member council from security threats posed to the region.
  • On Iran, the Gulf states hailed the Islamic Republic's "new orientation" in recent nuclear talks. The monarchies said they "welcome the new orientation by the Iranian leadership towards the Gulf Cooperation Council and hope it will be followed by concrete measures that would positively impact regional peace."
  • summit follows a rare public spat between bloc leader Saudi Arabia and Oman over Riyadh's proposal to upgrade the GCC into a union -- 32 years after its establishment
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  • Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi said Oman “will simply withdraw” from the body if the five other GCC members - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - decide to form a union.
Ed Webb

Can Oman help Saudis save face in Yemen? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • Muscat’s understanding of Yemeni history, where no fighting force has ever been able to seize control of the entire nation. Conflict resolution in Yemen will require a power-sharing agreement in which all sides have a voice at the table, rather than a military campaign aimed at crushing the Houthi rebel movement.
  • the Omani leadership is most unsettled by the threat that a prolonged conflict poses to the security of Oman’s Dhofar governorate, situated along the Gulf Arab nation’s 187-mile border with Yemen
  • As Omanis face the challenges associated with the succession issue, Muscat officials are unsettled by the potential for groups in the historically neglected Dhofar governorate to reject the legitimacy of Qaboos’ successor. Within this context, promoting a peaceful resolution to the Yemeni crisis at the roundtable serves Oman’s national interests.
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  • That Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab country and the world’s top arms importer, cannot defeat an insurgency from the most underserved region of the poorest Arab country is a source of humiliation
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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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 Iran, Pakistan, Oman, 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

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

Divisions restrict Southern Transitional Council, UAE ambitions in Yemen - 0 views

  • Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council emerging as a dominant force in the south has shifted the country’s political dynamics. The faction faces opposition not just from President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government but within the southern movement itself. The STC emerged in May 2017 and declared independence later that year, operating with its military wing the Security Belt and UAE-backed elite forces in southern governorates like Hadramawt and Shabwa. It has formed a parliament and cabinet with formal government positions and presented itself as a legitimate state actor.
  • Following unification between the north and south in 1990, many people in the south, where most of the country’s natural resources are located, felt the unification left them economically and politically disadvantaged, leading to the emergence of the Southern Movement and various other secessionist pushes in 2007.
  • The STC shares the UAE’s hatred of the Islamist al-Islah party in Yemen. The UAE has used the Security Belt to occupy the south
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  • the Security Belt is entirely funded and trained by the UAE
  • “Mahra is the biggest challenge for the STC because of the role played by Oman. Local tribes don’t want conflict, so they maintain limited representation within the local STC group, while still retaining ties to Oman,”
  • On Sept. 3, the sheikh of Mahra, Ali Saleh al-Huraizi, who opposes Saudi and Emirati influence, announced the formation of the Southern National Salvation Council in Mahra
  • while the UAE-backed factions have maintained a degree of cohesion, other southern movements threaten their agenda with diverging aims
  • There are currently dozens of southern movements operating outside the STC’s command. Yet due to the extensive UAE support for the STC and its secessionist militias, it is still the dominant southern faction.
  • divisions across Yemen's southern governorates could give rise to further demands for independence. “Oil-rich Hadramawt, which has a land area of more than 193,000 square kilometers, would seek autonomy,”
  • Mahra in the far east and Yemen's second largest province will join Hadramawt and seek autonomy
  • the UAE, which is eyeing seaports and islands and seeking to achieve a victory through separation amid the Saudi-led coalition's failure to beat the Houthis
  • UAE-backed factions are clearly seeking to impose their will by force. Reports in 2017 emerged of a Security Belt-run prison network run by UAE-backed southern militias and accused of torture and other human rights violations. These factions, such as the Shabwa, had carried out arbitrary arrests and intimidation campaigns, causing tension with local factions. Emirati airstrikes on government forces in Aden following their recapture of the city after the STC’s Aug. 10 coup attempt show they are seeking to maintain control there.
Ed Webb

The Coronavirus Oil Shock Is Just Getting Started - 0 views

  • People in the West tend to think about oil shocks from the perspective of the consumer. They notice when prices go up. The price spikes in 1973 and 1979 triggered by boycotts by oil producers are etched in their collective consciousness, as price controls left Americans lining up for gas and European governments imposed weekend driving bans. This was more than an economic shock. The balance of power in the world economy seemed to be shifting from the developed to the developing world.
  • If a surge in fossil fuel prices rearranges the world economy, the effect also operates in reverse. For the vast majority of countries in the world, the decline in oil prices is a boon. Among emerging markets, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Argentina, Turkey, and South Africa all benefit, as imported fuel is a big part of their import bill. Cheaper energy will cushion the pain of the COVID-19 recession. But at the same time, and by the same token, plunging oil prices deliver a concentrated and devastating shock to the producers. By comparison with the diffuse benefit enjoyed by consumers, the producers suffer immediate immiseration.
  • In inflation-adjusted terms, oil prices are similar to those last seen in the 1950s, when the Persian Gulf states were little more than clients of the oil majors, the United States and the British Empire
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  • Fiscal crises caused by falling prices limit governments’ room for domestic maneuver and force painful political choices
  • The economic profile of the Gulf states is not, however, typical of most oil-producing states. Most have a much lower ratio of oil reserves to population. Many large oil exporters have large and rapidly growing populations that are hungry for consumption, social spending, subsidies, and investment
  • In February, even before the coronavirus hit, the International Monetary Fund was warning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that by 2034 they would be net debtors to the rest of the world. That prediction was based on a 2020 price of $55 per barrel. At a price of $30, that timeline will shorten. And even in the Gulf there are weak links. Bahrain avoids financial crisis only through the financial patronage of Saudi Arabia. Oman is in even worse shape. Its government debt is so heavily discounted that it may soon slip into the distressed debt category
  • Ecuador is the second Latin American country after Argentina to enter technical default this year.
  • Populous middle-income countries that depend critically on oil are uniquely vulnerable. Iran is a special case because of the punitive sanctions regime imposed by the United States. But its neighbor Iraq, with a population of 38 million and a government budget that is 90 percent dependent on oil, will struggle to keep civil servants paid.
  • Algeria—with a population of 44 million and an official unemployment rate of 15 percent—depends on oil and gas imports for 85 percent of its foreign exchange revenue
  • The oil and gas boom of the early 2000s provided the financial foundation for the subsequent pacification of Algerian society under National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria’s giant military, the basic pillar of the regime, was the chief beneficiaries of this largesse, along with its Russian arms suppliers. The country’s foreign currency reserves peaked at $200 billion in 2012. Spending this windfall on assistance programs and subsidies allowed Bouteflika’s government to survive the initial wave of protests during the Arab Spring. But with oil prices trending down, this was not a sustainable long-run course. By 2018 the government’s oil stabilization fund, which once held reserves worth more than one-third of GDP, had been depleted. Given Algeria’s yawning trade deficit, the IMF expects reserves to fall below $13 billion in 2021. A strict COVID-19 lockdown is containing popular protest for now, but given that the fragile government in Algiers is now bracing for budget cuts of 30 percent, do not expect that calm to last.
  • Before last month’s price collapse, Angola was already spending between one fifth and one third of its export revenues on debt service. That burden is now bound to increase significantly. Ten-year Angolan bonds were this week trading at 44 cents on the dollar. Having been downgraded to a lowly CCC+, it is now widely considered to be at imminent risk of default. Because servicing its debts requires a share of public spending six times larger than that which Angola spends on the health of its citizens, the case for doing so in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is unarguable.
  • Faced with the price collapse of 2020, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has declared that Nigeria is now in “crisis.” In March, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered Nigeria’s sovereign debt rating to B-. This will raise the cost of borrowing and slow economic growth in a country in which more than 86 million people, 47 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty—the largest number in the world. Furthermore, with 65 percent of government revenues devoted to servicing existing debt, the government may have to resort to printing money to pay civil servants, further spurring an already high inflation rate caused by food supply shortages
  • The price surge of the 1970s and the nationalization of the Middle East oil industry announced the definitive end of the imperial era. The 1980s saw the creation of a market-based global energy economy. The early 2000s seemed to open the door on a new age of state capitalism, in which China was the main driver of demand and titans like Saudi Aramco and Rosneft managed supply
  • The giants such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will exploit their muscle to survive the crisis. But the same cannot so easily be said for the weaker producers. For states such as Iraq, Algeria, and Angola, the threat is nothing short of existential.
  • Beijing has so far shown little interest in exploiting the crisis for debt-book diplomacy. It has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the other members of the G-20 in supporting a debt moratorium.
  • In a century that will be marked by climate change, how useful is it to restore profits and prosperity based on fossil fuel extraction?
  • The shock of the coronavirus is offering a glimpse of the future and it is harsh. The COVID-19 crisis drives home that high-cost producers are on a dangerously unsustainable path that can’t be resolved by states propping up their uncompetitive oil sectors. Even more important is the need to diversify the economies of the truly vulnerable producers in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.
Ed Webb

'Apocalypse soon': reluctant Middle East forced to open eyes to climate crisis | Climat... - 0 views

  • In Qatar, the country with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world and the biggest producer of liquid gas, the outdoors is already being air conditioned.
  • In the United Arab Emirates it is estimated that the climate crisis costs £6bn a year in higher health costs. The salinity of the Gulf, caused by proliferating desalination plants, has increased by 20%, with all the likely impact on marine life and biodiversity.
  • The Middle East is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. By the end of the century, if the more dire predictions prove true, Mecca may not be habitable, making the summer Haj a pilgrimage of peril, even catastrophe
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  • The ruling elites are all dependent on oil rents for the survival of their regimes. They need the oil business to stay alive for them to stay in power. Their system is based on continued oil rent, but ultimately, the citizens’ long-term interests are with a liveable climate
  • The precise point oil demand will peak has been contested, and depends on a myriad of assumptions about regulation, technology and consumer behaviour. But many people say demand will peak in about 2040, and then decline.
  • the International Energy Association’s report Net Zero by 2050, by contrast, proposed oil demand fall from 88m barrels a day (mb/d) in 2020, to 72 mb/d in 2030 and to 24 mb/d in 2050, a fall of almost 75% between 2020 and 2050. It argued that the Gulf has all three elements needed to switch to renewables: capital, sun and large tracts of vacant land.
  • The Gulf’s self-proclaimed first mover, the UAE, was the first country in the region to ratify the Paris agreement and is now the least dependent on oil for government revenues. Last week it announced a “net zero initiative by 2050” to be begun with $163bn (£118bn) of investments and a new minister for climate change and the environment, Mariam Almheiri. The announcement came after the UAE ordered an 80-day brainstorming session in every government department from June. It was the first petro-state to embrace net zero in domestic consumption.
  • Opec’s own projections suggest oil demand will rise in absolute terms through to 2045, and oil’s share of world wide energy demand will fall only from 30% to 28%. Hardly a green revolution.
  • Aramco, the Saudi company with the largest carbon footprint in the world, is not trying to diversify at the rate of Shell or BP. Indeed, it has just announced an investment to increase crude capacity from 12m barrels a day to 13m barrels by 2027
  • If you see the lifestyle in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is based on endless consumption
  • The region is responsible for only 4.7 % of worldwide carbon emissions, dwarfed by the pollution from Europe, America and China. The oil that the Middle East exports is logged against the carbon emissions of the users, not the producers.
  • The Gulf States are still highly reliant on oil and gas exports, which remain more than 70% of total goods exports in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and on oil revenues, which exceed 70% of total government revenues in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. In Vision 2030, published in 2016, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, promised to turn the country into a diversified industrial power house. The reality is very different. The World Bank shows Saudi Arabia is still 75% dependent on oil exports for its budget.
  • Gulf states are deeply competitive, so a flurry of news is emerging. Qatar has appointed a climate minister; Bahrain is targeting net zero by 2050; Kuwait has a new emissions plan.
  • Fossil fuels shipped abroad are not on the Saudi’s carbon ledger, owing to UN accounting rules, and the promised internal reduction in emissions is dependent on a heavy bet that unproven blue hydrogen and carbon capture technology will work.
Ed Webb

CHARTS: US Overseas Arms Sales More Than Tripled in 2011 | Mother Jones - 0 views

  • Much of the surge was driven exclusively by the ongoing freak-out over Iran: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (all Persian Gulf allies or partners of the United States) in particular started buying missile defense systems, fighter jets, and other hardware from the US at record levels, just in case Iran ever goes nuclear and tries to throw its weight around West Asia and the Gulf. Saudi Arabia's $33.4 billion deal included dozens of F-15 fighter jets and Black Hawk helicopters. The UAE threw down $4.5 billion for a missile shield and other toys.
Ed Webb

Mohammed Bin Salman; A Prince Who Should Not Become A King » Deep State Radio... - 0 views

  • In a meeting with current and former U.S officials in Washington during his last visit in the Spring, crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman said that he was interested in spending up to a hundred million dollars to arm the “Lebanese Forces”, the civil war Christian militia turned political party to transform it from a political adversary of Hezbollah into a lethal enemy. According to a participant in the meeting, the crown prince found no interest in this scheme either in Washington or in Beirut. Contrary to its name, this political party does not have an armed wing and its leadership has disavowed publicly the use of force.
  • The Qatar crisis demonstrated clearly that the new younger leaders in the Gulf see politics as a zero sum game, that they  are more willing  than their more measured and cautious fathers, to double down and burn the last bridge.
  • No Arab country could match Iran’s Shi’a foreign legions, with sectarian legions of their own. Mohammed Bin Salman is very aware of this predicament, and of the embarrassing limits of Saudi military power.
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  • In his short tenure, Mohammed Bin Salman has blazed a trail of bold and bloody moves domestically and regionally that were norm busting, counterintuitive and precedent breaking. While every Saudi monarch since 1932 had interfered in Yemen’s domestic affairs politically, militarily and often aggressively, only Muhammed Bin Salman as the leader of the wealthiest Arab country waged a war to destroy the already weak and fractured economy and infrastructure of the poorest Arab country. His air war soon turned into a rampage of indiscriminate bombings and blockades amounting to possible war crimes, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Save the Children organization has estimated that 85,000 children might have died of malnutrition and starvation since the bombings began in 2015.
  • Saudi Arabia has had border disputes with Yemen and most of her smaller Gulf neighbors for many years. On occasions it tried to use coercive methods mostly employing tribes to settle these disputes the most famous of which was the Buraimi Oasis dispute of the 1940’s and 50’s, involving Saudi Arabia, Oman and what is now the UAE. But ever since the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 to coordinate economic, political and potentially military policies, disputes were expected to be resolved amicably among member states; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The grouping never amounted to an alliance and now it is in tatters because of political, personal and ideological tensions involving mainly Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE vs. Qatar.
  • The man who condemned civilians in Yemen to a slow death, blockaded neighboring Qatar, cracked down harshly on peaceful activists at home, ordered the brutal killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi abroad, and engaged in a brazen shakedown of other Saudi royals, was in the process of trying to add to his list of depredations, the resumption of armed conflict in Lebanon.
  • Mohammed Bin Salman has trapped himself in a war in Yemen that he cannot win, but he has already lost his campaign against Qatar.
  • the case can be made that Mohammed Bin Salman’s war in Yemen made the Houthis more dependent on Iran and gave Iran and Hezbollah a military foothold on the Arabian Peninsula that did not exist before the war. The blockade of Qatar led to improved political, economic and trade relations between Doha and Tehran, and increased Turkey’s military profile in the Gulf for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
  • Much has been written about Mohammed Bin Salman as a ‘reformer’, but most of the focus was on the ‘historic’ decision to allow women to drive, (a decision any new ruler was expected to take) to open up movie theatres, and to allow men and women for the first time to watch together sport competitions. The crown prince was praised because he wanted to diversify the ‘one crop economy’ and make it less dependent on hydrocarbon production, through greater foreign investment, an issue the Saudi elites have been discussing for years. At best these measures are necessary for any nation to survive let alone thrive in the modern world. But there was not a single serious decision to politically empower the population, or to open the public sphere even very slightly
  • the short reign of Mohammed Bin Salman has been more despotic than previous rulers. No former Saudi Monarch has amassed the executive powers, political, military and economic that the crown prince has concentrated in his hands except for the founder of the ruling dynasty King Abdul-Aziz  Al Saud. His brief tenure has been marked by periodic campaigns of repression. Long before the murder of Khashoggi, scores of writers, intellectuals and clerics were arrested for daring to object to the crown prince’s decisions. Many are still languishing in jails with no formal charges. Even some of the women activists who pushed hard for years to lift the ban on women driving, were incarcerated on trumped up charges of ‘treason’. Women are allowed to drive now – but the crown prince would like them to think that this is because of his magnanimity, and not their struggle- but they are still subject to the misogynistic and atavistic female guardianship system, which treat adult women regardless of their high education and accomplishments as legal minors.
  • Jamal Khashoggi is the last of a long trail of Arab journalists and men of letters murdered by their governments at home and abroad. But he was the first one to have a reputable, international medium, the Washington Post that published his columns in English and Arabic, which was one of the reasons that enraged the crown prince. Jamal, was the first journalist millions of people all over the world watched walking his last steps toward his violent death
Ed Webb

Omani foreign minister meets Tillerson as Washington seeks channel to Tehran ... - 0 views

  • “The Trump administration, just like the Obama administration before it, may have come to recognise Oman's pragmatic relationship with Iran as a policy asset,” said Sigurd Neubauer, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Oman is able to have a pragmatic relationship with Iran because of its historic relationship with the US,” he noted, being a “strategic ally for nearly two centuries, and one of two GCC countries (along with Bahrain) to enjoy a free-trade agreement with the United States.”
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
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