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Gulf States News - Issue 1034 - 23/03/2017

Saudi Arabia remains under cyber attack

Four months after the start of a major new co-ordinated cyber attack and some five years since the Shamoon virus shook Saudi Arabian Oil Company – and the wider global oil industry, which was awakened to the potential for systemic chaos from cyber attackers by the assault on Saudi Aramco – Saudi government agencies and commercial organisations are struggling to return to normal operations,. The impact of the latest attacks are being felt by those directly affected and by others who recognise they too are vulnerable to online assaults.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1033 - 09/03/2017

UAE beefs up counter-radicalisation cred amid broader crackdown on dissent

The UAE leadership naturally prefers to emphasise classroom- and mosque-based counter-radicalisation approaches to signal its zero-tolerance approach to hardline Islamism – rather than the extent of surveillance and police activity that, so far, has largely kept the UAE free of major public terrorism attacks. Abu Dhabi is making all the right noises to convince allies it is rooting out extremism in all its forms. It has taken a lead in moves to eradicate Al-Ikhwan AlMuslimeen (the Muslim Brotherhood – see GSN view), as well as Islamic State (IS or Daesh), Al-Qaeda and other Salafist Jihadist groups – even though some Western governments still see the MB as part of the solution to stabilising the wider Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, rather than the problem as perceived by key power-broker, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE Armed Forces deputy supreme commander Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ).

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Gulf States News - Issue 1032 - 23/02/2017

Emiri Diwan sidelines Qatar’s old guard in Tamim’s quiet revolution

Since coming to power in June 2013, Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani has seemed determined to lead a traditional rentier state into the 21st century amid a complex regional security environment and declining hydrocarbons revenue. He has done so by ditching the approach of ‘Father Emir’ Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, purging many of the old guard and creating far stronger oversight mechanisms to control ministers and their spending. The emir’s approach is a case study for cutting government spending but also in consolidating control by centralising power.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1031 - 09/02/2017

There is some method to the madness of Trump’s Middle East debut

Love him or loath him, Donald Trump is now formally the actor with the most control over US foreign policy. But one man cannot conceive and control every aspect of America’s overseas strategy, particularly not a novice to government with a packed domestic agenda and Twitter wars to fight. Trump’s debut on the international scene triggered mass consternation over his half-baked 27 January ‘Muslim ban’, which blocked entry into the US for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Reports of tetchy exchanges with his counterparts from Mexico and Australia provoked further consternation about the volatile rookie president.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1030 - 26/01/2017

Iran scores diplomatic points in Astana, accused of ‘sectarian cleansing’ in Syria

Population transfers have become an integral part of Syria’s six-year conflict, emerging as a means for the regime and rebel factions to exploit the atomised country’s complex sectarian patchwork to their advantage. Fears over the extent that ethnic cleansing is happening have ramped up over the past year, as reports from Syria have raised fears of a Iranian-backed campaign to cement the Bashar Al-Assad regime’s territorial gains through a more aggressive form of ‘confessional cleansing’.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1029 - 12/01/2017

Saudi government muddles ahead with austerity-lite masquerading as largesse

Mohammed Al-Jaadan’s first budget as finance minister provided an interesting exercise in expectation management and spin. The government tried to present the budget as an expansionary one, allowing the kingdom to catch its breath after several years of tough austerity which have strained the social contract between the Al-Saud and their citizenry. However, analysis of the detail suggests the reality is rather different.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1028 - 15/12/2016

Iran remodels its armed forces to enhance its regional power projection

The overhaul of the upper ranks of Iran’s defence and security apparatus has continued this month, with Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointing Brigadier General Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar as commander of the Basij volunteer forces, in a decree issued on 7 December. It is the latest in a string of senior appointments within Iran’s military establishment this year. Among others, in June Major General Mohammad Bagheri was appointed as Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, Iran’s highest military policy body, replacing the long-serving Major General Hassan Firouzabadi who had held the job since 1989.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1027 - 01/12/2016

Kuwait’s cunning plan backfires, a selection returns opposition to driving seat

Kuwait is preparing for another period of confrontation and policy deadlock between the National Assembly and government, after the authorities’ gamble with an early election failed to return yet another lenient parliament. The calling of an early election – nine months before it was needed – was seen as an attempt by government to take the opposition by surprise at a time when a number of their leaders were unable to run (GSN 1,024/1). However, the election results clearly showed that the key groups were able to mobilise in time and could draw on wide support from the population.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1026 - 17/11/2016

Citizen Trump’s victory a recipe for uncertainty and instability

The election of Donald Trump adds considerable strain to the fraying fabric of the global order established after World War II. His soothing tones in the immediate aftermath of victory – when the president-elect spoke of governing for “all Americans” – have not assuaged concerns that a volatile narcissist has taken over the Oval Office. Middle East leaders who might otherwise favour a deal-making conservative in the White House – including Gulf rulers disillusioned after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency and Israeli prime minister (and long-time Republican ally) Benyamin Netanyahu – are concerned about Trump’s potential impact.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1025 - 03/11/2016

Quantifying a ‘taboo’ subject: Saudi Arabia counts the cost of Yemen war

Saudi Arabia has become bogged down in what looks to be an unwinnable conflict since entering the Yemen war in March 2015. Riyadh declared the end of its ‘Decisive Storm’ air campaign after just one month, saying it had achieved its military goals. However, claims of an early victory proved to be hollow; the conflict has been grinding on relentlessly ever since, unfittingly codenamed Operation Restore Hope (GSN 991/1). The resulting costs have been high for Saudi Arabia in every respect; rather than being an expression of strength, the war has arguably made the kingdom look weaker.

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