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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1102 - 07/05/2020

Alarm bells ring as Iraq slowly faces up to the consequences of slumping oil revenues

After six months of haggling – which is far from a record – the Chamber of Representatives’ 6 May vote has endowed Iraq with a new government. Mustafa AlKadhimi’s administration would face daunting challenges even without the sharply deteriorating economic outlook, triggered by plunging oil revenues. Iraq is one of the biggest losers from the slump: based on an average $30 a barrel ($/bbl) Brent crude price, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast a 70% drop in revenues, while Fitch Ratings expects GDP to contract by almost 10% this year. Low oil prices coupled with lower production and exports threaten to drain the funding pool that Iraq’s political elites have traditionally relied on to maintain their patronage networks. But those holding power and influence in Baghdad seem unlikely to change their ways.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1101 - 23/04/2020

As Covid-19 strikes rulers and those they rule, the crisis hurts the poorest the most

Gulf Co-operation Council states appear to have coped quite well in slowing the spread of Covid-19, although there is considerable scepticism about the accuracy of the numbers reported. As of 22 April, World Health Organisation (WHO) data show the global death rate stood at 6.8% of all cases, but that figure for the six GCC states was just 0.6%. There is likely to be much worse to come. Kuwaiti scientists believe the virus will not peak there until mid-May. Saudi health minister Dr Tawfiq Bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah said the kingdom could eventually see 200,000 cases, many multiples higher than the current 11,631.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1100 - 02/04/2020

Dubai faces into another economic storm as the ‘coronacrisis’ forces Expo delay

Dubai’s decision on 30 March to seek a one-year delay of the Expo 2020 fair, which had been due to start on 20 October, represents a psychological body blow to the commercial hub’s economy. Even before the coronavirus pandemic had begun, the Dubai economy was in poor shape, with real estate prices in decline since 2015 and wider levels of activity muted. The sharp fall in oil prices was threatening to make the downturn even worse; even though Dubai has only limited oil and gas reserves, its economy relies to some extent on the recycling of oil-derived wealth from its neighbours.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1099 - 19/03/2020

Bani Salman leadership projects ruthless ambition as oil prices crash, virus spreads

Alargely unexpected conflict between Riyadh and Moscow has shattered the marriage of convenience which since 2016 has allowed the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and Non-Opec countries to stabilise oil prices and with them their domestic finances. The fallout, which threatens huge new pressures on oil producing economies, was driven by one of Opec’s most experienced officials, Saudi energy minister (and royal son) Prince Abdelaziz Bin Salman.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1098 - 05/03/2020

Political trust and economic growth in the balance as Covid-19 spreads through Gulf

Th e spread of Covid-19 – the strain of coronavirus disease that emerged in central China’s Hubei province last year – is gathering momentum around the region. It is prompting serious questions about the standard of governance in Iran, while shaking the economies of even the best-run Gulf states. Governments have been trying to reduce the risk of infection by restricting travel to and from at-risk destinations, putting in place screening programmes and cancelling public events. But ultimately none have been able to prevent the virus from crossing their borders.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1097 - 06/02/2020

Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ leaves Gulf allies struggling to respond

The “Deal of the Century” has finally emerged, with typically Trumpian braggadocio, several Gulf ambassadors and embattled Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in attendance. This was countered by muted defiance from the aging Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership and a flurry of rockets from Hamas in Gaza, to which Israel predictably responded in kind. After decades of conflict in the post-colonial Middle East’s traditionally central issue, US President Donald Trump’s unbalanced proposal to wrap up the Israel-Palestine conflict was more notable for the majority of tired and ambiguous responses it received, than for shifting geopolitical tectonic plates.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1096 - 23/01/2020

Qaboos bequeaths a smooth succession as Haitham Bin Tariq takes over in Oman

Rumours about Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said’s health and imminent death had become a staple of political analysis about Oman and the wider region, reflecting his longstanding position as an essential mediator in Middle Eastern conflicts, as well as the architect of his nation’s emergence from a conflicted and backward-looking past. Close observers said that, by mid-December, the 79-year-old sultan had abandoned a planned programme of medical treatment in Leuven, Belgium, knowing it would be futile. While widely predicted, his death on 10 January nonetheless came as a profound shock to the nation he had not only ruled but profoundly shaped since 1970, and whose political life he had dominated as an absolute ruler (see Perspective for GSN’s appreciation of this remarkable life).

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1095 - 09/01/2020

Trump sends region to the brink with killing of IRGC kingpin Soleimani

The crowds that thronged the streets of Kerman on 7 January to see the coffin of slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander General Qassim Soleimani were in sharp contrast to the crowds that filled the streets of Iranian towns and cities in late 2019. Authorities that brutally suppressed nationwide demonstrations in November were happy to see even more people take to the streets – even in generally dissident regions such as Ahvaz – to mark the death of the architect of Iran’s ‘forward defence’ strategy, killed by a United States drone strike at Baghdad airport in the early hours of 3 January. There were large crowds in Tehran and Qom, as well as in Iraq, as Soleimani’s body made its extended final journey.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1094 - 12/12/2019

Political crisis of confidence leaves Iraq in search of a new direction

After almost two months of protests in which more than 400 people are thought to have been killed and another 15,000 injured, Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi accepted reality, announcing on 29 November that he would step down. His resignation was accepted by the Council of Representatives (parliament) on 1 December, but Abdel-Mahdi and his cabinet will stay on until a new administration is formed.

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Gulf States Newsletter - Issue 1093 - 28/11/2019

Kuwait political system gets a reboot following cabinet resignation

The resignation of the Kuwaiti cabinet on 14 November (GSN 1,092/4) looks ever less likely to signal the start of yet another crisis in local politics. Instead it has given Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah the chance to reshape a cabinet that had become dysfunctional amid allegations of corruption involving a senior member of the ruling family. Local sources tell GSN the removal of interior minister Sheikh Khaled Jarrah Al-Sabah in particular offers an opportunity for a long-term restructuring of power within government.

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African Energy Gulf States Newsletter