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Gulf States News - Issue 1071 - 13/12/2018

Politics of disunity and animosity in the GCC reshapes the regional landscape

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit was again overshadowed by the crisis pitting Qatar against the GCC-3 of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (GSN 1,040/1). Qatar attended the 9 December summit – although Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani was one of three heads of state who stayed away from the annual meeting, this year held in Riyadh – but 18 months after the GCC-3’s boycott was launched against Doha it is becoming ever harder to paper over the cracks of regional disunity. There was no sign of any unexpected radical shift in key leaders’ thinking, leaving a consensus that the one-day summit had achieved nothing other than to entrench existing positions.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1069 - 15/11/2018

Winners and losers as Sheikh Tamim reshuffles Qatar’s top team

Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani reshuffled his 14-member cabinet, created a number of new government bodies and appointed new leaders at key state-run institutions, including the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Qatar Petroleum (QP) and the Qatar Financial Markets Authority (QFMA) in a string of 4 November decrees.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1068 - 01/11/2018

Qaboos is still capable of surprise as Israelis are drawn to ‘facilitation’ in Oman

Observers have become accustomed in recent years to using Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said’s public appearances at National Day festivities to assess the Omani leader’s health. This year, 18 November is likely to lead to a reassessment of his condition, four years after Qaboos began treatment for colon cancer in Germany; he only finally returned to Muscat in 2016, after a long period of recuperation. GSN has spoken to a number of senior officials who have had recent contact with the sultan: the consensus seems to be that Qaboos’ health has improved significantly since 2016. He has put on weight, his face is noticeably less gaunt and “the spark has returned to his eyes”, as one observer put it.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1067 - 18/10/2018

Autocratic tendencies test international opinion as Khashoggi affair explodes

Riyadh is still in crisis recovery mode as the regime triesto find a way to explain the disappearance and apparent murder of prominent critic Jamal Khashoggi, after his visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October. While Riyadh initially claimed Khashoggi – who in the past year had been a periodic columnist for the Washington Post – had left the building, it was unable to provide any evidence of that; Saudi spokesmen were unable to counter speculation that Khashoggi was brutally murdered by a team of Saudi agents that flew into Istanbul that day.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1066 - 20/09/2018

Gulf rivals grapple with US defence plans amid differing approaches to Iran

Ameeting of regional defence chiefs in Kuwait on 12-13 September was a rare occasion when senior Qatari officials found themselves around a table with their erstwhile allies from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with the more neutral Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members, Kuwait and Oman. The event highlighted the aim of the Trump administration and hawkish GCC leaders to articulate a common front, most notably against Iran at a time when US sanctions are posing a major threat to its centrist President Hassan Rouhani. But that desire for unity is proving hard to achieve.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1065 - 06/09/2018

Support for Palestinians becomes another theatre for GCC rivalries, Trump caprices

The United States’ decision to withdraw its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was intended by President Donald Trump to add to pressure on the Palestinian National Authority (PA) to buy into his administration’s ‘ultimate deal’ to reach a very Israel-friendly accommodation on decades of conflict in the region. Trump’s 31 August decision may also have been intended to add to pressure on other donors to pay more – Germany and Japan are already among those to commit new funds to UNRWA. These developments represent an opportunity for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to project their power, while also threating to further exacerbate their differences.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1064 - 02/08/2018

Salman emerges into Neom world as Saudi reforms progress with mixed results

With the summer heat in full force, King Salman Bin Abdelaziz opted for an unusual place to take a break: the yet-to-be-built city of Neom in the kingdom’s north-west corner, abutting Egypt and Jordan, is his chosen destination. Eschewing his usual break in Tangier, Morocco, Salman arrived at the site on 30 July to “spend some time in rest and recreation”, the official statement said. The monarch chaired a session of the cabinet the following day, providing symbolic confirmation of Neom’s incorporation into the new Saudi Arabia being crafted by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and his teams of advisors.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1063 - 20/07/2018

UAE continues its proxy conflict against Qatar in Libya

The standoff between Qatar and its GCC-3 rivals Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE seems intractable more than a year after the embargo began, with new fronts in the dispute steadily opening up in other nearby regions. The battle for diplomatic influence and control of strategic assets in the Horn of Africa – enlivened by the UAE’s desire for military bases close to the Yemen conflict (GSN 1,055/6) – has been one notable arena. Libya has been a theatre of activity for Gulf and other regional players, notably Turkey, since the 2011 revolution that overthrew the late dictator Muammar Qadhafi. Recent manoeuvres involving Qatar and the UAE fit into what is becoming a familiar pattern.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1062 - 05/07/2018

Northern Emirates at play as Abu Dhabi flexes its centralising muscle

Events over last month have highlighted the strains being created by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE Armed Forces deputy supreme commander Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ)’s assertive political leadership of the United Arab Emirates, where he is seen as the most powerful political player, with dominant political influence in the smaller less powerful emirates. This has been reflected in British newspapers reports of the defection to Qatar of Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamad Al-Sharqi. The second son of Fujairah Ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohammed Al-Sharqi apparently fled to Doha having taken refuge in a hotel on Park Lane, London; reports said he feared for his safety when it became apparent that MBZ was pressurising his father to change the line of succession in a family where hand-overs of rule have traditionally gone smoothly.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1061 - 07/06/2018

GCC still split as Qatar crisis enters year two, with regional alliances up for grabs

It was not immediately obvious how serious the issue would become when the Qatar crisis began with the planting of ‘fake news’ stories on the Qatar News Agency (QNA) website on 24 May 2017 (GSN 1,037/7). The region has seen plenty of divisions and arguments between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before – not least in 2014 when Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE briefly withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar (GSN 965/1). However, it soon became clear this was something different. As GSN noted in the early days of the dispute, it quickly began to look like the most consequential dispute among GCC members for years had erupted (GSN 1,038/1).

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