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Gulf States News - 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 News - 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 News - 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 News - 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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Gulf States News - Issue 1092 - 19/11/2019

Iran’s regional influence comes under scrutiny as protests in Iraq turn violent

Iraq scored a notable victory over Iran on 14 November, albeit only on the football pitch in Amman, Jordan, where Usood Al-Rafidain (the Lions of Mesopotamia) won a World Cup qualifier over the much higher ranked Team Melli by two goals to one. The game was played in a neutral location due to security concerns around the original venue in Basra, where anti-government protests have continued through early November, as they have across much of Iraq. Fans’ celebrations were informed as much by events at home as on the pitch in Jordanian capital, with Iran seen by a growing number of Iraqis as exercising an unwarranted degree of influence over their government. Large crowds watching the game on screens in Tahrir Square, Baghdad saw Iraqi players cover their faces after scoring, in reference to the teargas used against demonstrators.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1091 - 31/10/2019

Doubts about Crown Prince Nawaf’s health spur talk of change in Kuwaiti succession

The return of Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber AlSabah to Kuwait after an extended period of medical checks in New York appears to have settled some nerves about the immediate succession (GSN 1,090/7). Notwithstanding his health issues, the 90-year-old emir appears in relatively good shape for his age. However, succession is set to remain a live issue, particularly given fresh doubts about Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s future as heir apparent. GSN’s soundings suggest the succession to Sheikh Sabah may skip a generation, but keep power within the emir’s nuclear family. GSN understands that the emir’s halfbrother Sheikh Nawaf is highly unlikely to succeed given his own health issues. Sources suggest that the emir’s 71-year-old son, defence minister and deputy prime minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, is now most likely to step up to fill any potential vacancy, but formal decisions have yet to be made.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1090 - 17/10/2019

Abu Dhabi-Dubai ties under pressure from regional instability and economic doldrums

The relationship between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE Armed Forces deputy supreme commander Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ) and Dubai Ruler, federal Vice President and prime minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (MBR) is inevitably complex, with many of its working parts hidden from public view and shielded by a cloak of lèse-majesté. Ties that have bonded the two leaders in creating in the emirates a global pole of commercial achievement and influence have long played a positive role in the region.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1089 - 03/10/2019

US President Donald Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for backing up his heated anti-Iranian rhetoric with meaningful military resources, even in the wake of last month’s attack on the Abqaiq oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, appears to be a key underlying factor in renewed efforts from within the region to de-escalate tensions. Trump has taken heed of trusted media voices that a Middle East war now would torpedo his re-election chances, while the two main regional protagonists, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are both in positions of relative weakness.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1088 - 19/09/2019

Abqaiq attack raises more awkward questions about regional alliances and balance of power

The massive attack launched on the critical Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq early on 14 September was not just another drone strike by the Houthis – as the Yemeni movement claimed – but in all likelihood was launched from Iran, reflecting the extent that the Islamic Republic has emerged as a significant military power. As well as placing unexpected new pressures on the global oil market, it pitched Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and the Saudi leadership into yet another crisis – of how to respond against an enemy that has shown it has the commitment and wherewithal to do great damage – and US President Donald Trump, who newly shorn of his hawkish national security advisor (NSA) John Bolton must articulate a credible response.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1087 - 05/09/2019

Health scare for Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah focuses minds on the future

Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s health was the subject of renewed concern and speculation following an unscripted mid-August revelation about the 90-year-old emir’s apparently poor health by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. However, as GSN went to press, the indefatigable nonogenarian emir was expected to visit the United States for talks with President Donald Trump and on 2 September was pictured laughing with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait.

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