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Succession politics have moved quickly as the ruling family attempts to project unity in the face of Kuwait’s unsteady future following the death of veteran ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. While the late emir’s son Sheikh Nasser Sabah had been seen by many as the natural choice to become the next crown prince – leveraging his popularity with the public and vision for a non- oil future – new Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah instead chose his own half-brother, Kuwait National Guard deputy commander Sheikh Meshaal as heir apparent.

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The death of Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al- Sabah in the early hours of 29 September marked the end of an era for Kuwait and the wider region. Born in 1929, the 91-year-old was Kuwait’s 15th emir and ruled for over 14 years, since January 2006.

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Western governments’ awareness of the extent and character of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s global ambitions, manifested in President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road Initiative (BRI), has grown sharply in the last 12 months. Not that the ‘Silk Road’ project should be any surprise: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been open about its goals, albeit mainly expressed on Chinese language sites.

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The UAE’s commitment to broadcasting its now overt relationship with Israel has seen cabinet ministers holding phone calls with their Israeli counterparts, the formal scrapping of the boycott of Israel on 29 August and an El Al plane landing at Abu Dhabi International Airport on 31 August carrying a delegation including US President Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Council leader Meir Ben-Shabbat.

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Questions about the health of the elderly rulers of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have become central issues in recent days, in the wake of both men being hospitalised and undergoing surgery. Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah is expected to spend some time recuperating in the United States, at the very least slowing down his important role as a regional peacemaker

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Speculation persists that Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef (MBN) is being set up to face corruption charges, as his successor as crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), consolidates his personal power – by cracking down on potential rivals – and economic influence, via instruments including the now pervasive Public Investment Fund (PIF).

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Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) appears to be well aware of his pariah status on the world stage in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in October 2018 (see Diplomatic brief). Wishing to avoid any embarrassment at being cold-shouldered by some senior western leaders, he had severely curbed his global travelling even before the Covid-19 pandemic began and the Bin Salman clan locked down in their island palaces and yachts. MBS is believed to have stayed in the kingdom (and not to have recently visited his French summer home at Louveciennes, near Versailles, acquired in 2015 for an estimated $300m).

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With many Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries now starting to ease restrictions imposed to counter the spread of coronavirus, GSN has carried out an analysis of the number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths attributable to the disease across the region. While some governments appear to be getting the virus under control, at least to some degree, an analysis of data collated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggests other countries remain firmly in the grip of a healthcare crisis.

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The UAE has projected its influence and increasing military muscle in an ever wider arc under Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE Armed Forces deputy supreme commander Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ)’s leadership. Its commitments now run as far west as Libya, where the UAE is a key backer of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF – formerly known as the Libyan National Army), whose march on Tripoli has stalled amid a striking Turkish intervention.

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A month since the Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared a state of emergency and self-administration on 25 April, there is no sign of tensions easing with the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (GSN 1,102/6). This raises fresh doubts over Yemen’s long-term viability as a single state.

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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 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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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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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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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.