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This Issue leads with a story describing the flurry of announcements by GCC leaders regarding energy transitions and industrial strategies which suggests major shifts are under way.  There is also a major story concerning opposition MPs in Kuwait falling just short of the numbers needed to block the swearing-in of Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah’s new cabinet.  It also contains a map of Iran.  You can read the view article "Co-operation deal hype masks Chinese caution over oil supplier Iran" for free.

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This issue leads with a story regarding Kuwait’s fractious political arena being thrown into deeper crisis by a series of controversial court cases, while Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has been forced to leave the country to seek medical care for his stomach cancer  This issue includes a graphic which outlines GSN risk grades across the Gulf. Download the graphic for free here. There is also a story about how the UAE has been revaluating its approach to projecting power in north and east Africa, in the wake of some significant setbacks. GSN explores this strategy in greater depth in a trio of following articles.

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This issue leads with a story regarding the United States and its gulf allies making rapid changes to their defence planning to deal with the threat from Iranian-designed cruise missiles and ‘suicide’ drones, which could become even more potent as Iran and its proxies develop longer-range systems.  This article includes a graphic which outlines budget spending across the Gulf. Download the graphic here. There is also a story analysing the Kuwaiti government and ruling family's struggle with the parallel challenges of a restive parliament and low oil revenues.

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Saudi Arabia is keen to end the costly war on its southern border, but has yet to find a way out while also ensuring its security and preserving Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s reputation. The Biden administration could contribute to the conflict’s resolution, provided it can reach a new understanding with Iran. In the meantime, many are profiting from the conflict, with large-scale smuggling from Oman and the UAE bringing arms and much more into the conflict zone.

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Saudi Arabia is projecting its multi-billion dollar soft power, with slick TV ads for Neom and a Dubai-style kingdom appearing around the world, showing a vision that, if not fantasy, is certainly still years away. Mohammed Bin Salman’s futuristic development plans and the social shifts they promise may eventually produce a vibrant, unrecognisable Saudi arabia, but tensions with locals and testing financial questions remain to be resolved.

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While analysts were puzzling over who would succeed Sultan Qaboos, Sayyid Haitham Bin tariq was quietly drawing up plans for the personnel and policies he would need if – and when – he took over from the ailing ruler. GSN understands that the recent spate of key appointments and policy announcements are the fruit of thinking that evolved while the sultan’s uncle, who died one year ago, was still alive. these moves are refashioning Oman as Haitham would like – with the prospect of a few more eye-catching announcements to come as the sultan completes the initial implementation of his plans.

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Qatar and Saudi Arabia have re-established relations in what a UAE minister called “a return to GCC unity”, but while rapprochement is welcomed, deep divisions remain between the Gulf monarchies – from Abu Dhabi’s suspicions of Qatari politics to Doha’s rising tensions with Bahrain.

Issue 1116 - 10 December 2020

Kuwait heads for post-election paralysis

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The opposition victory in the National Assembly election is likely to lead to more deadlock at a time of economic crisis, presenting a test for recently installed Emir Sheikh Nawaf and reappointed Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah.

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Saudi Arabia is preparing for the transition from President Donald Trump to his successor by laying the groundwork for a withdrawal from Yemen and dealing with outstanding human rights issues, while Netanyahu’s visit suggests Riyadh is keeping its options open on a future deal with Israel.

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After a tumultuous period in power, President Donald Trump’s brand of transactional politics is coming to an end, to be replaced by President-elect Joe Biden’s more conventional approach.The Middle East is not likely to be high up the agenda for the new White House team, which will want to concentrate on rebuilding relations with key allies in Europe and Asia and dealing with the huge domestic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For some Gulf governments the impact will nonetheless be significant.

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The UAE has been focused on leveraging to the maximum its new public relationship with Israel following the signing on 15 September of the Abraham Accords, which were ratified by the Knesset (Israeli parliament) on 15 October. Deals have been signed in a host of areas ranging from artificial intelligence, to healthcare, agriculture and security, by companies many of which are linked to senior Emiratis and government bodies. Underlining potential strategic plays, the UAE is looking to take advantage of the Europe-Asia oil pipeline that runs from Eilat to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast.

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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.