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The much-publicised initiative for Morocco and Jordan to join the Gulf Co-operation Council surprised many when it was announced by new GCC secretary-general Abdelatif Al-Zayani, but it was not a new suggestion – it was proposed some years ago but quietly dropped – and has a political and economic logic for most of those involved.

Free

Kuwait, like many Gulf states, has been grappling with how best to deal with sociAl networking sites such as Twitter, which have given wings to dissent that in the past would not have left the realms of private conversation.

Kuwait
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Population growth is a universal feature of the Gulf Co-operation Council region at a time of booming oil-financed expansion, with a surge in construction activity and accelerating demand for services creating an almost insatiable need for labour. The GCC thus continues to suck in foreign workers to meet real present economic needs. This is also the case for some sectors in Bahrain, but there is also concern that in the small communally divided island state migration policy is serving political ends too – with potentially dangerous consequences.

Bahrain
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In parallel to an SR9bn ($2.4bn) upgrade of school facilities and teaching methods under the banner of the King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz Project for Developing Public Education (Tatweer), the Saudi Ministry of Education (MoE) is tackling the ideological roots of jihadist activity. MoE officials have confirmed that school pupils will be denied access to supposedly extremist

Saudi Arabia
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Timothy Geithner’s first visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE since becoming US Treasury Secretary highlighted again the important role Gulf Co-operation Council governments play in the global economy, and the fact that the strategic alliances between the United States and GCC polities have been central to maintaining the regional status quo. Not only are all the GCC economies, except for Kuwait, pegged to the dollar, but they are also the largest foreign investors in US stocks.

Saudi Arabia | United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Free

ExxonMobil’s audacious six-block deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has plunged a dagger into the already uneasy peace between Arabs and Kurds, giving an immediate public relations boost to the headline-chasing KRG natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami and pouring further misery onto Baghdad’s embattled deputy prime minister for energy affairs Hussein Al-Shahristani.

Iraq
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The application of renewable energy (RE) to replace hydrocarbons in generating electricity could provide an end to the Gulf’s ‘resource curse’, but right now the region lacks some of the tools needed to cope with the new era. Just as oil prices were hitting a three-year high in mid-January, the world’s RE industry was gathering in Abu Dhabi for the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena)’s annual summit.

Free

Hardliners in Iran may feel that they held the eleventh election for the Majlis-e Shura-ye Eslami (parliament) just in time. The vote on 21 February returned a chamber dominated by conservatives, as a result of the widespread exclusion of moderate candidates by the Guardian Council, and low turnout among a disillusioned populace. But given the authorities’ failure to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak since then, the authorities will have to work even harder to supress public anger in the future.

Iran
Free

The battle for power and influence in Iran appeared to take a gruesome turn on 19 June, with the as-yet-unexplained death of fugitive judge Gholamreza Mansouri in a Bucharest hotel. Mansouri was being tried in absentia in Tehran as part of a wider, politically-inspired corruption clampdown. He had been speaking to the Iranian embassy in Bucharest in an effort to agree a return, but those negotiations broke down. Tehran put in an extradition request via Interpol instead, but before that process could be completed Mansouri was dead.

Iran
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How quickly the most novel of announcements can become the new normal. The Saudi Press Agency reported on 9 December that, following a ten-year agreement between the General Sports Authority (GSA) and World Snooker, the kingdom would host “for the first time in its history, a world snooker championship”. Never shy of entering a lucrative new market, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn called the 4-10 October 2020 Saudi Masters championship “a giant leap forward for our sport… For the fans in Saudi Arabia it is a wonderful opportunity to see the best players in the world competing for a huge title.”

Saudi Arabia
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Despite all his efforts to project a more modern, tolerant and less corrupt image of Saudi royalty, unhelpful stories continue to buzz around Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), in the process undermining his hopes of recasting the image of his country and its ruling dynasty. In the days leading up to his protracted visit to the United States, which began on 20 March, stories broke in the international media which take at least some of the sheen off his carefully-curated reformist image.

Saudi Arabia
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The UAE was among over 50 countries that lined up on 1 July with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in unambiguous opposition to United States and other western foreign policy, voting in favour of Beijing’s imposition of a controversial national security law over Hong Kong at the 44th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regular session. Of the 53 countries that supported China, more than 40 have agreements to join President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road vision for a “balanced and harmonious” infrastructure-driven new world order.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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The space for political debate in Gulf countries continues to be tightened, with political opponents targeted with arrests and long prison sentences. Among the most recent incidents, in the UAE, prominent human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced in late May by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court to ten years in jail for insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” via postings on social media.

Free

Despite Gulf producers’ success in forcing the price of crude up to around $70 a barrel, the strains of several years of lower oil prices are ever more apparent, even for the richest Gulf states. Adding to the pressure, several governments have had to shoulder the burden of huge military expenditure in Yemen and the cost of unprecedented diplomatic and other ‘soft power’ initiatives, as hydrocarbons revenues dropped away. These trends have driven a new burst of policy-making creativity in the UAE.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Free

By and large, Oman reacted quickly and efficiently to the cyclone that struck the Sultanate in early June

Oman