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It has been an eventful year in the Gulf. Against a backdrop of wider regional turmoil – the civil war in Syria and the overthrow of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi (GSN 951/1) – the six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states have been broadly stable, their political currents stirred but not redirected by events elsewhere. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz seemed keen to get his house in order, promoting several younger members of the Al-Saud, and delivering on a promise made in 2011 to appoint women to the Majlis Al-Shura (GSN 948/5, 946/6, 942/1, 941/1, 940/1, 939/20).

Iran | Saudi Arabia | Bahrain | Yemen | United Arab Emirates (UAE) | Iraq
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On 27 June 1995, the news that Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani had deposed his father, Qatar’s then emir Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Thani, made news bulletins across the world. A palace coup makes for good headlines: flanked by loyal officers, Hamad, then 43, told the cabinet: “I am not happy with what has happened but it had to be done and I had to do it.” His father, who was in a luxury hotel in Zurich at the time, described the usurpation as the “abnormal behaviour of an ignorant man”, though his protests faded as the level of support for Hamad became clear.

Qatar
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The rumour mills are grinding again after Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdelaziz left the Kingdom on 28 August for what the state Saudi Press Agency described as a “private holiday”. Sultan has returned to his palace in Morocco, where he spent much of his time in 2009 convalescing from treatment.

Saudi Arabia
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Confronted with long-term concerns over the budget’s ability to support such huge levels of public spending (GSN 906/12), and more immediate criticism over governance issues – highlighted by new reports of corruption linked to subsidiaries of European aerospace giant EADS  – how wealth is shared out in Saudi Arabia is a hot issue that will not go away, with the ‘Arab Spring’ adding urgency to complaints that many citizens are excluded from jobs and social benefits. 

Saudi Arabia
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Any discussion of Saudi politics and business quickly turns to questions about the influence of Al-Saud princes and other key players in the royal pecking order, and who will succeed King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz. For those seeking to understand the trajectory of Saudi politics, there is meaning to be found (or, at least, sought) in appointments and dismissals. The naming of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as head of the court of his father Crown Prince Salman, for example, may shed a glimmer of light on what lies ahead for him and other ‘third-generation princes’, as they move closer to the pinnacles of power.

Saudi Arabia
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The Mena region’s polities are very different from the post-colonial nation states and newly independent emirates created during the Cold War that moulded geopolitics in GSN’s formative years. Challenges from non-state actors and the evolution of city-based ‘benign autocracies’ now point to alternative political configurations. It is legitimate to question whether Gulf monarchies based on pre-colonial tribal and family structures will persist beyond the coming decades, in a region buffeted by ‘non-state actors’ such as Islamic State, and riven by sectarian conflicts and demands for a more equitable distribution of resources.

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King Salman Bin Abdelaziz’s hospitalisation on 20 July showed the 84 year-old’s vulnerability, but also that the monarch since 2015 has lost none of the tough spirit that long made him the royal family ‘enforcer’ and mediator. Following the successful removal of his gallbladder, Salman chaired a cabinet meeting from hospital on 22 July, highlighting his legendary work ethic and allaying immediate concerns of his demise. However, by advertising the king’s frailties, the episode set Saudi-watchers once again to focusing on the succession. One school of thought has it that Salman’s infirmity might provide a credible excuse to justify his abdication – almost certainly in favour of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).