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Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, newly named Emir of Qatar, stands out not just because of the sleek manner of his accession, but because of his youth. Born on 3 June 1980, Tamim had only just celebrated his 33rd birthday when he assumed the role for which he has spent more than a decade preparing. In a culture where respect is very linked to age, holding his own among his senescent Gulf counterparts will require some steel. Three of the five other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) heads of state are more than double his age; the closest in years, at 63, is Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

Qatar
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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.

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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.

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The blame game began within hours of Sunni extremists taking Mosul (see page 1). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki blamed members of the army for deserting, saying the seizure of the city was a “conspiracy”. Saudi Arabia blamed Iranian-backed Maliki, with information minister Abdelaziz Bin Mohieddin Khoja saying: “This would not have arisen were it not for the sectarian and exclusionary policies practised in Iraq over the past years”. Former British prime minister Tony Blair blamed the civil war in Syria (and definitely not the 2003 invasion of Iraq of which he was a primary architect). Writing in The Wall Street Journal on 15 June, L Paul Bremer, the former US governor of Iraq, tried to pin it on US President Barack Obama, who, he said, pulled US forces out of Iraq too soon.

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

Oman
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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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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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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
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The British-Omani military exercises Al-Shomoukh 2 and Saif Al Sarea 3 were still in full swing on land, sea and air as GSN went to press – a clear demonstration of international support for a sultanate that has long been seen as a maverick within the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The exercise is a sign for Muscat that it still has friends in high places – which is particularly important these days given the concerns that are bubbling up among the sultanate’s strategists, as well as analysts in Washington and elsewhere, about the intentions of its neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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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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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.

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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)
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Expatriates in the Gulf are used to horror stories about exit permits refused, passports withheld and people being held indefinitely under house arrest, but most accept it as one of the risks of working in a developing country

Bahrain | United Arab Emirates (UAE) | Qatar