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Prisoner pardons: The UAE defused a damaging row with the UK on 26 November by issuing a presidential pardon to British researcher Matthew Hedges, who had been given a life sentence for espionage a few days earlier. The pardon was one of 785 issued in the name of President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, part of the usual wave of early releases announced ahead of National Day on 2 December.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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IMF review: Doha has received a positive review from the International Monetary Fund following a visit in late October/early November. IMF team leader Mohammed El-Qorchi said the country’s economy “continues to strengthen,” with non-hydrocarbon output growing by 6% in H1 2018. Overall GDP growth for the period was 2.3%, including a 1.6% decline in the oil and gas sector, but economic growth is predicted to rise to 3.1% in 2019.

Qatar
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Khashoggi affair: The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October continues to cause difficulties for Riyadh and for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in particular. Key western allies appear to have been angered as much by the amateurish attempts by Riyadh to deny responsibility for the journalist’s fate as they are by the murder itself. The Saudi heir’s reputation has been undermined by a steady drip-feed of leeks from the Turkish government and forensic reporting by American newspapers which have identified the key individuals involved as being close to MBS.

Saudi Arabia
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Diplomatic activity: Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said hosted both Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Muscat in October, in a surprising round of diplomatic activity. The two leaders arrived within days of each other; while details have remained secret, foreign affairs minister Yusuf Bin Alawi subsequently told a conference in Bahrain that “we offer ideas that may have some novelty and it is this novelty that may help the two parties to be ready to go forward”.

Oman
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Parliament reconvenes: Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah reopened the National Assembly (parliament) on 30 October. The session was due to start with a grilling of prime minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, but the motion was withdrawn by MPs Mohammed Al-Mutair and Shuaib Al-Muwaizri the day before. In a further sign of compromise, the government has reinstated citizenship to a number of opposition figures and said it is willing to discuss the status of bidoon (stateless residents) later in the session.

Kuwait
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Presidential election: Moderate Kurdish candidate Barham Salih was elected federal president on 2 October, heralding the potential end to a long period of political uncertainty following elections in May. The post of president is typically held by a Kurd as part of efforts to provide a political balance among the country’s various sectarian groups. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) candidate Salih easily beat his main rival Fuad Hussein of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), securing 219 votes to Hussein’s 22.

Iran
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Presidential rift: The process of electing a new federal president of Iraq – by convention a role given to a Kurd – exposed deepening divisions between the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Since 2005 the two parties have divided the spoils in Iraq, with the PUK holding the federal presidency while the KDP takes the presidency of the Kurdistan Region.

Iraq
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Sanctions take effect: US sanctions are again having a marked impact on the economy, with inflation rising and the rial under pressure in foreign exchange markets. This is reflected in the political arena, where hardliners are mounting a sustained campaign against President Hassan Rouhani and his team. Economic affairs and finance minister Massoud Karbasian and co-operatives, labour and social welfare minister Ali Rabiei were voted out of office by MPs in August. However, Rouhani has been responding.

Iran
Issue 1065 - 07 September 2018

GCC: Omani intervention, EU, Yemen

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Oman pushes for resolution: The GCC remains deeply divided over the dispute between the GCC-3 and Egypt and Qatar. As GSN has observed, the crisis is not yet terminal for the GCC, but it is highly divisive. Oman has re-engaged with efforts to resolve the dispute, with minister responsible for foreign affairs Youssef Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah offering an optimistic assessment following talks with his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa in Salalah on 4 September.

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Tehran looks east: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif signed the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation in Southeast Asia (TAC) on the sidelines of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Singapore on 2 August. The TAC is designed to promote political relations between its signatories and does not hold any economic significance; even so, Iranian ambassador to Singapore Javad Ansari said the treaty would enable the Islamic Republic to expand economic ties with Asean member states in the face of the new sanctions being imposed by the United States.

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IDB/OECD back Yemen redevelopment: The war is far from over, but the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has launched a project with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to rebuild institutional capacity at the national and local level in post-conflict Yemen. The scheme is being supported with funding from the G7’s Deauville Partnership MENA Transition Fund and is being run in co-ordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation.

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Output is rising: Despite concerns over declining Iranian output ahead of sanctions, Opec’s crude production rose in August to its highest level this year, as the cartel’s 15 members (including recent recruit Republic of Congo) produced 32.74m b/d, Bloomberg reported. This was 420,000 b/d more than in July, representing a significant step towards the goal of adding 1m b/d to the market agreed in June.

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Politics: Established in 1971, the federation of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al-Quwain is economically liberal and progressive, but remains politically conservative. Ultimate control is held by the emirate rulers, led by oil-rich, politically savvy Abu Dhabi and regional/global commercial hub Dubai. The federal government has legislative and executive jurisdiction over sectors including foreign affairs, security, defence, education, health, currency, electricity and immigration. Each emirate retains considerable economic independence and control over mineral rights and revenues.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Politics: At the top of each emirate are the rulers’ courts and their crown princes. In practice, only the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai make unilateral decisions and issue emiri decrees; most of the smaller emirates use legislation crafted at federal level. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah all have executive councils (Dubai’s is relatively informal). Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have national consultative councils, whose usefulness (like the Federal National Council) has been questioned. For family trees of all seven families, see GSN 1,000.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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The economy weathers a year of ‘seige’: Qatar has arguably emerged as a more robust economy – and with a more defined sense of national identity and interest – from the crisis that began with the planting of ‘fake news’ stories on the Qatar News Agency website in May 2017 and saw erstwhile Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) allies Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE boycotting the economy from 5 June.

Qatar