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Politics: Confronted by multiple humanitarian and security crises, Yemen teeters on the verge of collapse and ‘failed state’ status (GSN’s political risk category F). President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquished power after 33 years in February 2012, but promises of democracy and stability were never delivered, as President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi inherited a mess of competing and often violent factions, which he failed to harness.

Yemen
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GCC: The Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) was set up on 25 May 1981 in Abu Dhabi, when the leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates agreed to establish a council whose aims were to “achieve unity”, formulate “similar regulations” in the economics, customs, commerce, communications, education and culture sectors, and to stimulate scientific and technological progress.

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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.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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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 politically conservative. Control is held by emirate rulers, led by oil-rich, politically savvy Abu Dhabi and commercial hub Dubai. The federal government’s legislative and executive jurisdiction cover foreign affairs, security, defence, education, health, currency, electricity and immigration. Emirates retain considerable economic independence and control over mineral rights and revenues.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Politics: Al-Thanis have ruled since the mid-19th century, reinforced by British recognition of their right to govern. 25 years after independence in 1971, the peninsula gained hugely in power, confidence and wealth with ‘Father Emir’ Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s drive to develop gas reserves. The population has boomed, from around 111,000 in 1970 to 2.2m-plus today (85%-90% expatriate), almost exclusively concentrated in Doha. Between 1995 and 2013, Sheikh Hamad and prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim remodelled Qatar as an ultra-modern independent-minded city state, funded by extreme wealth.

Qatar
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Politics: Established by King Abdelaziz (Ibn Saud) in 1932, the kingdom – an absolute monarchy – is the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) giant in terms of population, territory, oil wealth and its claim to religious authority. Saudi Arabia is ruled by King Salman Bin Abdelaziz, Ibn Saud’s sixth son to assume the throne. At 82 on 31 December, Salman has broken with Al-Saud tradition to assure the succession of his line, replacing the experienced Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdelaziz as crown prince with his favoured son, the now 32-year-old Mohammed Bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia
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Politics: Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said is the 14th ruler of the Al-Busaidi dynasty (founded in 1750) and the monumental figure in modern Oman. Having deposed his father in 1970, Qaboos relies on allies typically drawn from the merchant elite, rather than his relatively small family. In a highly centralised power structure, Qaboos remains premier, defence, finance and foreign minister, Central Bank of Oman chair and armed forces commander-in-chief. He was briefly married but has no children or heir apparent.

Oman
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Governed by the Al-Sabah family since the 18th century, Kuwait gained independence from Britain in 1961, with a constitution confirming the hereditary monarchy but giving significant powers to an independent judiciary and elected assembly. The emir – Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah (born in June 1929) since 2006 – retains final say. Parties are banned, but active associations and factions create opposition blocs in the 50-member Majlis Al-Umma (National Assembly).

Kuwait
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Politics: Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932; it became a republic in 1958. Saddam Hussein’s presidency was marked by conflict, including the 1980-88 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf war and the US-led occupation in 2003, which removed the Baathist regime. Thirteen years after Saddam’s demise, Iraq has yet to emerge from conflict. GSN’s political risk grade was moved from D to E, reflecting continuing levels of violence.

Iraq
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Politics: Disagreements between the autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) and the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad have been a source of major tensions. The 2005 constitution gave the KRI an identity distinct from Iraq, as a federal entity recognised by Iraq and the United Nations; the 2010 Erbil agreement outlined how power would be shared. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has long protested these agreements’ lack of implementation.

Iraq
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Following the 4 November arrest of some of the most celebrated members of the Saudi elite – including the dismissal and subsequent detention of Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) minister Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz – the Al-Salman clan, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), has underlined its reputation for supporting its widely trumpeted claims to be enacting economic and social reform with an autocratic approach to politics. The list of those detained in the purge includes dozens of princes, ministers, officials and prominent businessmen, sufficient to cause tremors across the kingdom

Saudi Arabia
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The Al-Khalifa family came to power in 1783, driving the Persian empire from the archipelago. The British empire, interested in maritime trade routes, entered into an alliance with the Al-Khalifa 200 years ago; only in 1971 did Bahrain declare independence. The constitution provided for a fully elected parliament, which was formed in 1973 but disbanded in 1975 after a period of repressive rule; a partially elected body was reinstated in 2002.

Bahrain
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Iran was declared an Islamic Republic in 1979, following the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Supreme Leader (Rahbar) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits at the top of the political system, his power (in theory) checked by an elected president and parliament; the conflict between theocracy and democracy dictates much of the internal dynamic. The election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013, following the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proved a transitional moment in the Islamic Republic’s external relations.

Iran
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GCC: The Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) was set up on 25 May 1981 in Abu Dhabi, when the leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates agreed to establish a council whose aims were to “achieve unity”, formulate “similar regulations” in the economics, customs, commerce, communications, education and culture sectors, and to stimulate scientific and technological progress.

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Politics: Confronted by multiple humanitarian and security crises, Yemen teeters on the verge of collapse and ‘failed state’ status (GSN’s political risk category F). President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquished power after 33 years in February 2012; promises of democracy and stability were never delivered, as President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi inherited a mess of competing and often violent factions, which he failed to harness.

Yemen