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Politics: Kuwait has been governed by the Al-Sabah family since the 18th century. It gained independence from Britain in 1961, when a new constitution confirmed the hereditary monarchy, but gave significant powers to an independent judiciary and an 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).


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. Oil has been central to disputes: Baghdad was furious that Erbil signed production-sharing agreements unilaterally with international oil companies (IOCs) and opposed the KRG’s efforts to export oil without passing through the central State Marketing Organisation (Somo).


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.


Politics: 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.


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. In part founded as a reaction to the Iranian revolution and Iran-Iraq war, divisions and power imbalances slowed the GCC’s progress in its first three-and-a-half decades, despite high hopes and rhetoric.

Issue 1033 - 09 March 2017

Yemen: Ever more complex conflict


Politics: Confronted by multiple humanitarian and security crises, Yemen is on the verge of collapse and ‘failed state’ status (GSN’s political risk category F). The transition period after president Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquished power (after 33 years) in February 2012 never delivered on promises of democracy and stability. President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi inherited a mess of competing and often violent factions, which he failed to harness: southern secessionists continue to resist Sanaa’s rule, jihadist groups are embedded around the country, old guard remnants refuse to relinquish power and the Houthi movement (northern Zaidis allied with a resurgent Saleh) captured Sanaa in September 2014.