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Issue 1175 - 01 September 2023

UAE: Dubai tourism surpasses pre-Covid highs

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Dubai economic recovery gives emirate upgrade: The number of visitors to Dubai surpassed pre-Covid levels in H1 2023, marking the vital tourism sector’s full recovery and prompting a change in GSN’s economic risk grade for the emirate, with the previous downward economic indicator removed. Data from the Department of Economy and Tourism in early August showed a record 8.55m international overnight visitors in H1 23, compared to 8.36m in H1 19.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Slowing growth: The UAE economy grew by 3.8% in Q1 2023, compared to Q1 22, according to Federal Centre for Competitiveness and Statistics data issued in early August. GDP was AED418.3bn ($113.9bn) in the January-March period, when non-oil GDP expanded by 4.5%.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Political upgrade: It may seem not the most opportune moment to remove the downwards negative trend arrow from Saudi Arabia’s ‘B’ political risk rating – coming amid more speculation that King Salman Bin Abdelaziz’s health is fading and with the International Monetary Fund giving the kingdom its “steepest growth downgrade among major economies”, as Bloomberg put it on 25 July, and longer-term investment plans in question.

Saudi Arabia
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A decade in power: Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani marked his tenth anniversary as ruler on 25 June. He took over aged 33, after his father (now ‘father emir’) Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani chose to step down voluntarily – if under international pressure over his foreign policy – telling Qataris it was time for a new generation to take over.

Qatar
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Hydrogen economy plays: Underlining Oman’s determination to be a first mover in the predicted new global hydrogen economy – an apparent cornerstone of Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq Al-Said’s more progressive economic policy – energy and minerals minister Salim Al-Aufi signed agreements for two green hydrogen (GH2) projects on 21 June.

Oman
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Audit chief resigns: State Audit Bureau (SAB) president Faisal Al-Shaye resigned on 6 July, citing political interference in his work. A number of members of the recently elected National Assembly including Hamad Al-Mudlej had called on Al-Shaye to resign or be sacked over unspecified violations and mismanagement.

Kuwait
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Sadr’s return: Muqtada Al-Sadr is reportedly lining up for a return to the political fray, by putting up candidates in the upcoming provincial council elections, in what would be the first significant move by the Shia cleric  since he withdrew his MPs from the Council of Representatives (parliament) in June 2022. On 19 June, Shafaq News Agency cited an unnamed party source as saying “the leadership has decided to participate in the provincial council elections.

Iraq
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Oil exports: Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani held talks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss oil exports, in a meeting in Ankara on 20 June. In late March, Turkey halted exports via the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline following an arbitration ruling by the Paris-based International Court of Arbitration.

Iraq
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Budget balance: The government said it is aiming for a budget deficit of less than 1% of gross domestic product in 2024, which will bring it close to the target set out in the amended Fiscal Balance Programme of balancing its books that year. The government originally hoped to break even by 2022, but delayed that by two years during the Covid pandemic.

Bahrain
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IAEA report: Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has risen by over a quarter in three months, according to comments by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi on 5 June. Grossi told a board of governors meeting in Vienna that “some progress” had been made on monitoring and verification. However, it was “not at the level, pace and sustained rhythm that I would expect.

Iran
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Slow moves towards peace: Yemen remains a failed state (F on GSN’s risk grade scale), with an economy and society ravaged by war (risk grade 6). Cautious moves towards achieving a sustainable peace depend on the main belligerents buying into a credible, internationally-brokered deal. Even then, dangerous non-state actors – and more covert action by governments – will likely mean Yemen remains deeply unstable for years to come.

Yemen
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Regional and international organisations Arab League Summit: Saudi Arabia provided a warm welcome to President Bashar Al-Assad on Syria’s return to the League of Arab States, at the organisation’s 32nd summit, held at the King Abdullah International Conference Centre in Jeddah on 19 May.

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Khalifa anniversary: The UAE marked the first anniversary of the death of president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on 13 May. Khalifa had been in office since November 2004, but had largely been sidelined after suffering a stroke in early 2014. His half-brother Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ) was already the dominant figure in UAE politics and since replacing Khalifa as head of state has further entrenched the position of his branch of the family.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Fujairah and others census counting: Fujairah is preparing for the first part of its latest census, with teams of field workers due to visit all parts of the emirate starting in May, including residential and commercial premises and other facilities. A second phase is due to be carried out in Q1 2024, when the population will be counted. The project is being supervised by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Mohammed Al-Sharqi.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Ratings uplift: Fitch Ratings reaffirmed its AA- sovereign credit rating but upgraded its outlook from stable to positive on 28 March, citing Qatar's strong external balance sheet, low debt/gross domestic product ratio and high fiscal surplus. Fitch said the additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity due online from the North Field’s expansion would help to reduce an already low fiscal break-even hydrocarbon price.

Qatar