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Kuwaiti takes over UN commission: Economist Rola Dashti took over as executive secretary of the Beirut-based United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on 7 February; she is also a UN under-secretary-general. Dashti is a former Kuwaiti planning and development minister, and was one of four women who became the first to be elected to the National Assembly (parliament) in May 2009. She has also served as minister of state for parliamentary affairs.

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Civilian casualties: 26 March marked the fourth anniversary of the entry of the Saudi Arabia / UAE-led coalition into the Yemen conflict. The independent Yemen Data Project (YDP) has tracked 19,553 air raids by coalition forces in that time. It says the air raids have caused at least 17,729 civilian causalities, including 8,345 deaths and 9,399 injuries. These numbers are almost certainly under-estimates as the YDP only uses the most conservative figures in its reporting.

Yemen
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Northern emirates infrastructure: Federal Vice President, prime minister and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (MBR) unveiled infrastructure spending worth nearly Dh18bn ($4.9bn) during a series of visits to the northern emirates in late February/early March. This was interpreted as part of a wider ‘carrot-and-stick approach’ to the often over-looked region. In late February, MBR visited Ajman and Umm Al-Quwain to announce Dh11bn on road and infrastructure projects.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Watching Tehran: President Donald Trump provoked a diplomatic storm on 4 February when he said US forces needed to stay in Iraq to ‘keep an eye on Iran’. Speaking to the CBS Face the Nation programme, Trump said “one of the reasons I want to keep” the Ain Al-Asad airbase in western Iraq “is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran, because Iran is a real problem.” The comments were condemned by leading figures in Iraq, including President Barham Saleh who said it would deviate from the 2008 US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.

Iraq
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Government stasis: Kurdish political parties may be close to reaching a compromise on a number of key issues as they try to form a new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), more than four months after the 30 September regional elections. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 45 seats in the 111-seat assembly, while the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) picked up 21 seats, offering a viable majority if they can agree a coalition deal.

Iraq
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Domestic rivalries: Different factions within the Islamic Republic continue to compete for power and influence in the system, with many keeping an eye on the health of the 79-year-old Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and preparing for what might follow his demise. The death of Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi in December opened the way for a reshuffle of some senior posts. Judiciary chief Amoli Larijani was picked to replace Shahroudi, while hard-line conservative Ebrahim Raeisi has been mooted as a possible candidate to take over as head of the judiciary.

Iran
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Summit disunity: The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit, held in Riyadh on 9 December, was overshadowed by the long-running crisis pitting Qatar against the GCC-3 of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Doha sent a low-ranking delegation, led by minister of state for foreign affairs Sultan Bin Saad Al-Muraikhi. Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was most explicit in his calls for the rift to be healed, telling the summit “we face a serious threat to the unity of our position” and that “unfortunately the world is beginning to see us as a shaken entity”.

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Big rise in Mena syndications: Bloomberg’s annual Europe, Middle East and Africa capital markets league tables showed a sharp rise in syndications in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, where syndicated loans increased by 52.8% to $127.2bn in 2018, surpassing the previous record set in 2007. First Abu Dhabi Bank ranked as the top Mena bookrunner with 8.85% of credited market share, followed by HSBC and Standard Chartered. Saudi-based borrowers took 35.54% market share, followed by UAE- and Oman-based borrowers with 27.61% and 9.9% respectively.

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Parliamentary election constrained: Some 365,000 Bahraini men and women were eligible to vote for the 293 candidates who ran for the 40-seat Majlis Al-Nuwab (Council of Representatives) in elections held on 24 November. The authorities announced a turnout of 67% – far higher than the 53% recorded at the last election in 2014. Only seven candidates gained enough votes in the first round, necessitating a second round on 1 December.

Bahrain
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Peace talks resume: Talks between Yemen’s warring opponents began in Stockholm, Sweden on 6 December, the first such discussions for more than two years. The Houthi delegation was led by Mohammed Abdul Salam, while foreign minister Khalid Al-Yamani led the team from President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. The talks were preceded by the evacuation of 50 injured Houthi fighters from Yemen to Oman on 3 December, as a confidence-building measure.

Yemen
Issue 1070 - 29 November 2018

UAE: Economic stimulus packages, UAQ pay

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Abu Dhabi fees: In an effort to try and boost private sector activity, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council has agreed to waive local government fees for any new commercial licences issued in the emirate for the next two years, starting from 1 December. The Executive Council also cancelled the fees for 75 basic municipality services and reduced them on a further 23 services by up to 50%. The decisions are the latest element of a Dh50bn ($13.6bn) economic stimulus package called Ghadan 21, which was announced in June.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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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