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Issue 537 - 04 June 1996

Saudi Arabia: Uncertain Times


It is now a matter of when, not if, that the throne of Saudi Arabia has a new incumbent. Despite earlier optimism that King Fahd had fully recovered from the effects of last year's stroke, it is clear that his health has again deteriorated.

Issue 536 - 21 May 1996

Jordan's Woes


Aside from the Iraqi people, the biggest loser in the Iraqi tragedy has been Jordan. Bound by economic ties and domestic opinion, King Hussein made his fateful decision in 1990 to back Saddam Hussein. Since then he has worked his way back into favour with Western policy makers but has not been entirely forgiven by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The blockade of Iraq added a further burden to the already weak Jordanian economy. Now, as Iraq and the UN continue to discuss implementation of Security Council Resolution 986, it looks as if Jordan will once again be left to bear the costs of Western policy.

Issue 535 - 07 May 1996

Saudi Arabia Faces its Dissidents


Saudi Arabia has arrested four men it declares are responsible for the van bombing of a US military facility in Riyadh last November. It has made great efforts to link them to opposition leaders abroad, notably Dr Muhammad al Masari in London, spokesman of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR). The suspects' confessions were repeatedly shown on Saudi TV and were followed up by a public broadside against Britain by Interior Minister Prince Nayef.

Issue 534 - 23 April 1996

Iran's Second Round Vote


Iranians went to the polls once again on 19 April. This second round of elections, to the Fifth Majlis, is unlikely to make the likely future course of Iranian politics much clearer than the first round, held on 8 March. Interpretations of the results of the primaries have varied widely. Some hailed the demise of the radicals and the good showing of the pro-Rafsanjani faction while other observers warned that the conservatives were likely to wield increased power.

Issue 533 - 09 April 1996

Baghdad in Dire Straits


Saddam Hussein's regime is putting on a brave face but the noose is continuing to tighten. While Saddam has been celebrating the parliamentary election results, relations with Jordan have deteriorated further and Syria has increased its support for the opposition. Meanwhile, it is clear that neither Washington nor London will ease their stranglehold on Iraq while Saddam is in power.

Issue 532 - 25 March 1996

Arabian Squabbles


It had to come. But did it have to come just when things were looking up? The London-based Saudi opposition group, the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), had until now papered over its internal divisions. Unlike so many exiled Arab opposition groups it had managed to present a united face and give the impression of running a tight ship.

Issue 531 - 11 March 1996

The GCC in Disarray


As the end of Ramadan Eid passed, the GCC states found themselves in a dangerously unstable situation. Bahrain is racked by violence and unrest that government repression appears unable to quash. Qatar's emir and his father are engaged in a bitter long-distance tussle for power which threatens to embroil outside powers. Most importantly, if opaquely, the senior Saudi princes are be locked into a power struggle. 

Issue 531 - 11 March 1996

Bad Blood in Baghdad


The tragic farce that is the soap opera of Saddam Hussein's family has once again made international headlines. Hussein Kamel Hasan al Majid's mistaken decision to trust in his former mentor's clemency was the gamble of a desperate man. More important than the elimination of yet more of Saddam's intimates, though, is the developing regional struggle for influence over Iraq. As the Iranian foreign minister arrived in Damascus there were signs of a revived Syrian-Iranian push to counter the Jordanian-American plan for Iraq.

Issue 530 - 26 February 1996

Presidential Problems


President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has not been able to push through his internal reform programme at any speed since the end of the 1994 civil war. His efforts have been derailed by external and internal problems which continue to loom large.

Issue 529 - 12 February 1996

The Return of Iraqi Oil?


The Iraqi government's agreement to enter into talks with the UN on the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 986 sent shock waves through the oil market and prompted jubilation in Baghdad. Saddam's proposal to open talks, aired on 20 January, led to the initiation of discussions on 6 February and raised the prospect of Iraq being allowed to export up to $1 billion worth of oil every three months to fund humanitarian imports.

Issue 528 - 29 January 1996

Khalifah's Comeback?


Only time will tell if the visit by Qatar's former ruler to the other Arab Gulf countries which began last December will help or hurt the GCC. There is no question, though, that the tour will have a lasting impact on the organisation. The GCC charter was originally signed in 1981 by King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Isa of Bahrain, Sultan Qabus of Oman, Sheikh Jaber of Kuwait, Sheikh Zayed of the UAE and Sheikh Khalifah of Qatar. Aside from King Khalid, who was replaced by Fahd on his death, it is only Khalifah who has involuntarily missed a summit. His recent tour of the GCC capitals was designed to ensure that he does not miss this year's summit gathering.

Issue 527 - 15 January 1996

A Shoddy Affair


The decision of the British government to revoke the asylum of Dr Muhammad aI Masari, spokesman of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) and send him packing to Dominica was greeted with pleasure by Riyadh. Although the Saudi government made no formal comment on the British move, it represents a victory for the quiet campaign that the Kingdom has been waging with increasing intensity in recent months. The extraordinary decision by the British government to deport Masari to a third country, Dominica, sparked furious debate in London but represents merely the logical outcome of Whitehall's ever more frantic efforts to silence opponents of the GCC regimes.

Issue 526 - 18 December 1995

A Troubled Summit


The auguries for the 16th annual GCC Summit, held in Muscat from 4 to 6 December, were not good. King Fahd was hospitalised on the eve of the meeting, while the Kingdom was still coming to terms with the traumatic bombing of the US military liaison office in Riyadh. Bahrain's government was flexing its muscles in nervous anticipation of an escalation of domestic opposition activity. Saudi mediators had failed to make significant progress on intra-Gee border disputes such as the Bahrain-Qatar feud over the Hawar islands. And Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman were continuing to break ranks over the Saudi and Kuwaiti hard-line on Iraq.

Issue 525 - 04 December 1995

Defending Kuwait


Exercise Intrinsic Action is held every spring and autumn in Kuwait. Exercise number 96/1 began last month and, as usual, involved American and British forces who will work alongside their Kuwaiti counterparts. Britain has provided a mere battalion to this exercise but regards it as a good training opportunity, especially for its Cyprus-based troops.

Issue 524 - 20 November 1995

Cracks in the Structure


The car bomb which exploded in the car park beside the building in Riyadh housing the US Corps of Engineers contingent in Saudi Arabia and near to the National Guard headquarters has sent its reverberations throughout the world. The Riyadh car-bomb, which killed four Americans and a Filipino and wounded some sixty people, many seriously, was not as horrendous in scale as various other terrorist outrages elsewhere in the world or as shattering in its impact as, say, the recent assassination of the Israeli Premier, Yitzhak Rabin. But for an incident of this kind to happen in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is as significant as it is shocking.