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Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has invited his Azerbaijani counterpart to Tehran and said he will visit Baku “at the appropriate time”, in an apparent attempt to reduce tensions which have flared up amid military exercises by both countries and Iranian allegations that Azerbaijan is receiving military assistance from Israel.

Iran
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Crown Prince and culture, sports and youth minister Theyazin Bin Haitham Al-Said married his first cousin Sayyida Meyyan Bint Shihab Al-Said in a service at the Mazay Hall in Al-Alam Palace in Muscat on 11 November.

Oman
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The tribes of Kuwait, which constitute up to 60% of the country’s citizens, are becoming increasingly important political and economic actors. Often feeling shut out of the lucrative market for government contracts, they are looking for changes which the Al-Sabah leadership finds hard to deliver. GSN investigates a major social force in the complex Kuwaiti political environment.

Kuwait
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The Amiri Diwan has finally begun appointing its officials, following significant delays after the ascension of Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah last September. The structure remains much the same as before, with Ali Jarrah Al-Sabah as minister for Amiri Diwan affairs and Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah as deputy minister. Most importantly, former prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al-Sabah – a central figure in political discord – remains the top advisor for the ruling family, signalling continuity at the top of the political system and potentially further battles.

Kuwait
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While analysts were puzzling over who would succeed Sultan Qaboos, Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq was quietly drawing up plans for the personnel and policies he would need if – and when – he took over from the ailing  ruler. GSN understands that the recent spate of key appointments and policy announcements are the fruit of thinking that evolved while the sultan’s uncle, who died one year ago, was still alive. These moves are refashioning Oman as Haitham would like – with the prospect of a few more eye-catching announcements to come as the sultan completes the initial implementation of his plans.

Oman
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Kuwaiti logistics firm Agility Public Warehousing Company has lost an arbitration case against the Iraqi government over a decision to strip it of its shareholding in Erbil-headquartered Korek Telecom. Agility filed a request for arbitration in February 2017 with the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) against the Iraqi government over its handling of the matter.

Kuwait | Iraq
Issue 1119 - 04 February 2021

Kuwait: Huge deficit, but no debt plan yet

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Prime minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah appears to have no real plan for passing a new debt law through the National Assembly, despite another large deficit forecast in the 2021/22 budget, announced on 25 January, of KD12.1bn ($40bn). This is based on an average oil price of $45/bbl. Kuwait needs around $90/bbl to balance its budget. The Central Bank of Kuwait continues to reduce the value of the dinar as a way to fix its deteriorating balance of payments issues; the currency has lost 5% of its value against the dollar since March 2020.

Kuwait
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Sources working closely with the government say Muscat may be able to avoid having to ask its neighbours for another bailout. There had been widespread speculation that the large fiscal deficit and shortage of reserves would force Oman to approach richer GCC countries to ask for further assistance in the short to medium term; such subventions would have come with a political price.

Oman
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The United States and its Gulf allies are making rapid changes to their defence planning to deal with the threat from Iranian-designed cruise missiles and ‘suicide’ drones, which could become even more potent as Iran and its proxies develop longer-range systems. Defence spending, including investment in local industries, continues apace across the region, driven by the Gulf monarchies’ senior leaderships.

Iran
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The government and ruling family continue to struggle with the parallel challenges of a restive parliament and low oil revenues. Prime minister Sheikh Sabah finally named his new cabinet on 2 March, some seven weeks after the last one resigned, but MPs remain restive and fresh elections are a strong possibility.

Issue 1117 - 07 January 2021

Leaders first in line for inoculations  

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Vaccination programmes have begun across the Gulf. Rulers and politicians have been publicly rolling up their sleeves to get a shot, with local newspapers praising their leaders for inspiring confidence among the local population that the vaccines are safe to receive.

Kuwait | Saudi Arabia | Bahrain | Oman | United Arab Emirates (UAE) | Qatar
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The UAE is to allow foreign nationals to retain full ownership of onshore companies, in the latest of a series of reforms aimed at propping up the economy. A presidential decree announced on 23 November amended 51 articles of the Commercial Companies Law (Federal Law No. 2 of 2015). Most eye-catching was the removal of a requirement for firms to have a majority Emirati shareholder; some strategic sectors including oil and gas exploration, transport and utilities are exempt.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Petrochemicals sector officials and executives have been given jail terms of between five and 20 years for their role in a $7.9bn embezzlement case. Six former officials at Petrochemical Commercial Company – named in media reports as chief executive Reza Hamzeh-Lou, assistant chief executive Abbas Samimi Naeb, commercial director Mohsen Ahmadian, board members Alireza Alaei Rahmani and Mostafa Tehrani, and Marjan Shaykh-ol-Eslami – were sentenced to 20 years and 74 lashes and will have to repay the money they received.

Saudi Arabia
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Sharjah-based Dana Gas is due to repay a controversial sukuk at the end of October, following the sale of its Egyptian operations and the signing of a $90m bank loan. On 25 October, Dana Gas announced it was selling its interests in the El Manzala, West El Manzala, West El Qantara and North El Salhiya onshore concessions to IPR Wastani Petroleum, a subsidiary of Texas-based IPR Energy Group, for up to $236m. Of that, $153m will be paid up-front and the rest is contingent on crude prices and production levels in the period to 2023.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Persuading even vaccinated passengers to take to the skies for long-haul travel will not be easy for an aviation sector that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. As airlines retrench, led by Etihad, strategies are having to be rethought and consolidation might be unavoidable for an industry that built its extraordinary growth on a global travel boom that has gone into reverse this year.

Saudi Arabia | Bahrain | Oman | Qatar