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Issue 1071 - 13 December 2018

Saudi Arabia: Riyadh launches Red Sea group

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Less assertive until now in the region than its ally the UAE or rival Qatar, Saudi Arabia hosted the first consultative meeting of the Arab and African Coastal States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (AARSGA) in Riyadh on 12 December, attended by foreign ministers from seven countries. A communiqué said AARSGA was set up to enhance co-operation “in the political, economic, cultural, environmental and security fields”. A follow-up meeting of senior officials is due to be held in Cairo.

Saudi Arabia
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Sanctions take effect: US sanctions are again having a marked impact on the economy, with inflation rising and the rial under pressure in foreign exchange markets. This is reflected in the political arena, where hardliners are mounting a sustained campaign against President Hassan Rouhani and his team. Economic affairs and finance minister Massoud Karbasian and co-operatives, labour and social welfare minister Ali Rabiei were voted out of office by MPs in August. However, Rouhani has been responding.

Iran
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The Saudi government has been urged to push forward with moves to lift a ban on sports in girls’ state schools, after the shura council on 8 April recommended an end to the ban, which was relaxed in private schools last year, state media reported. It is now up to the education ministry to decide whether to lift the ban. Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the government to “set out a clear strategy and accelerated timeline for rolling out physical education for girls in public and private schools” and demanded that the kingdom start licensing women’s gyms and facilitate the participation of women in all sports.

Saudi Arabia
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Despite international condemnation, continued street protests and sanctions, combined with escalating economic problems, Bashar Al-Assad’s government has dug in as the Syrian uprising pushes on into its sixth month. But the signs are that Assad’s hold on power is tenuous and Gulf states have revised their policies as a consequence

Saudi Arabia | United Arab Emirates (UAE) | Qatar | Syria
Issue 850 - 27 March 2009

Syria edges closer to the fold

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The past month has seen the Syrian government busy with meetings with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and US officials - meetings that could help bring Syria back in from the cold. In early March, US envoys Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro were in Damascus for talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and President Bashar Al-Assad's advisor .....

Syria
Issue 976 - 05 September 2014

Qatar: Mediating

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Qatar has been involved in securing the release of 45-year-old US journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was being held by Jabhat Al-Nusra, which captured him in Syria. His release after two years came just days after the gruesome murder of US journalist James Foley, who was also captured in Syria in 2012 and ended up in the hands of the Islamic State extremist group (see View). Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar has also claimed Qatar is involved in negotiations with Jabhat Al-Nusra to secure the release of Lebanese soldiers captured during fighting in the Lebanese town of Ersal.

Qatar
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From the evaporation of lakes and rivers to the extinction of rare species in its ravaged forests, the extent of environmental damage in Iran could, if left unchecked, pose a threat to the country arguably greater than that of any external adversary. Problems are particularly severe in urban areas, where vehicle emissions and industrial pollution are causing thousands of deaths from respiratory and heart disease each year. The capital Tehran, where 4.2m cars a day pump exhaust fumes into the haze above the city, bears most of the toll; in 2013, the health ministry said that more than 4,500 residents of the city of almost 9m had died as a result of air pollution that year.

Iran
Issue 966 - 24 March 2014

Saudi Arabia: Ban on baby names

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The Saudi interior ministry has issued a list banning 50 names on the basis that they offend the culture or religion of the kingdom, are foreign, or inappropriate. According to the Gulf News, the ban – which has been widely covered by the international press – includes western names such as Alice and Linda, names such as Abdul Nabi and Abdul Hussein – opposed by some who suggest Abdul means ‘worshipper of’, and therefore implies worship of someone other than God – and those that are associated with royalty, such as Malika (queen), Mamlaka (kingdom) and Amir (prince).

Saudi Arabia
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Tehran has reacted angrily to a speech by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, in which the prominent Saudi commentator, former intelligence chief and ambassador backed calls for regime change at a ‘Free Iran’ rally held in Paris on 9 July. The event was organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of opposition groups including the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO), which Iran regards as a terrorist group.

Saudi Arabia
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Prime minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah’s government resigned on 14 November, following rising tensions with the National Assembly (parliament) that included the earlier resignation of public works minister Jenan Mohsin Ramadan Boushehri and a no-confidence motion against interior minister Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah. It is the seventh time since 2007 the government has resigned following grillings or no-confidence motions. This has sometimes been followed by new elections, as in November 2011, but Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah is not expected to dissolve the assembly this time.

Kuwait
Issue 891 - 10 December 2010

Muscat opera house to open in 2011

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Catering not only to his love of classical music, but also to the genre’s reported popularity among Omanis, Sultan Qaboos has ordered the construction of a 16th century Italian-style opera house due to open in October 2011, according to Agence France-Presse.

Oman
Issue 864 - 06 November 2009

New position for Mansour Bin Mitab

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On 2 November, King Abdullah appointed Prince Mansour Bin Mitab Bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud as municipal and rural affairs minister. Mansour's father, Prince Mitab, who has a record of government service dating

Saudi Arabia
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The UAE has drawn plaudits for its rapid and extensive response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mobile testing centres have been opened in every emirate, public areas and transport services have been sterilised and in late April the authorities said they had carried out more than 1m tests. (By end-April they had reported almost 12,000 confirmed cases of whom 98 had died.) Around the start of Ramadan on 24 April, the government began to ease the restrictions on residents, with malls reopening and public transport resuming. That offered some much-needed hope to businesses, many of which rely on the holy month as a key revenue-earning period.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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A well-placed source in the region told GSN of an encounter in 2012 with Qatar’s then emir (now father emir) Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who revealed at a meeting that he had been close to brokering a settlement between the Al-Khalifa regime and opposition groups. According to the source, Sheikh Hamad said the deal had been scuppered by the Saudis – and he used some particularly colourful and critical language to describe the senior figures in Riyadh who had derailed his initiative.

Saudi Arabia | Qatar
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UAE ambassador since 2008, Yousef Al-Otaibi is seen as a smooth, smart operator in Washington DC. The Qatar crisis has further raised the envoy’s profile and shown the influence wielded on the Trump administration by his boss Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ).Much has been made of Al-Otaibi’s cultivation of presidential son-in-law turned Middle East envoy Jared Kuchner. The men meet regularly, a Washington think-tanker observes.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)