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The Euro-Gulf Monitor

29 December 2023 - 4 January 2024

by Elen'Alba Vitiello

5 Top Points

  1. Kuwait’s new Emir appointed Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah as Prime Minister.

  2. Saudi Arabia and the UAE officially joined the BRICS.

  3. UAE’s AD Ports Group expanded its operations in the Western Mediterranean with the acquisition of Spain’s APM Terminals Castellón.

  4. Bahrain and 13 other countries warned the Iran-backed Houthis of the ‘consequences’ if they do not end the attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

  5. Belgium assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union Council from 1 January 2024.

‘Round and About the Gulf

Kingdom of Bahrain 

Wednesday, 3 January–Bahrain issued a joint statement alongside Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the UK, and the US, calling on the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansar Allah) in Yemen to immediately end the illegal attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea and release the unlawfully detained vessels and crews. They emphasised their commitment to the international rules-based order and determination to hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks.

State of Kuwait

Sunday, 31 December–Kuwait hosted the joint military Exercise, Takamol 1, conducted by the Gulf countries’ Land Forces and the Peninsula Shield Forces, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), every four years to enhance joint military cooperation and defence capabilities of the GCC countries.

Thursday, 4 January–Kuwait’s Emir, Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, appointed Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah as Prime Minister and tasked him to nominate members of the new Cabinet. He is the son of former Emir, Sabah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah (1965-1977), and served as Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister (2006-2011).

 

Sultanate of Oman

Sunday, 31 December–Oman’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, signed an agreement with the Oman Sail Foundation to establish the Oman Events Centre (OEC) that will monitor international sport events to be held in the Sultanate from 2024 to 2030, in coordination with private bodies operating in the sports field. Supported by Oman Vision 2040 Implementation Follow-up Unit and by the National Program for Investment and Export Development ‘Nazdaher’, the agreement is expected to help attract investment opportunities. 

 

Monday, 1 January–Oman preliminarily posted a budget surplus of 931 million Omani rials  (OMR) (about €2.2 billion) for the financial year 2023, after an anticipated rise in public revenue due to higher oil and gas production and prices. Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said ratified the 2024 state budget with a projected deficit of 640 million OMR, estimating the total public revenue to reach 11.01 billion OMR — of which 5.9 billion OMR (about €14 billion) will come from oil, around 1.57 billion OMR (about €3.7 billion) from gas, while non-oil revenues will account for about 520 million OMR (about €1.2 billion).

 

State of Qatar

Wednesday, 3 January–Qatar and the United States have reportedly reached an agreement to extend the US military presence in Qatar for another 10 years. Located in the south-west of Doha, the Al-Udeid Air base is the largest US military facility in the Middle East and can house more than 10,000 troops.

 

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Monday, 1 January–Saudi Arabia officially joined the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping, along with the UAE, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iran. It is expected that bilateral trade will grow with the joining of the two Gulf countries, as Saudi Arabia and UAE are key members of OPEC+ (Petroleum Exporting Countries Organisation), which plays a crucial role in balancing oil markets, and China and India are the second and third largest consumers of oil in the world.

 

Monday, 1 January–Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) ranked as top investor among global sovereign wealth funds in 2023, followed by four other GCC funds — the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Mubadala Investment Company, ADQ, and Qatar Investment Authority. The PIF spent $31.6 billion (about €28.9 billion) in 49 deals in 2023, up 33% from 2022.

Tuesday, 2 January–Saudi Arabia’s new regulation requiring foreign companies seeking government contracts to base their regional headquarters in the Kingdom entered into effect on 1 January 2024. However, companies with foreign operations not exceeding 1 million Saudi riyals (SAR) (about €244,000) can operate in Saudi Arabia without local headquarters. 

United Arab Emirates

Wednesday, 3 January–UAE’s AD Ports group acquired Spain’s APM Terminals Castellón for €10 million through a subsidiary, Noatum Terminals, boosting the group’s operational capacity for the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa regions.

Wednesday, 3 January–The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the success of its mediation regarding the exchange of captives between Russia and Ukraine. The Ministry affirmed the UAE’s commitment to continuing efforts for a diplomatic solution, dialogue and de-escalation, and its endeavours to support all initiatives that mitigate the humanitarian repercussions resulting from the conflict.

 

EU Corner

Monday, 1 January–Belgium assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) from 1 January to 30 June 2024. The Presidency will support the adoption of the EU’s Strategic Agenda 2024-2029, and will focus on six thematic areas, which include defending rule of law, democracy and unity; strengthening EU competitiveness; pursuing a green transition; reinforcing social and health agenda; protecting people and borders; and promoting a global Europe.

Wednesday, 3 January–EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, strongly condemned the statements by Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, and politician, Bezalel Yoel Smotrich, defaming the Palestinian population of Gaza and calling for a plan for their emigration. Borrell further stated that forced displacements are strictly prohibited as a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.

Wednesday, 3 January–The European Union strongly condemned the bombing in the city of Kerman in Iran and expressed its solidarity with the Iranian people.

Key Official Visits

Friday, 29 December–Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, Bandar bin Ibrahim Al-Khorayef, accompanied by his delegation, concluded his visit to Tunisia, where he co-chaired the 11th session of the Saudi-Tunisian Investment and Partnership Forum. On the sidelines of the Forum Saudi Arabia and Tunisia signed seven Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) to enhance cooperation in various fields, such as investment. During the visit, he also separately met with the President, Kais Saied, and the Prime Minister, Ahmed Hachani, among other high-level officials.

Sunday, 31 December–Oman’s Foreign Minister, Badr bin Hamad Al-Busaidi, held a phone call with UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, David Cameron, to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and navigation in the Red Sea. They focussed on the continuing international efforts to reach a comprehensive ceasefire and to allow the continuous entry of relief supplies. Moreover, Oman’s Foreign Minister highlighted that Israel cannot not act with impunity.

Tuesday, 2 January–Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, received a phone call from Somalia’s President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to discuss bilateral relations and aspects of reinforcing them.

 

Thursday, 4 January–UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, met with Jordan’s Prime Minister, Bisher Khasawneh, in Amman, to discuss ways to enhance trade and investment ties to stimulate joint economic growth and create more opportunities for cooperation between their business communities and private sectors.

 

Thursday, 4 January–The Arab Strategy Forum 2024 took place in Dubai under the theme ‘The Political and Economic State of the Arab World’. During the forum, which analysed the political and economic landscape of the Arab region, three trends shaping the future of the region were outlined: the developments related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, the emergence of the GCC countries as global economic powers and partners in addressing global issues, and the domestic and international polarisation. It was attended by the UAE’s Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum; UAE’s diplomatic adviser to the President, Anwar Mohammed Gargash; former Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nabil Fahmy; the Chairman of the Board of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Turki bin Faisal Al-Saud; along with several high-level officials and experts from around the world.

Thursday, 4 January–The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Jasem Mohamed Al-Budaiwi, received the Ambassador of Sweden to Saudi Arabia, Petra Menander, in Riyadh. During the meeting, they discussed ways to enhance the GCC-Swedish cooperation in various sectors and exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Thursday, 4 January–US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will embark on an official visit to Türkiye, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt from 4 January to 11 January 2024. Throughout his trip, he will discuss the Israel-Hamas war, the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and the escalation in Lebanon, among other issues, and will reaffirm the US’ commitment to working with partners to set the conditions necessary for peace in the Middle East and the two-state solution.

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