GULF IN REVIEW
17 - 22 May 2020
Arnold Koka and Nikola Zukalová
Kingdom of Bahrain
Sunday, 18 May—Bahrain’s Minister of Oil, Mohamed bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, inaugurated the Kingdom’s first liquified natural gas (LNG) regasification terminal. According to the Oil Minister, the recently discovered gas reserves in the Gulf of Bahrain field might cover the Kingdom’s domestic demand and it could thus stop importing LNG. He also said that Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly Saudi Arabia, consider establishing a network of gas pipelines to link Bahrain to the rest of the Gulf countries.
Wednesday, 20 May—Bahrain deployed assistant robots into isolation and treatment facilities as part of an experimental phase to use AI in the health sector, which would help decrease the risks of infection for medical workers. The robots are equipped with sensors and cameras and can communicate with the patients and staff in 12 languages, administer medicines, check body temperature, serve meals and use UV light to sterilise the rooms. After successful testing, the Kingdom plans to deploy robots into all hospitals across the country.
Monday, 18 May—Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Arancha González Laya, called her Bahraini counterpart, Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, to discuss efforts to confront COVID-19, ways to boost bilateral economic and trade relations, along with the regional situation, including Yemen, Iraq, and the Middle East Peace Process. On 20 May the Spanish Foreign Minister also spoke to Oman’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah.
State of Kuwait
Wednesday, 20 May—Kuwait and Saudi Arabia agreed to stop oil production in the joint Al-Khafji oil field in the Neutral Zone between the two countries for one month, starting from 1 June, in a bid to further increase oil production cuts beyond the agreed ones by the OPEC+ to stabilise oil prices. The production at the joint oil field partially resumed only in March 2020, following a five-year pause due to a disagreement between the two countries.
Thursday, 21 May—Cybersecurity researchers of Bitdefender, a global cybersecurity and anti-virus software company, published a detailed report revealing an Iranian cyber-espionage campaign conducted by the group Chafer APT against air transport and government sectors in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with the aim of data exploration and exfiltration. Parts of the campaign lasted over one and a half years. It revealed that the attack activity was the highest on weekends and the campaign against Kuwait was more sophisticated than the one on Saudi Arabia.
Sultanate of Oman
Monday, 18 May—The Civil Service Council of Oman announced a reduction of new government employees’ salaries by up to 23%. The new salary grades, determined on the basis of qualification, come as part of the Sultanate’s plan to cut spending in the civil, military and security sectors as it faces the negative economic effects of the energy market crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday, 20 May—On the occasion of Eid Al-Fitr, Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said exchanged greetings in a phone call with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jabir Al-Sabah and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The leaders exchanged wishes of health, progress and prosperity for their countries and people.
Thursday, 21 May—Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said received Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, accompanied by Qatar's Minister of Finance, Ali Shareef Al-Emadi, in the presence of Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. They discussed bilateral economic relations and some regional issues. The visit came three days after the meeting of Oman’s Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in Doha, conveying a verbal message from Oman’s Sultan to Qatar’s Emir.
State of Qatar
Wednesday, 20 May—Turkey tripled the limit of its existing local currency swap deal with Qatar, agreed in 2018 during Turkey’s currency crisis, to an equivalent of $15 billion in a bid to help stabilise the Turkish Lira, support financial stability as well as facilitate bilateral trade in respective local currencies.
Thursday, 21 May—Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, arrived in Kuwait, where he met with Kuwait’s Prime Minister, Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah. He handed him a written message for Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah from Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani concerning bilateral relations and some issues of common concern.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Tuesday, 19 May—Saudi Arabia’s Agricultural Development Fund announced that it will finance 12 local projects worth SR333 million ($87.8 million). The funded projects include vegetable cultivation, poultry, importing rice, yellow corn and soybeans. The measure comes as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to enhance its food security system amid the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food supply chains.
Wednesday, 20 May—A delegation of the Yemeni Southern Transitional Council (STC), headed by its leader, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, arrived in Riyadh following the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud. The meeting comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to end clashes between the STC and the Yemeni government, generated by disputes over the power-sharing Riyadh Agreement implementation, signed in November 2019, and STC’s declaration of self-administration in Aden and other southern areas under its control.
Thursday, 21 May—Iraq’s Minister of Finance, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, was sent to Saudi Arabia as an envoy of the new Prime Minister of Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties, particularly in relation to economy and investments.
Friday, 22 May—Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced that the closure of mosques for prayers will continue during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, urging the people to stay at home amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Arab Emirates
Monday, 18 May—Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, held a phone call with French President, Emmanuel Macron. They discussed the strengthening of their strategic partnership and economic cooperation, sharing expertise to overcome COVID-19 as well as the latest political developments in the Middle East, the Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, particularly related to Libya and Turkey, highlighting the need for joint action to secure regional stability.
Tuesday, 19 May—The Palestinian Authority rejected medical aid supplies to fight Coronavirus (COVID-19), including 10 acutely needed ventilators, delivered by the UAE Etihad Airways via Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, citing lack of prior coordination from the UAE’s side and refusing to act as its bridge for normalisation of ties with Israel. It was the first direct flight from the UAE to Israel by a commercial airline. None of the Arab Gulf countries currently have established diplomatic relations with Israel. The United Nations said in a statement that it coordinated a 16-tonne shipment of urgent medical supplies from the UAE to the Palestinians.
Wednesday, 20 May—UAE’s Minister of Health and Prevention, Abdulrahman bin Mohammad Al-Owais, held a phone call with his Iranian counterpart, Saeed Namaki. They reviewed their countries’ measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and UAE’s recent development of a rapid laser testing technology for COVID-19, which allows mass-scale screening and delivers results within seconds. Iran’s Minister thanked the UAE for its assistance in providing medical equipment to fight the pandemic.