GULF IN REVIEW
20 - 24 May 2018
Kingdom of Bahrain
Sunday, 20 May – The US State Department approved a potential arms sale worth some $45 million to Bahrain, according to a statement by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). The deal would include 3,200 general purpose and ‘penetrator warhead’ bomb bodies, intended for arming the F-16 fighter jet fleet of the Royal Bahraini Air Force. After being cleared by the DSCA, the Senate has to approve the sale, after which it will move to negotiations. The deal follows a $911.4 million sale of helicopters in April 2018.
Tuesday, 22 May–Bahrain supports the list of demands presented by US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, against Iran, according to the Bahraini Foreign Ministry. Pompeo threatened Iran with ‘the strongest sanctions in history,’ should the country not make ‘major changes,’ such as the cessation of uranium enrichment and allowing international nuclear inspectors access to all sites throughout the country. Bahrain’s statement endorsed the strategy and reiterated the ‘danger of Iranian policies that undermine security and stability in the region.’ Bahrain has long been the target of Iranian interference and attacks on its sovereignty.
State of Kuwait
Monday, 21 May – Kuwait’s Manpower Public Authority (PAM) announced that the ban on expats under the age of 30, which was adopted last year, would come into effect from 1 July. Exempted from the ban are positions which do not require school diplomas as well as menial jobs, such as drivers and machine operators. The objective of the ban is to attract experienced workers, as well as create opportunities for young Kuwaiti university graduates. More than two thirds of Kuwait’s population is made up of foreigners.
Thursday, 24 May – Kuwait’s Livestock Transport and Trading (Al-Mawashi) has entered talks with South Africa, Sudan and Horn of Africa countries to diversify its supply of livestock. The decision comes amid a scandal surrounding the company’s main supplier, Australia, after whistleblower footage exposed ‘shocking levels of death and suffering’ on livestock voyages to the Middle East. As liberal politicians in Australia are looking to ban the export of livestock, Kuwaiti ‘trust in Australia as a supplier of sheep has weakened,’ Al-Mashawi CEO, Usama Khaled Boodai, said. Al-Mawashi, who also supplies Qatar, Oman and the UAE, imported 1.28 million livestock from Australia in 2017.
Thursday, May 24 – During a phone call between the Emir of the State of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, the Emir promised that Kuwait would stand by the Palestinian people in their Marches for Return ‘until the end.’ The statement, released by Haniyeh’s office, quoted the Emir reiterating the importance of achieving ‘national unity and solidarity among the Palestinian people’ through internal reconciliation.
Sultanate of Oman
Tuesday, 22 May – Australian mineral exploration company, Alara, announced that its applications with Oman for five mining licenses with its joint venture partners had been approved. Three of the licenses related to the Al Hadeetha copper project, the remaining two pertain to the Daris copper project. The Al-Hadeetha project will see the construction of a one-million-tonne-a-year copper concentration plant. Alara’s CEO, Justin Richard, said that the development of the mine, at a time of rising global demand for copper, represented a milestone in the development of the copper sector in Oman.
Wednesday, 23 May – The Oman India Joint Business Council visited India in a follow-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Sultanate in February. During the meeting, the group discussed increased maritime cooperation, as well as partnership in energy security and the food sector. During Modi’s February visit, a pact was signed allowing the Indian Navy to use facilities in Oman’s Duqm port facility, which is being developed as a major economic hub. India has shown interest in participating in the development of the Duqm port complex, which would serve as a trans-shipment centre for markets in East Africa and West Asia.
State of Qatar
Tuesday, 22 May – Qatar’s Minister of Environment, Mohamed bin Abdullah Al-Rumaihi, met with Australia’s Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, for bilateral talks in Doha. The Ministers discussed ways of enhancing bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, export of live and chilled meat products as well as agricultural items. The topic of sustainability in agriculture, in line with the country’s Vision 2030, was also on the agenda. Littleproud visited both Qatar and Kuwait in an effort to ease repercussions of the recent livestock-export scandal.
Tuesday, 22 May – Vodafone Qatar and Barwa Bank signed a deal for a credit facility, which will be available over six years and be utilised to deploy 5G to the country. The company’s CEO, Sheikh Hamad Abdullah Jassim Al-Thani, said in a statement that the deal would support Qatars digital transformation as part of the country’s Vision 2030. In February, the parent company Vodafone Group sold its stakes in Vodafone Qatar to its joint venture partner, the Qatar Foundation. Vodafone Qatar is still operating under the brand’s name to benefit from Vodafone expertise, despite now being fully owned by the Qatar Foundation (45%), and the Qatari Government and other investors (55%). Vodafone made the decision to sell its stakes due to the continuing Gulf crisis.
Wednesday, 23 May – Qatar, as well as Egypt, are reportedly pushing proposals for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The proposals would see Israel significantly easing restrictions at Gaza’s border crossings, in return for an end to rocket fire from the Gaza strip, as well as the cessation of tunnel building and any attacks on Israeli territory. Qatar’s initiative can be seen in the context of the state’s long-standing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Tuesday, May 22 – Saudi Arabia is making good progress in implementing its ambitious reform programme, an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-team visiting the country has said in their final report. The team, led by Tim Callen, concluded that the new VAT was strengthening tax culture, major progress was achieved in new revenue initiatives, and that the target of achieving a balanced budget by 2023 was appropriate. The report cautioned Saudi Arabia to avoid re-expansion of government spending as oil prices are rising. The IMF team had held discussions from 2-14 May for the 2018 Article IV Consultation with the Kingdom.
Wednesday, 23 May – With the long-anticipated lift of the driving ban on women only weeks away, Saudi Arabian society has seen increased sensitivity, which has led to the detention of eleven prominent women’s advocates. The Saudi State security said those detained were held on charges of "attempting to undermine the security and stability of the kingdom... and to erode national unity." The exact background of the arrests is not yet clear. The Saudi government is seeking to safely and sensibly introduce the unprecedented social and economic reforms taking place in the kingdom, which are radically shifting the structures of Saudi society. It has been suggested that the women’s advocates detained had been pushing a more radical course, leading the government to intervene.
Wednesday, 23 May – Saudi Arabia has ratified the TIR Convention, becoming the 74th country to join the system for a global standard for customs transit. Saudi Arabia will use the TIR system to improve its transport sector, in support of the objectives laid out in Vision 2030. The move is set to help position the country as a key logistic hub. The GCC collectively decided to join the convention, with Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE already having ratified it, and Bahrain and Oman set to follow.
Thursday, 24 May – Saudi Forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels from the Yemeni governorate Saada. The missile targeted the southern city of Jazan, which had been the target of another missile attack earlier this week. Both missiles were destroyed, and no injuries were reported. The United States on Monday announced new sanctions against five officials of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for providing ballistic missile-related expertise to the Houthis in Yemen, enabling the rebels to launch attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday, 22 May – UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Nasser Bin Thani Al-Hameli, announced that the UAE would be changing its labour laws to better address the way to employ more Emiratis in the private sector. The targets for Emiratisation in the post-oil era are 50% of the Emirati workforce to be employed in the private sector by 2021, while making up 5% of private sector work force, and 6% of the total UAE workforce. Al-Hameli did not specify when the new law would come into effect.
Wednesday, 23 May – The 2018 IMD World Competitiveness Centre’s data showed that the UAE had jumped three places and become the 7th most competitive economy in the world. The UAE performed especially well in areas such as ‘international trade,’ ‘international investment’ and ‘attitudes and values,’ and managed to secure the first position in 20 indicators.