Archive for November 9, 2013


2013-10-21

DUBAI – Oman and neighboring Gulf states must move towards curtailing energy consumption drastically, reduce subsidies and boost efficiencies to keep the region’s rapidly rising oil and gas demand in check, the sultanate’s top energy official said Monday.

“We must drastically reduce our consumption, not only in Oman but in the region as a whole,” Oman’s Minister of Oil and Gas Dr. Mohammed Hamad Al-Rumhy said in a national keynote address at the first Gulf Intelligence Oman Energy Forum in Muscat today. The forum’s theme is focused on game changers impacting the Omani and global energy industry.

Today, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states consume more primary energy than the whole of Africa even though their population is only one-twentieth the size of the continent’s, according to Chatham House’s Saving Oil and Gas in the Gulf report published in August. Heavily-subsidized energy has fuelled consumption growth in the region in recent years and led to rising energy subsidy bills for governments. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, energy subsidy costs in GCC countries ranged from 9-28% of government revenues in 2011.

“Subsidy is killing us. We should preserve energy on a daily level and use it wisely, which we’re not doing. We can do so much ourselves. We don’t need to start any nuclear, coal, bio-fuel activities in Oman,” the minister said. He added that there wasn’t much need for the sultanate to pursue renewable energy projects at present as “there is enough gas in the world.”

Abdulla Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, President of Qatar’s Administrative Control & Transparency Authority and the country’s former oil minister, said in an on-stage interview at today’s forum that GCC states need to make a collective effort to curtail energy subsidies or be faced with drastic consequences.

“This is not a single country issue but a GCC problem. The region needs to move quickly to find a solution,” he said.

The emergence of Gulf states as major energy consumers has fuelled concerns over their ability to maintain oil export capacity. Domestic oil consumption among Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members has increased seven‐fold in 40 years, to 8.5 million bpd. They consume almost as much oil as China, which is equivalent to one-fourth of their production.

According to OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri, who gave the international keynote address at the forum, the organization should be able to produce an additional 6 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude by 2018.

The increase would make up for declining output elsewhere, in particular in the U.S. where tight oil output is expected to start declining that year, El Badri said. OPEC output stood at 30.05 million bpd in September, down 400,000 bpd versus August levels.

Oman is the largest oil producer in the Middle East that is not a member of OPEC. The sultanate has set ambitious targets to boost the share of oil it produces from Enhanced Oil Recovery projects by 2021 in a bid to sustain a five-year trend of rising crude production levels. The country is also moving forward with an ambitious program to diversify the local economy as it seeks to reduce its dependence on income from hydrocarbons, add value to its oil and gas resources, and create jobs for its young and growing population, while at the same time strengthening ties with East Africa and South Asia.

“Oman is in an advantageous position and we must continue to make the most of our geographical location. We, as a nation, are at the gateway of the rapidly expanding regional as well as Asian and African markets,” said Mulham Al-Jarf, Deputy CEO of Oman Oil Company, which is the Title Partner at the Gulf Intelligence Oman Energy Forum.

Today’s forum is also being addressed by Nasser K. Al Jashmi, Under Secretary at Oman’s Ministry of Oil & Gas on the sultanate’s Oil & Gas In-Country-Value Program, and Dr. Aldo Flores-Quiroga, Secretary General, International Energy Forum (IEF) on Building New Partnerships for Post-Easy Oil Era.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=62076.

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2013-07-27

By Omar Hasan – KUWAIT CITY

Kuwaitis voted on Saturday in the Gulf emirate’s second parliamentary election in eight months with turnout the key issue as the opposition urged a boycott.

A correspondent saw few voters at a polling station in Al-Qasia, just south of Kuwait City, when polls opened at 8 am (0500 GMT) although turnout picked up later.

Information Minister Sheikh Salman Humoud Al-Sabah said turnout was high after visiting a polling station in Jahra, west of Kuwait City.

It was the first time that an election had been called in Kuwait during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when the observant fast during the day.

Daytime temperatures were forecast to hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in a further disincentive to voters.

It was the second time that the opposition had called for a boycott in protest at an electoral law that it says enables the ruling Al-Sabah family-controlled government to manipulate the outcome.

The law was ruled legal in June by the constitutional court, even though it dissolved parliament on procedural flaws and ordered Saturday’s election.

But its judgment failed to satisfy the opposition dashing hopes of an end to a deadlock between the two sides that has seen the oil-rich Gulf state go to the polls six times in as many years.

“I just hope this parliament completes its (four-year) term,” said civil aviation employee Bassam Eid, after he cast his vote in Al-Qasia.

“We are frustrated at the repeated dissolution of the house,” Eid said.

The last two parliaments were dissolved by the constitutional court on procedural grounds, while the previous houses were dissolved by the emir.

“I am really concerned at the turn of events in the country as there will be no development without political stability which we hope will be achieved after this election,” doctor Jawad Abulhassan said after voting.

Pensioner Umm Mohammad said she hoped for an end to the disputes plaguing the country but was not that optimistic.

“We earnestly hope to see political stability in the country after this poll… We are still afraid that this might not happen,” she said after casting her vote at a polling station reserved for women in Jabriya, south of Kuwait City.

Some groups that boycotted last time round — notably the liberal National Democratic Alliance and some of the emirate’s powerful tribes — were taking part on Saturday.

But only a few opposition members were among the 300 hopefuls.

They include eight women, the lowest number of female candidates since women won political rights in 2005.

Around 30 Arab election observers visited some of the polling stations and were assisted by monitors from the Kuwait Transparency Society.

The opposition failed to mobilize the support on the street it succeeded in getting out ahead of the last election but has remained adamant that it will not take part in a “corrupted” political system.

Just days before polling day, the authorities arrested at least four candidates and dozens of their campaign staff on suspicion of attempted vote-buying.

Although Kuwait has the Gulf’s oldest elected parliament, all key government posts are held by members of the ruling Al-Sabah family which has ruled the country without challenge for over 250 years.

Analysts see little hope the election will bring political stability to the emirate, which has been rocked by lingering disputes since mid-2006, stalling development despite an abundance of petrodollars.

Kuwait has a population of 3.9 million, but just 31 percent are citizens and of that 1.23 million just 440,000 are eligible to vote.

The voting age is 21 and Kuwaitis serving in the police or army are barred from taking part.

The first results were not expected until after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers are still counted manually in Kuwait.

The OPEC member says it sits on 10 percent of global crude reserves and pumps around 3.0 million barrels of oil per day. Thanks to high prices, the emirate has amassed around $400 billion in assets over the past decade.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60376.

October 18, 2013

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Friday rejected its seat on the U.N. Security Council hours after it was elected to it, in a rare and startling move aimed at protesting the body’s failure to resolve the Syrian civil war.

The Saudi discontent appeared largely directed at its longtime ally, the United States, reflecting more than two years of frustration. The two are at odds over a number of Mideast issues, including how Washington has handled some of the region’s crises, particularly in Egypt and Syria. It also comes as ties between the U.S. and Iran, the Saudi’s regional foe, appear to be tepidly improving.

Saudi Arabia showed its displeasure last month when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal declined to address the General Assembly meeting. Days later, the kingdom’s unease with Washington appeared to manifest when President Barack Obama spoke to Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani in a groundbreaking telephone call.

The kingdom was given one of the rotating seats on the 15-member council in a vote Thursday. On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the seat, saying the U.N. Security Council had failed in multiple cases in the Middle East. Particularly, it said U.N. failure to act has enabled Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to perpetrate the killings of its people, including the use of chemical weapons. The Syrian regime denies using chemical weapons.

“Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the U.N. Security Council’s inability to perform its duties and shoulder its responsibilities,” the ministry said in the statement carried on the state news agency.

Saudi Arabia backs the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad in a war that has killed some 100,000 people since early 2011. Repeated attempts by the U.N. Security Council to address the conflict have fallen apart, usually because Assad’s ally Russia has blocked strong resolutions. Still, in a rare consensus, the council passed a resolution on destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal after an Aug. 21 chemical attack.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab leaders have backed the Syrian rebels with weapons and financing in part to counter their regional rival Iran, which has strongly thrown its weight behind its ally, Assad. At the same time, the friendly gestures between the U.S. and Iran’s new government have made Saudi Arabia uneasy.

Russia said it was “surprised” and “baffled by the reasons that the kingdom gave to explain its position” — particularly after the chemical weapons resolution. That resolution was passed after Russia brokered Damascus’ consent to surrender its chemical arsenal, which it had long kept secret.

There appear to be some efforts under way to get the Saudis to recant. Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters his team is looking at what precisely the Saudis meant by their statement and are talking to them “to get a little bit more background on what lies behind this.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he has “taken note” of the media reports of the Saudi rejection, “but I would like to caution you that I have received no official notification in this regard.

“We also are looking forward to working very closely in addressing many important challenges with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” particularly the Syrian war and other issues, including combatting “terrorism and nuclear proliferation,” he said.

He said member states are holding discussions on how to deal with the Saudi move. Ban talked to a senior official in the Saudi government after the news broke, a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.

U.N. diplomats and officials said the Saudi rejection of the seat appears to be unprecedented. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said U.N. officials were going back through Security Council records to check whether this was the first time a nation rejected a seat.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry statement was a sharp change in tone from comments by the kingdom’s U.N. ambassador the day before. At the time, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said his country’s election to the council was “a reflection of a longstanding policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes by peaceful means.”

He also said his country takes its election “very seriously as a responsibility.” The Saudi statement Friday also blamed the Security Council for failing to transform the Middle East into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction — a reference to Israel, which has never confirmed or denied possession of nuclear weapons. It also said the Council has not been able to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the past six decades.

While Saudi Arabia and the United States share core strategic interests regarding mutual worries over Iran, cooperation in counter-terrorism and support for Syria’s rebels, they have differed in their approach.

Most recently Saudi Arabia’s leaders were furious when the United States pulled back from possible military action against the Syrian regime in exchange for the Russian plan to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal.

Editorials in Arabic newspapers over the past several weeks have reflected the Gulf’s concerns. In an opinion piece published in the Al-Hayat daily Arabic newspaper, columnist George Samaan wrote that if the Gulf states feel Washington is turning its back on them by improving ties with Iran, the Arab states could always look east to other countries.

Another columnist, Abdel-Rahman el-Rasahd, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily that rather than Obama striking the Syrian regime, he struck U.S. allies by calling Iran’s president and pushing Gulf states to pursue their own defense policies.

Washington-based analyst Frederic Wehrey said the recent U.S.-Iranian overtures were a “shock” to Saudi rulers.. “It’s not really a question that the U.S. is pursuing relations with Iran, but that Saudi Arabia feels left out in the cold,” said Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They felt “the rug had been pulled out from under them” and saw it as American “betrayal.”

The kingdom easily won the Security Council seat in Thursday’s vote in New York, facing no opposition because there were no contested races for the first time in several years. The Council seats are highly coveted because they give countries a strong voice in matters dealing with international peace and security, in places like Syria, Iran and North Korea, as well as the U.N.’s far-flung peacekeeping operations.

Saudi Arabia was nominated by the Asia group for an Arab seat on the council, so Asian nations would have to select a new candidate — or candidates. The entire 193-member General Assembly would then have to hold another election to choose a new council member.

The 15-member council includes five permanent members with veto power — and 10 nonpermanent members elected for two-year terms.

Lederer reported from the United Nations in New York. AP correspondents Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow; and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Riyadh (AFP)
July 28, 2013

Saudi billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal has warned global demand for the kingdom’s oil is dropping, urging revenue diversification and investment in nuclear and solar energy to cover local consumption.

In letters to officials and published on Sunday on his Twitter account, King Abdullah’s nephew warned that it was alarming that “92 percent of the government budget relies on oil”.

“The world’s reliance on OPEC oil, especially the production of Saudi Arabia, is in a clear and continuous drop,” he wrote in letter addressed to oil minister Ali al-Naimi.

He said the threat from shale gas is “definitely coming”, pointing to progress in that sector in North America and Australia.

“Revenue diversification is a must, and that necessitates a clear vision that should be implemented immediately,” the Arab world’s richest businessman said.

He proposed creating a sovereign wealth fund to manage the kingdom’s reserves, which he said stood at $676 billion in March, citing official figures.

Alwaleed also urged action to press ahead with plans to develop nuclear and renewable energy to “reduce local consumption of oil as soon as possible”.

Alwaleed was 26th on the Forbes 2013 list of billionaires, with an estimated wealth of $20 billion — but he challenged the rating, saying he was worth $9.6 billion more.

Source: Energy-Daily.
Link: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Saudi_billionaire_prince_urges_less_reliance_on_oil_999.html.

Saudi Prince Khalid Bin Farhan al-Saud has announced his defection from the royal family, referring to his “suffering” under reign of al-Saud and called on other princes to break their silence.

“With pride, I announce my defection from al-Saudi family in Saudi Arabia,” he wrote in his statement, according to a report from the Tehran-based Al-Alam news channel. “This regime in Saudi Arabia does not stand by God’s rules or even [the country’s] established rules and its policies, decisions and actions are totally based on [the] personal will of its leaders,” he continued.

The ruling royal family is composed of the descendants of Muhammad bin Saud and his brothers, though the ruling faction of the family is primarily led by the descendants of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al-Saud.

“All that is said in Saudi Arabia about respecting law and religion rules is factitious, so that they can lie and pretend that the regime obeys Islamic rules,” he said, criticizing the royal family for considering the country its own property and silencing all voices from inside and outside the government that called for any change or reform.

The Saudi prince said everything that the pro-reform opposition said about the country’s political, economical, judiciary, social and security conditions as well as their abuse of religious values was true, the report said. “The situation is even worse than what is said in criticisms.” He called on all those who cared for the future of the country to join him and break their silence.

July/28/2013

Source: Hurriyet.
Link: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/saudi-prince-defects-from-royal-family-report.aspx?pageID=238&nID=51544.

2013-07-27

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia will launch its first TV channel dedicated to women in early 2014 and owners said it would be run only by female employees.

The “foundation stone” for the privately-owned channel will be laid in the western Red Sea port of Jeddah by Saudi Minister of Information Abdul Aziz Al Khaja and Riyaz bin Kamal, president of the General Authority to regulate the audio-visual media.

Abdullah Al-Nazawi, the board chairman said this female-dominated TV satellite channel would project the positive aspects of women’s lives in the Kingdom and would also help in changing the stereotype attributed to Arab and Muslim women.

“The objective of the channel is to highlight the skills, traditions, culture, education, Islamic thought and problems facing Arab women in general and Saudi women in particular. The channel will fully conform to Islamic law and will help raise awareness levels among women,” he said.

Al-Nazawi said it would also feature programs which would explore women’s needs. The content of the programs would cover a wide range of topics including legitimate software, intellectual, scientific, cultural, political, social, psychological, economic, technical, administrative, educational, medical and other areas related to women’s lives.

“We are fully confident that this TV channel will help our women in polishing their lives and understanding modern terms. Women are part of our society and lives and we can’t ignore them and their needs.”

The channel would also seek to project a positive image of the incredibly conservative Kingdom.

In ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, women are dependent on their male guardians in most aspects of their lives.

Women need a close male relative to accompany them if they enter government buildings and courts.

Saudi women are also banned from driving and are obliged to cover themselves from head to toe in public.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60383.

Friday, November 08, 2013

It was not a normal school day for Ahwazi Arab schoolboy Abbas Haidari. Dressed in traditional Arab clothing, common throughout the Arabian Gulf, nine year old Abbas made his way to school in Ahwaz and stepped into a controversy that challenged endemic anti-Arab racism in Iran.

Wearing traditional Arabic clothing at school or in the office is effectively banned in Iran, a country where racial hatred of Arabs runs deep. For an Arab to “assimilate”, even though they are indigenous to Ahwaz, he or she has to deny their traditions and heritage, although this is often insufficient to counter discrimination.

But a schoolboy decided to take a stand, proudly wearing the Arabic dishdasha and keffiyeh that made him stand out in a sea of blue uniforms as he queued for his class at Shahrak-Ahwaz. The brave yet peaceful act of defiance against a racist regime prompted the authorities to ban him from school.

As a result, Abbas has become a folk hero for many Ahwazi Arabs, prompting many to question and openly challenge social customs that effectively ban traditional costume. He takes inspiration from his mother, whose Arabic poem “Silent Divan” was published earlier in the year to wide acclaim within the Ahwazi Arab community.

While Article 15 of the Iranian constitution guarantees education in the mother tongue, there are no Arabic language schools in the Ahwaz region, ensuring that Arabs are second-class citizens in their own land. Arab students are often humiliated and abused at school, including being whipped in front of their schoolmates. Successive administrations have courted Ahwazi Arab support by pledging to implement the constitution, but there has been no effort to address the issue. This failure means that Arabs are often illiterate in their native tongue, yet struggle to learn in Persian, a language that is not their own.

Some educated Ahwazi Arabs have attempted to help impoverished youths learn Arabic through informal study groups, but this has proven dangerous with several Arabic teachers facing imprisonment and even execution. They include members of the Arabic civic group, Al-Hewar (Dialogue), who face imminent execution. Independent organizations seeking to celebrate Arabic culture are deemed “separatist” by the regime and banned.

Resulting low educational attainment is reinforcing discrimination and contributing to high levels of unemployment and poverty among the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Acts of defiance and civil disobedience, such as Abbas’ decision to wear Arabic dress to school, are increasingly seen as the only means to assert ethnic rights and challenge racial discrimination..

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.
Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/11/the-moral-courage-of-arab-boy.html.

November 8, 2013 (AP)
By EDITH M. LEDERER

Jordan will replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council for a two-year term starting in January after the Saudis’ unprecedented rejection of the seat hours after they were elected, a U.N. diplomat said Thursday.

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal was made privately, said Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein was flying to Amman on Thursday night to discuss Jordan’s new role on the U.N.’s most powerful body.

Earlier this week, Jordan dropped its bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, leaving Saudi Arabia a clear path in the now uncontested election next Tuesday.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization, said: “It is appalling that seats on the world’s top human rights body are being traded like merchandise, treated as trinkets by non-democracies.”

The U.N. General Assembly, which voted on Oct. 17 to give Saudi Arabia the seat traditionally reserved for an Arab nation on the council, will have to formally approve Jordan as a replacement. Since Jordan is almost certain to be the only candidate, its election is virtually assured.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry stunned the diplomatic world with the announcement that it was rejecting the seat, less than 24 hours after it was elected. The Saudis issued a scathing attack on the Security Council’s failures to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Syria, and to convene a conference on creating a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

The rejection appeared largely directed at the country’s longtime ally, the United States.

The oil giant and the world’s superpower are at odds over a number of Mideast issues, including how Washington has handled some of the region’s crises, particularly in Egypt and Syria. It also comes as ties between the U.S. and Iran, the Saudis’ regional foe, appear to be improving somewhat.

Jordan, which shares a border with Israel, has been a key behind-the-scenes player in efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. Secretary of State was in Amman on Thursday trying to rally support for his peace efforts from King Abdullah II and warning of a return to violence if peace efforts fail.

Jordan also shares a border with Syria and has become a major destination for refugees fleeing the 2 1/2-year civil war.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, Jordan had 250,000 Syrian refugees in January and is expected to have 432,500 in December, second only to Turkey.

In April, Prince Zeid sent a letter to the Security Council saying the refugee crisis had sparked “a grave humanitarian situation” that threatens the country’s security and stability.

In August, King Abdullah warned that ethnic and sectarian violence sweeping across several Arab countries could lead to the “destruction” of the Muslim world.

The civil war in Syria has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone, pitting predominantly Sunni rebels against a regime dominated by an offshoot of Shiism, which is allied with Shiite-majority Iran. Jordan is worried that the violence could spill across the border.

Diplomats from a number of countries had tried to persuade Saudi Arabia to change its mind and take the seat, arguing that it could achieve more inside the council than outside. But the Saudis never backed down.

On Oct. 21, Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal sent letters to a number of “friendly countries” seeking support for its decision to turn down the seat. One letter, obtained by AP, said support for the Saudi decision would be deeply appreciated and demonstrate “the depth of bilateral relations between our two countries.”

Source: ABC News.
Link: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/diplomat-jordan-replace-saudis-council-20823433.

November 07, 2013

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Tajikistan’s president has won a fourth term in an election that has been criticized by Western observers and extends his more than 20-year rule in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.

The Central Election Commission said Thursday that Emomali Rakhmon won 83.6 percent of the vote, but monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, criticized the previous day’s vote.

They say that state media had been dominated by coverage of Rakhmon’s campaign and that registration requirements were designed to limit competition. “While quiet and peaceful, this was an election without a real choice,” Gerdana Comic, Special Coordinator for the OSCE mission, said in a news conference in Dushanbe.

The Tajik government long has drawn criticism for its crackdown on dissent and its tight grip on the media. Authorities in the impoverished Sunni Muslim nation of 8 million have sought to exploit public fears of a replay of a bloody civil war of the 1990s, casting the opposition as a threat to the country’s stability.

Rights activist Oinihol Bobonazarova was denied registration after the election commission claimed she had failed to gather enough signatures to run, and the remaining five challengers waged lackluster campaigns and praised Rakhmon’s rule.

They voiced little criticism after the official results were released. The president’s closest rival only took 5 percent of the vote. “There were some insignificant flaws and shortcomings, but nothing that could have truly influenced the results,” said Olimdzhon Boboyev of the Economic Reform Party, who polled at 3.9 percent.

Tajikistan has hosted a Russian military base and recently allowed Moscow to extend its lease until 2042. Along with five other ex-Soviet nations, Tajikistan is part of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization.

It also has been an important partner for the United States, allowing coalition troops and cargo to travel to and from Afghanistan over its territory. However, its ex-Soviet neighbors Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have played a far greater role.

“We welcome the progress Tajikistan has made in improving its electoral process, but there is still a long way to go,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We urge the Tajik government to begin working now to strengthen political pluralism, allow true opposition parties to operate, and expand operating space for independent media and civil society groups.”

November 06, 2013

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Voters in Tajikistan cast ballots Wednesday in a presidential election all but certain to extend the incumbent’s more than 20-year rule after officials barred the only real opposition candidate from the race.

President Emomali Rakhmon, 61, is running for his fourth term in the strategically important Central Asian nation neighboring Afghanistan and China. The Sunni Muslim country of 8 million is one of the poorest among the ex-Soviet nations. It depends on the remittances of the more than 1 million Tajiks working in Russia to make up nearly one-half of the nation’s GDP.

For many years, Rakhmon’s government has cracked down on dissent and maintained tight control over the media, drawing harsh criticism from international rights groups. He faces virtually no competition in this vote. Rights activist Oinihol Bobonazarova was denied registration on the grounds she failed to collect the signatures of 5 percent of the nation’s voters. She insisted she had done so, but the Central Election Commission claimed she fell short because the number of eligible voters had changed.

The remaining five presidential challengers have campaigned together and have even praised Rakhmon. Tajik authorities have sought to exploit public fears of a replay of a bloody civil war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“(The authorities) tried to create an impression that if people support (me), it could lead to a war and bloodshed as in the 1990s,” Bobonazarova said. Rakhmon, a state farm director during Soviet times, took the helm during the war that erupted in 1992. Russia backed Rakhmon’s faction against a coalition of Islamists, nationalists and democratic groups.

A 1997 peace deal gave the opposition a significant number of government posts, but Rakhmon later consolidated his power, gradually squeezing the opposition members out. There were clashes between government troops and militants in 2010 and 2012, but the government has moved quickly to uproot its foes and cement control.

“Rakhmon’s positions are very strong,” said Nurali Davlat, an independent analyst. “The opposition has failed to consolidate.” Tajikistan has allowed U.N. coalition troops and cargo to travel from Afghanistan over its territory, although its ex-Soviet neighbors Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have played a far greater role.

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.