Category: Arabian Peninsula


December 3, 2017

Five Jordanian nationals have gone missing in Saudi Arabia, according to a Jordanian foreign ministry source.

The five were on a hunting trip in the northwestern Tabuk region when they disappeared, the source told Anadolu Agency, requesting anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak to media.

He, however, denied reports that the five had been found dead.

There was no comment from Saudi authorities on the report.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171203-5-jordanians-go-missing-in-saudi-arabia/.

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December 05, 2017

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait’s emir on Tuesday quickly called an end to a planned two-day meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council within hours of its start amid the ongoing diplomatic dispute surrounding Qatar.

The sudden end of the meeting in Kuwait City raised new questions about the future of the GCC, a six-member Gulf Arab regional bloc formed in part to be a counterbalance to Shiite power Iran. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah’s decision came after the United Arab Emirates earlier in the day announced a new partnership with Saudi Arabia separate from the GCC.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry said the new “joint cooperation committee” was approved by the UAE’s ruler and president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan. The ministry said the new committee “is assigned to cooperate and coordinate between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields, as well as others, in the interest of the two countries.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have cultivated close ties in recent years. Emirati troops are deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nayhan, also is believed to be close to Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Emirati announcement did not say whether any other Gulf Arab countries would be invited to join the new group, but the development puts pressure the GCC, whose members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates — are all U.S. allies.

The United States and its European allies have told the council’s members that the region remains stronger with them working together as a whole, while the countries themselves still appear divided over their future.

The fact the GCC meeting in Kuwait was to take place at all is a bit of a surprise, given the unusually sharp criticism among the typically clubby members of the GCC pointed at Doha. The dispute began in June, following what Qatar described as a hack of its state-run news agency and the circulation of incendiary comments attributed to its ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Soon after, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates closed off their airspace and seaports to Qatar, as well as the small peninsular nation’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia.

The boycott initially riled Doha, though it soon replaced food products with those flown in from Turkey and Iran. However, Qatar’s foreign reserves have dropped by some $10 billion — a fifth of their value — since the dispute began. Those reserves are crucial in supporting the nation’s riyal, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, as well as funding the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup that Doha will host.

The boycotting nations allege Qatar funds extremist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists but it restored full diplomatic ties with Iran during the crisis. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that gives its citizens the highest per-capita income in the world.

A similar dispute involving Qatar erupted in 2014. But this time positions have hardened against Qatar, whose support for Islamist opposition groups has angered the Arab nations now boycotting it. The UAE in particular views Islamists as a threat to hereditary rule in its federation of seven sheikhdoms. Egypt, angered by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the nation’s deposed President Mohammed Morsi, is also boycotting Doha.

The U.S., which has some 10,000 troops stationed at Qatar’s sprawling al-Udeid Air Base as part of its campaign against the Islamic State group and the war in Afghanistan, also has sought to end the crisis. Its military has halted some regional exercises to put pressure on the GCC to resolve the crisis. However, President Donald Trump in the meantime made comments seemingly supporting the Arab nations’ efforts at isolating Qatar, complicating those efforts.

A Trump-prompted call in September between Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi crown prince that offered a chance at negotiations also broke down in mutual recriminations. Kuwait’s 88-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah, has tried to mediate the dispute, so far without success.

Tuesday’s meeting in Kuwait City was to be a summit of the region’s rulers. However, only Qatar and Kuwait were represented by their ruling emirs, sparking anger online by Kuwaitis that the nations boycotting Qatar had slighted their leader.

Despite the troubles, Sheikh Sabah tried to stay positive. “I would like to congratulate all the people of the GCC nations for our success in holding this summit, proving how committed we are to this establishment and continuity,” he said.

After a closed-door meeting lasting around 15 minutes, Sheikh Sabah announced the end of the summit to applause.

Associated Press writers Hussain al-Qatari and Malak Harb contributed to this report.

By Alaa Shahine

November 29, 2017

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, one of the most senior Saudi royals detained in the kingdom’s corruption crackdown, has been released after reaching a settlement deal believed to exceed the equivalent of $1 billion, an official involved in the anti-graft campaign said.

Prince Miteb, who headed the powerful National Guard until earlier this month, was released Tuesday, the official said on condition of anonymity in discussing matters under the supervision of the public prosecutor. At least three other suspects have also finalized settlement deals, the official said. It wasn’t immediately possible to reach Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, for comment.

The public prosecutor has decided to release several individuals and will proceed with the prosecution of at least five others, the official said. The prosecutor has complete authority over the investigation, including whether to accept or reject any settlement proposal and whether to take any suspect to court, the official said.

Prince Miteb’s release, less than a month since his arrest, shows the speed at which Saudi Arabia wants to settle the corruption probe that involved the sudden arrests of royals and billionaires such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The crackdown has shaken the kingdom and reverberated across the world as analysts, bankers and diplomats assess its impact on power in the world’s biggest oil exporter.

$100 Billion Settlement

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s predominant leader known as MBS, said the majority of those being detained had agreed to pay back some of the money they had gained illegally in exchange for their freedom. The prince said authorities could recover as much as $100 billion in settlements.

Some suspects started making payments to settle cases in exchange for freedom, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Businessmen and officials signed agreements with authorities to transfer a portion of their assets to avoid trial and have started to transfer funds from personal accounts to government-controlled accounts, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

“Most princes arrested will certainly try to buy their way out, and we will see more of them doing just that to avoid jail time,” said Raihan Ismail, an associate lecturer at the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. “This process lacks accountability and integrity. I doubt that detailed charges will ever be released, especially if settlements are reached.”

Five-Star Prison

The crackdown has turned the palatial Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May, into a five-star detention center for about 200 of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people.

The country’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said suspects had been granted legal access. His office, however, has yet to release details of the charges or allow access to the suspects and their lawyers, making it difficult to independently asses the cases.

King Salman fired Prince Miteb shortly before midnight Nov. 4 and announced the formation of an anti-corruption commission headed by the crown prince. Prince Miteb’s arrest fueled speculation that the crackdown was more about tightening the crown prince’s grip on power, a claim he dismissed as “ludicrous” in an interview with the New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman this month.

The opacity of the system doesn’t take away “from the political capital that MBS probably earned from this from the Saudi public” by declaring war on corruption, Hani Sabra, founder of New York-based Alef Advisory wrote in a report. “We continue to believe that MBS’s risky domestic gambits are likely to succeed.”

— With assistance by David Tweed

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/saudi-prince-released-after-1-billion-settlement-official-says.

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

Saudi-based Acwa Power has announced the launch of the $1-billion Kirikkale Combined Cycle Power Plant in Turkey which has a 1,000 MW capacity, enough to meet three percent of the country’s total electricity demand.

The project was officially launched at a major ceremony held at the Presidential Complex in the presence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Berat Albayrak, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources besides other senior officials.

It is located in the municipality of Kiliclar in the Yahsihan District, 15km from Kirikkale City Center and 50km east of Ankara.

“The inauguration of this project is a clear sign of the growth and modernization in Turkey, which is making the country set for continued development,” Acwa Power Chairman Mohammad Abunayyan said.

The plant is the first and largest of Saudi energy investments in Turkey’s power sector. Abunayyan said that it stressed Acwa Power’s role in boosting Saudi foreign investment base in the economic, strategic and investment sectors, in line with requirements of Saudi Vision 2030 and its objectives.

“We applaud the Turkish authorities on delivering a key infrastructure project to drive the economy forward for future generations,” he added.

For his part, Managing Director at ACWA Power Thamer al-Sharhan said that achieving this significant milestone has only been possible through the support extended by various institutes, including Energy Ministry, Regulator (EPDK), TEIAS, Kirikkale Governor and Municipality.

“This project is an ideal example of the power of public-private partnerships in fulfilling national ambitions,” Sharhan said.

Notably, the Kırıkkale Power Plant will provide a steady and reliable energy to Turkey’s national grid.

The project is also among the top three most efficient combined cycle gas power plants in Turkey, significantly contributing to the country’s economy through savings in gas consumption.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1097416/saudi-arabia%E2%80%99s-acwa-power-inaugurates-1bn-power-plant-turkey.

Monday, 27 November, 2017

Defense ministers from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) approved during their first meeting held Sunday in Riyadh, a strategy from several items to fight terrorism as they emphasized on the importance of joint efforts, organized collective actions, and comprehensive strategic planning to deal with the threat of terrorism, and put an end to those who seek to fuel conflicts and sectarianism, and spread chaos, strife and unrest within their countries.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman opened the inaugural meeting of the IMCTC on Sunday and said that the biggest threat from terrorism and extremism is tarnishing the reputation of Islamic religion and distorting the Muslim belief, also pledging to track down terrorism and see its defeats in many countries of the world, especially in Islamic countries, until it disappears completely from the surface of the earth.

“Our meeting today is very important as in the past years, terrorism has been operating in all our countries and most of these organizations operate in several countries without a strong, good and distinguished coordination among Islamic countries. Today, this matter is finished in the presence of this coalition. Today, more than 40 Islamic countries are sending a very strong signal that they will work together and coordinate very strongly to support each other’s efforts, whether in military efforts, or financial, intelligence, and political aspects,” the Crown Prince said.

The Muslim top defense officials agreed on Sunday to fight terrorism in the ideology domain, by planning to expose extremist misuse of legitimate texts and events through delusion, allegation, false methods and deceit.

The ministers also expressed their determination to address terrorism through education and knowledge and to fight terrorist ideologies in the financing domain.

“The Ministers agreed on the importance of the role of the IMCTC Counter Terrorism Center in coordinating and integrating military efforts, the exchange of information and intelligence, and conducting training courses and joint exercises,” a statement issued by the ministers said.

The Council also agreed on the importance of the military role in combating the threat of terrorism, enhancing security and peace in the Coalition member countries and contributing to regional and international security and peace.

Gen. Raheel Sharif, military commander of the IMCTC, said: “The greatest challenge to peace and stability in the 21st century, especially in the Islamic world, is to address the most serious phenomenon in the world: Terrorism.”

For his part, Secretary-General of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition Lieutenant General Abdulelah bin Othman Al-Saleh uncovered that the defense ministers exchanged information and initiatives to be submitted in the coming period, indicating that there are institutional initiatives, plans and strategies that will dry up the sources of terrorism and its funding by information, military and media.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1096136/islamic-coalition-approves-strategy-fight-terrorism-sectarianism.

David Hearst

Thursday 16 November 2017

Saudi Arabia is bypassing Jordan in its headlong rush to normalize relations with Israel, offering concessions on Palestinian refugees which could endanger the stability of the Hashemite kingdom, and compromise its status as the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, a senior official close to the royal court in Amman has told Middle East Eye.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of treating Jordan with contempt. “He deals with Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority as if they are the servants and he is the master and we have to follow what he does. He neither consults nor listens to us,” the official said.

The alarm bells went off in Amman following semi-official leaks suggesting that Saudi Arabia was ready to surrender the Palestinian right of return in exchange for putting Jerusalem under international sovereignty as part of a Middle East peace deal that would facilitate the creation of a Saudi-Israeli alliance to confront Iran.

Such a deal would compromise the special status of Jordan as the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif, as stated in the peace treaty Jordan struck with Israel in 1994.

“Half the population of Jordan are Palestinians and if there is official talk in Riyadh about ending the right of return, this will cause turmoil within the kingdom. These are sensitive issues both for Jordanians from the East Bank and Palestinians,” the official said.

Jordanian backlash

In fact, 65 percent of the population of Jordan are Palestinian, mostly from the occupied West Bank. They have Jordanian citizenship and access to medical care, but they are under-represented in parliament, and have little presence in the Jordanian army and security services.

Furthermore, any attempt to give the Palestinians more rights in Jordan would provoke a backlash among the Jordanian population, the official observed.

He said any final status deal involving Palestinian refugees would have to include a compensation package to Jordan, which the kingdom would expect to receive as a state.

On the deal itself, the Jordanian official said that what was on offer to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was worse than before.

“He (MbS) is concerned about the normalization of the Saudi relationship with Israel and he does not care about anything else. He needs a fig leaf to start off this normalization,” the official said.

A separate Western source in contact with some Saudi princes independently confirmed the importance of Israel as a factor behind a wave of recent arrests in Riyadh targeting princes, business tycoons and other influential Saudis.

He said several of the people arrested under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign had acted as “gatekeepers for Saudi funding” going to Israel. He suggested that MbS wanted to keep a monopoly of these contacts for himself. For this reason, he questioned whether those arrested would be put on public trial, or whether there would be secret trials.

This source dismissed the notion that what was a taking place in Saudi was a genuine anti-corruption drive: “The Saudi family do not rule Saudi Arabia. They own it. That is their view. They created the country. They own it, and therefore they cannot be corrupt.”

The Royal Court in Amman is also concerned by the pressure being applied on Jordan to join an anti-Iran campaign and the potentially dire consequences of what it considers “reckless” Saudi policies.

“Things in Syria are going to the benefit of Iran and its allies. The Jordanian approach was to try to open channels with Iran and Russia and to calm down the Iranians and have some sort of agreement in the south,” MEE’s source said.

“But the Saudis are in full confrontation mode, destabilizing Lebanon. If Iran wants to retaliate, it could retaliate across the whole region, which could affect Jordan directly and that is the last thing Jordan would want them to do.”

When pressed by the Saudis, Jordan scaled back its diplomatic relations with Qatar, but notably did not cut them as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt did on the day the blockade was announced. Jordan did, however, close the office of Al Jazeera, the Qatari television network which Saudi has called on Doha to shut down.

Unlike the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah has not been invited to go to Riyadh to express these frustrations in person. He has visited Bahrain, but went home shortly after.

Broken promises

The third source of Jordanian concern about the way Saudi is behaving is economic.

Jordan has lost money as a result of the regional boycott of Qatar, and is currently losing income it earned through the transit of goods. This is a result of the re-opening of a crossing between Saudi and Iraq at Arar, a crossing that had been closed for 27 years since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Before Arar opened, all trade from Iraq passed through Jordan. With the opening of Arar, Iraq will start to use Saudi ports in the Red Sea to export to Europe, instead of the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

There is anger in the royal palace about promises of aid from Saudi Arabia, but no signs of the cash arriving in its bank accounts.

A separate Jordanian source told MEE: “The Jordanian king and the Jordanian authority are angry about promises made by the Saudis  to compensate Jordan for its loss of income with Qatar, and the fact that nothing has been received from them so far.”

A fourth Jordanian grievance is MbS’s recent announcement of plans to build the high-tech mega city of Neom which is set to stretch across the kingdom’s borders into Jordan and Egypt. The official said that Jordan was “not well briefed” about the project, fostering the suspicion that the primary beneficiary in the city’s construction will not be Jordan or Egypt, but Israel which has established a regional lead in high-tech exports.

He said there were “some positive comments” on the Jordanian side, but overall it reacted cautiously to the announcement.

The official doubted whether Israel would be stampeded into a war with Hezbollah and suggested that MbS had miscalculated the reaction to his offensive on Lebanon, following the Lebanese Prime Minister’s Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation in Riyadh earlier this month.

Hariri, who is a Saudi citizen with significant business interests in the country, has not yet returned to Beirut and Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday that he believed he was being detained there.

“The analysis of Jordan is that neither Israel nor the US will go for a war, and that we Jordanians will be saddled with the consequences of a direct confrontation with Iran and we will pay the consequences for this,” the official said.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-jordan-braces-turmoil-saudis-rush-embrace-israel-1491957420.

November 15, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A senior executive at U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday the company is delivering its Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia and that the kingdom is on track to become the second international customer, after the United Arab Emirates, to acquire its THAAD system.

Saudi Arabia is aggressively building up military capabilities as tensions spike with its regional rival Iran. The kingdom intercepted a missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels at Riyadh earlier this month, the deepest strike inside the kingdom since its forces went to war in Yemen in 2015.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for supplying the rebels with the missile, and a senior U.S. military official appeared to back Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran. Tehran denies providing material support to the rebels in Yemen, who say the missile was locally developed.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday advised U.S. citizens of what it said was “the continuing threat posed by ballistic missiles fired by rebels in Yemen at Saudi Arabia.” Reports suggested the kingdom may have used the Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot system to shoot the missile down. The Patriot surface-to-air anti-missile system is produced by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Lockheed Martin produces variants of the missile it shoots. The system was first used during the 1991 Gulf War in Saudi Arabia.

President Donald Trump has credited U.S. defense systems for Saudi Arabia’s recent interception. “A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump wrote on Twitter after the Nov. 4 attack. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Integrated Air and Missile Defense, Tim Cahill, told reporters at the Dubai Air Show on Tuesday that market prospects for U.S.-made missile defense systems are “very, very good.”

“You might imagine if the threats are getting more sophisticated and our systems tend to be on the more sophisticated, more capable end, that that’s probably good for business,” he said. “We are fielding, I think, more requests than any of us have ever seen before worldwide. Many countries are interested in what our products can do,” Cahill added.

The U.S., however, is facing competition from other suppliers, including Russia. Saudi King Salman was in Moscow last month, where he signed an agreement to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system.

Cahill said that trying to coordinate the Russian-made system with those made in the U.S. will be problematic. “The governments will have to decide whether that’s something they can do, but I can tell you absolutely that will be a difficult subject,” he said.

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, has two generations of its latest PAC-3 missile, also known as Patriot Advanced Capability. Cahill said the company is delivering the first generation, known as CRI’s, to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom does not yet have the second generation, known as MSE’s.

A main difference between the PAC-3’s and THAAD systems is that the latter reaches much higher altitudes. THAAD, short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, can destroy incoming missiles without a warhead through the energy of its collision with the target.

Cahill said Lockheed Martin is also developing a “mini hit-to-kill” missile that is about 2.5 feet-long (.75 meters) and weighs in at just five pounds (2.25 kilograms). It is designed to target rockets, artillery and mortar fire in ground combat.

A rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has raised concerns in Congress about the unity of Washington’s Gulf allies. In late June, after the diplomatic spat erupted, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he would halt arms sales to the Arab Gulf states until there’s “a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute.”

Cahill said because THAAD is seen as a “purely defensive system,” the State Department submitted the potential sale for Congressional notification and the 30-day period for review expired earlier this month.

“Generally speaking, THAAD has not typically been caught up in concerns about delivering offensive capability,” he said.

This story has been updated to clarify that the Patriot surface-to-air anti-missile system is produced by Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. makes variants of the missile it fires.

November 13, 2017

CAIRO (AP) — Saudi Arabia said Monday that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen will begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.

The announcement from the Saudi mission at the United Nations came after the coalition fighting Yemen’s rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies faced widespread international criticism over the closure, with the U.N. and over 20 aid groups saying it could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.”

“The first step in this process will be taken within 24 hours and involves reopening all the ports in areas controlled by” Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which the coalition backs, the mission’s statement said.

Those ports are in Aden, Mocha and Mukalla. For ports in rebel-held or disputed territories, like Hodeida, the mission said it had asked the U.N. to send a team of experts to discuss ways to make sure weapons can’t be smuggled in.

The Saudi-led coalition hopes that will prevent “the smuggling of weapons, ammunitions, missile parts and cash that are regularly being supplied by Iran and Iranian accomplices to the Houthi rebels,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia announced it shut down all ports after a Nov. 4 ballistic missile attack on Riyadh near its international airport by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of supplying the ballistic missile used in that attack, saying the missiles bore “Iranian markings.” The Houthis have denied that.

For its part, Iran long has denied offering any arms to Yemen, though it has backed the Houthis and highlighted the high civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign of airstrikes.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

November 9, 2017

Saudi Arabian authorities have carried out further arrests and frozen more bank accounts under an expanding anti-corruption crackdown that was announced last Saturday against the Kingdom’s political and business elite, Reuters reported, quoting official sources.

Since the campaign kickoff, dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have already been held in the purge. They face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.

According to the sources, the anti-corruption authorities have also frozen the bank accounts of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud, and some of his immediate family members.

Nayef, known as MbN, was ousted as Crown Prince in June when King Salman replaced him with the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Those who were held most recently include individuals with links to the immediate family of the late Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz who died in 2011, the sources noted.

“Others appear to be lower-level managers and officials,” the sources told Reuters.

Since Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, according to an official banker, who preferred anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is over 1,700 and rising, up from 1,200, the banker added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171109-in-purge-crackdown-saudi-arabia-makes-fresh-arrests-freezes-royals-accounts/.

November 08, 2017

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will be joining Arab leaders to inaugurate the new Louvre Abu Dhabi in the capital of the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday evening.

The museum marks a major cultural achievement for the UAE after a decade-long wait and questions about conditions that laborers on the project had faced. The artwork on display offers a brief history of the world and its major religions — without shying away from Judaism in a country that officially does not recognize Israel.

Museum officials say it also serves as a cultural bridge between the East and West. However, the conservative mores of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital that’s more buttoned-up than freewheeling Dubai, can be seen in the relative absence of pieces depicting nudity.

“Here at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we’ve accomplished history,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said at a ceremony for journalists on Monday. “This museum is a lot more than just a museum.”

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the modernist museum sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes. It draws the lapping waters of the Persian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface and cast dancing reflections across the white walls. At night, light inside pours out like tiny little stars from a salt shaker against the city’s skyline.

“I imagine this metaphor of the sky, cosmic, cosmographic, with a random system like the stars itself,” Nouvel told The Associated Press. “I imagine that with not a lot of lighting, just a little bit to create a kind of rain of light.”

That rain has been a long time coming in this desert country, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Authorities first announced the project in 2007 as Dubai feverishly built the world tallest building and other wonders.

Today, much of Saadiyat Island, envisioned as a cultural district anchored by the museum, is still empty. A planned Middle East outpost of the Guggenheim remains unbuilt, with just a poured foundation on the salt flood plain.

Part of the reason is the drop in global energy prices from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $30 in early 2016. Abu Dhabi officials have not disclosed how much it cost to build the museum. What is known is that Abu Dhabi agreed to pay France $525 million for the use of the “Louvre” name for the next 30 years and six months, plus another $750 million to hire French managers to oversee the 300 loaned works of art. A center at Paris’ Louvre now bears the name of the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which was also part of the deal.

During construction, the project faced intense criticism over laborer conditions amid low pay, long hours and the brutal UAE heat. A worker was killed in an accident in 2015 while another died of “natural causes” in 2016, according to Abu Dhabi authorities.

Hundreds working on projects on the island, including the Louvre, also were deported or lost their work visas for launching strikes over their conditions, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report. Labor strikes are illegal in the UAE.

Jean-Luc Martinez, the president-director of the Louvre in Paris, contends the museum spoke “very frankly” about laborer conditions. He described the museum as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe.

“We are not a European museum,” he told the AP. “It’s a place to see the world from Abu Dhabi.” The museum also makes a point to put the world’s religions side by side. In one exhibit, a Jewish funerary stele from France in 1250 sits next to a Tunisian Muslim’s funerary steel and a Christian archbishop’s stone epitaph from Tyre, Lebanon. A painted French stone statue of Virgin and Child stands by a section of a Syrian Quran dating to around 1250, open to a page recounting the night during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims believe the holy book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

In a darkened room, a page from the Blue Quran, one of the oldest ever found, sits near a Gothic Bible, Buddhist sutras and a Torah from Yemen dating to 1498. In a Middle East still torn by religious and sectarian conflict, whether between Sunni and Shiite or Israelis and the Palestinians, simply putting them side by side is a major statement.

For now at least, the museum’s exhibit ends with an installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei called “Fountain of Light,” an illuminated work of steel and glass that recalls the museum’s gleam at night.