Category: Arabian Peninsula


August 10, 2018

Qatar is set to be knocked off its perch as the richest country in the world by the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

For several years the gas rich Gulf state held the envious status of the richest country in the world. Its per capita GDP was around $127,600 a year ago, according to the International Monetary Fund and with Luxembourg quite a way off in second place, with $104,003, Qatar’s status seemed to have been safe.

However the global casino hub of Macau has reached parity with Qatar’s GDP per capita and is predicted to outstrip Qatar by 2020, with $143,116 per capita GDP, according to projections from the IMF. The prediction will put Macau ahead of the current No. 1 Qatar, which will reach $139,151 in the same timeframe.

A former Portuguese outpost on the southern tip of China, Macau has become a gambling capital since returning to Chinese control almost two decades ago.

It is the only place in China where casinos are legal, turning it into a magnet for high-rollers from the mainland. Macau’s gross domestic product has more than tripled from about $34,500 per capita in 2001, the IMF data shows.

The wealth gap between the two places is also expected to widen beyond 2020, with Macau’s GDP per capita set to reach $172,681 by 2023, according to data compiled from the April edition of the IMF’s Global Economic Outlook database. Qatar’s, meanwhile, will grow to just $158,117.

Small developed countries or regions are more likely to rank top of world rich lists when there are fewer people to divide the wealth. The per capita calculation works in favor of Macau, whereas the oil-rich nation of Qatar has a population of 2.57 million.

Qatar has also endured a period of sluggish economic growth as a result of sanctions imposed by its Gulf neighbors; Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Doha’s economy has recovered but its ability to maintain the level of growth seen in past is unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future under the current climate.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180810-qatar-set-to-be-knocked-off-its-position-as-richest-country-in-the-world/.

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August 06, 2018

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrest of women’s rights activists.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze “all new business” between the kingdom and Canada. Some 10 percent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Ambassador Dennis Horak was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well. Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada was “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s actions.

“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” she said in a statement. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”

The dispute appears centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” women’s rights activists recently detained by the kingdom. Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.

Freeland tweeted about the arrests on Thursday. “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” she wrote. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

Saudi Arabia ended in June its long practice of not allowing women to drive automobiles in the Sunni kingdom. However, supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signaling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will decide the pace of change.

Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry. The diplomatic dispute with Canada may be part of that assertive foreign policy pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed under his father. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It isn’t immediately clear what new business could be affected between the two countries. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached $3 billion in 2016, with tanks and fighting vehicles among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom, according to government statistics.

Saudi Arabia in recent years has expelled Iran’s ambassador over attacks on its diplomatic posts following its 2016 execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

July 18, 2018

Samir Murad, Jordan’s Labor Minister, and Qatar’s Minister of Management Development, Labor and Social Welfare, Issa al-Naimi announced an agreement, Tuesday, to create 1,000 work places for Jordanians by September, Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

This agreement is part of the Qatari initiative to afford 10,000 work places for the Jordanian youths, the Jordanian minister said.

During a press conference in Doha, Murad said that Qatari government will issue visas for Jordanian job seekers.

Murad went on to say that both the Jordanian and Qatari ministries agreed to form a joint committee to follow up the issue. They will prepare a database for the Jordanian job seekers and make it available to Qatari employers.

Murad said that the Qatari initiative would help decrease unemployment rate in the Kingdom, which has reached 18.5 per cent (280,000).

Murad also said that Jordan would support Qatari efforts in the run up to World Cup 2022.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180718-qatar-recruits-jordanians/.

Mohammad Ersan

June 17, 2018

Ambiguity surrounds the financial mechanisms adopted by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at a June 11 summit in Mecca to help Jordan navigate through a crippling economic crisis. The kingdom’s debt has risen to record highs this year, totaling 96% of the gross domestic product, or $39 billion, while the unemployment rate rose to 18.5%.

The five-year, $2.5 billion package includes a deposit at the Central Bank of Jordan along with guarantees from the World Bank for Jordan to borrow funds and finance development projects. Jordanian authorities have not, however, made public the amount of the deposit, the terms of the guarantees or the share of the package allocated to development projects.

The offer of aid follows on the heels of protests that began May 30 opposing the government’s economic austerity policies and a draft income tax law. The demonstrators called for changes to the government’s economic approach and a halt to borrowing from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The protests ended June 6, after Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki’s government resigned, and Mulki’s designated successor, Omar al-Razzaz, promised to withdraw the income tax legislation.

Given the timing of the Mecca summit, political analysts have been speculating why Saudi Arabia, which chose not to provide aid to Jordan in 2017, has decided to resume financial support to Amman at this particular time.

Bassam Badarin, a political analyst and director of Al-Quds al-Arabi in Amman, told Al-Monitor that the resumption of Gulf aid to Jordan is linked to concerns over possible instability. “Saudi [Arabia has] concerns about Jordan’s peaceful protests spilling over into Gulf countries, as happened with the Tunisian revolution, which later turned into the Arab Spring in 2011,” Badarin said.

In 2012, during the Arab Spring, the Gulf Cooperation Council provided financial support to Jordan that included a $5 billion package over five years to bolster the economy’s performance. Additional funding was not forthcoming after the expiration of that package in 2017, a decision that unidentified Jordanian officials say was punishment for Jordan taking positions inconsistent with those of Saudi Arabia on regional matters. The Saudis did not issue an official statement on why it cut the flow of aid to the kingdom.

Amer al-Sabaileh, a strategic analyst and director of the Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute, told Al-Monitor, “Saudi Arabia is dealing with Jordan differently than it deals with Egypt, which has received a larger amount of aid. This is because of the estrangement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia driven by several issues, namely the Jerusalem issue and the Hashemites’ guardianship over the city’s holy sites, Jordan’s failure to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and Amman’s position on the blockade against Qatar, as Jordan only downgraded its diplomatic representation in 2017 [by withdrawing its ambassador in Doha].”

Jerusalem is a top priority for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite family, as the kingdom has administered all Muslim and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with Washington and Riyadh’s muted reaction to the US Embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have led many in Palestine and Jordan to view Riyadh as placing Palestine, and the issue of Jerusalem in particular, on the back burner.

Sabaileh added, “[The aid] comes against the backdrop of Jordanian popular protests in order to help Jordan through its economic crisis, as [the Gulf] considers the kingdom a friendly country and not an enemy. At the same time, it is obvious that Jordan is no ally of the Saudis, given the minimal efforts made in this regard and the underwhelming amount of the aid.”

During a Jan. 31 meeting with students of the Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II School for International Studies, King Abdullah II had said that the financial situation and economic pressure on Jordan persists because of its political positions, especially on Jerusalem, the idea being that a change in Amman’s stance could lead to offers to help ease the country’s economic problems.

Sabaileh ruled out the possibility of the Gulf aid being linked to Jordan ultimately accepting the so-called deal of the century for Israeli-Palestinian peace supposedly being finalized by Donald Trump’s administration. He reasoned, “Jordan is granting Palestinian refugees Jordanian nationality. Pressuring Jordan to either accept or reject [the deal] will not change a thing [in terms of aid].”

The more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan constitute the highest percentage, 40%, of those registered in the five areas of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to the kingdom’s Department of Palestinian Affairs. Jordan has reservations about Trump’s forthcoming peace plan based on fears that it might revoke the Palestinians’ right of return or pressure Amman into accepting a confederation with the West Bank excluding Jerusalem — that is, Jordan becoming an alternative country for Palestinians at the kingdom’s expense. Such a proposal would be met with great anger by indigenous Jordanians.

Labib Kamhawi, a political affairs expert and writer for the London-based Al-Rai Al-Youm, takes a different position on the resumption of Gulf assistance. “Some Arab countries felt bad about their financial blockade of Jordan in terms of causing instability there, and thus in the region as a whole, which could adversely affect future plans contained in the so-called deal of the century, which requires a high degree of stability in both Palestine and Jordan,” he told Al-Monitor. Kamhawi was referring to Jordan’s traditional backers — including Saudi Arabia, the United States and the UAE — reducing aid allowances to the kingdom in recent years, including US threats to cut aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Jerusalem move at the United Nations.

He said, “Stability is a prerequisite for the success of the so-called deal of the century, since so far it is only a set of ideas going back and forth between parties.”

Zaki Bani Irsheid, deputy general controller of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, also ruled out any link between Gulf aid and Jordan’s acceptance of a peace plan. He told Al-Monitor that the aid was, however, linked to the popular protests in the country. “All solutions, disputes, grants, aid and internal and external borrowing are mere temporary efforts to ease the pressure of the present crises without considering what the future might hold for Jordan,” Irsheid noted.

Khalid al-Zubaidi, a Jordanian writer and economist, told Al-Monitor that he does not believe the Gulf aid package will boost the economy, because it is rather “insignificant.” He called the distribution of aid between deposits and guarantees “vague.”

Zubaidi said, “The amount offered is modest compared to Jordan’s $11 billion budget, and the Gulf support was expected to be even greater, so the Mecca summit’s gesture was more one of moral support than financial.”

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/06/jordan-saudi-arabia-aid-deal-of-the-century.html.

March 15, 2018

Qatar signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iraq to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) has reported.

The agreement aims to enhance security cooperation and exchanging information and experiences between Qatar and Iraq.

“The MoU between the Qatar and Iraq aims at further joint security cooperation and regulates the coordination process between the two countries, as well as the exchange of information and experience, as Iraq accumulates experience in the security field,” QNA quoted the country’s head of public security, Major General Saad Bin Jassim Al Khulaifi, as saying.

He further explained that it will cover all security-related areas, including training and exchange of information in the field of combating terrorism, money laundry, combating counterfeiting, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking as well as all security of ports and airports.

Praising the “close cooperation between the two countries in all fields,” Al Khulaifi noted that the two parties intend to form a joint committee of specialists to follow up and monitor the implementation of the MoU’s provisions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-qatar-iraq-sign-security-cooperation-agreement/.

March 1, 2018

A spokeswoman for the Qatari foreign ministry said yesterday that her country will not change its policy even if the blockade continues forever.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Lulwa Al Khater, made the remarks at the opening session of an international conference organized by the Middle East Dialogue Center in Brussels.

“The siege imposed on Qatar by regional players has accelerated our relations through several axes, the most important of which was the launching of the Qatari-US strategic dialogue,” Al Khater said, adding that the conference in Brussels “is an opportunity to refute the lies spread by the blockade countries and to respond to those who try to discredit Qatar.”

For his part, the Qatari Ambassador to Belgium, Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Khulaifi, said the siege gave Qatar power and it could overcome its consequences quickly, adding that the siege now has only effects on the social side while the state succeeded in maintaining its stability and security.

Al Khulaifi explained that Qatar has succeeded in finding alternatives and strategic partnerships to achieve its ambitions.

According to the ambassador, Doha has investments worth about $2 billion in Turkey, while Ankara will support the Qatari economy and participate in the 2022 World Cup projects.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180301-qatar-will-not-change-policy-even-if-blockade-never-ends/.

February 16, 2018

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi bin Abdullah visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday.

Azzam Al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Waqf in occupied Jerusalem, who received the Omani minister, described the visit as “historic” and said it was aimed at supporting the people of Jerusalem.

The visit comes after a meeting between the Omani minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

During a press conference with the PA president, the Omani foreign minister called on the Arab countries to “accept the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas to visit Palestine and occupied Jerusalem, stressing that the Palestinian people are not alone and that all the Arab peoples are behind them”.

“What is required is the hard work of the Palestinians to build their country, which has historically been a beacon of science, containing universities, schools, professors and experts,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180216-oman-fm-visits-al-aqsa-in-historic-move/.

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/.

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.