Kuwaiti emir calls for spending cuts over low oil prices
ABU DHABI // Kuwaitis should be ready for government cuts in social spending, emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah said on Tuesday.
Addressing parliament at the beginning of the new term, Sheikh Sabah said state revenues were down 60 per cent due to the fall in global oil prices.
He called for “urgent measures” to adopt economic reforms, reduce public spending and corruption.
Omani minister holds talks with Assad in Damascus
ABU DHABI // Oman’s foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi met Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in Damascus on Monday.
The meeting was the latest in months of increased international diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict in Syria, which began in 2011 after peaceful protests aimed at ending the Assad regime’s decades-long rule descended into violence.
The Syrian state news agency reported that Mr Alawi had “affirmed Oman commitment to Syria’s unity and sovereignty” and would continue to help find a solution to the conflict.
One woman elected in Oman’s shura council elections
ABU DHABI // Slightly more than half of Oman’s voters turned out to take part in shura council elections, the official news agency announced on Monday, significantly less than the previous polls in 2011.
Only one woman was elected to the council in the nationwide vote on Sunday that all Omanis over the age of 21 were allowed to participate in.
Nemah bint Jamiel bin Farhan Al Busaidiya was re-elected to represent Muscat’s Seeb district for another four years. She was also the only woman elected to the previous council. She will represent Seeb along with a male council member Hilal bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sarmi.
Oman holds vote for shura council
ABU DHABI // Omanis voted in shura council elections on Sunday, the second since Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said gave the body greater powers in 2011.
Five hundred and ninety candidates, including 20 women, are vying for 85 seats on the council, which has a four-year term and is allowed to propose and revise legislation and call ministers for questioning.
“I expect to see a reasonable turnout,” said Ahmed Ali Al Mukhaini, an Omani political commentator in Muscat. “However, if we see a low turnout, then Omanis are expressing their dissatisfaction with the political process. This is to be confirmed when the results are announced.”
Trial continues in Kuwait for alleged Hizbollah-linked cell
KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti court held the latest hearing on Tuesday in the trial of more than 20 people accused of links to Hizbollah and Iran.
The defendants, all Kuwaitis except for one Iranian, are accused of threatening Kuwait’s “unity and territorial integrity” and communicating with Hizbollah and Iran with the aim of carrying out “hostile” acts in the country and possessing illegal weapons, according to the official Kuwait News Agency.
While details remain murky, the trial signals that Kuwaiti security forces have stepped up efforts since ISIL’s bombing of a Shiite mosque in June, and amid increased Gulf Arab concerns about Iran.
What fall in oil prices? Omani energy company redevelops luxury community
MUSCAT // Tucked behind the rocky headland overlooking Oman’s capital, a multimillion dollar redevelopment is taking place.
The majority state-owned oil company, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), is revamping a residential community for oil workers into a luxury complex. Originally built in the 1970s, the community, named Ras Al Hamra, is located next to Mina Al Fahal, the country’s main petroleum refining and exporting site.
Analysis: What happened at Haj this year?
What happened at Haj this year? The question is being asked around the world.
All that is known for sure is that at least 719 pilgrims died and 863 were injured after a stampede occurred in Mina, five kilometres from Mecca.
According to an statement issued by Saudi Arabian authorities, large numbers of pilgrims massed at an intersection in Mina on Thursday morning, near the Jamarat Bridge.
Praise for Oman’s role as region’s mediator
MUSCAT // Following its success bringing the United States and Iran together for historic talks, Oman has been praised for its role as a Middle East mediator.
The country is now involved in helping opposing sides find common ground in other difficult conflicts – in Yemen and Syria.
“They [Oman] are trying to ride the wave of this diplomatic momentum,” said Leon Goldsmith, an assistant professor at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
Non-profit inspires Omani students to venture into private sector
MUSCAT // Shabib Al Maamari aims to create a new generation of Omani entrepreneurs. To do this, he started a non-profit organisation called Injaz Oman that inspires and trains students to join the country’s private sector.
At a time when increased Omanisation is a key goal for both the government and the shura council, the Muscat-based organisation – part of an international network of youth-focused Injaz non-profits – is having an impact across the country.
“We’ve hit every single governorate in Oman,” says Mr Al Maamari, describing the non-profit’s activity.
Enthusiasm wanes for Oman’s shura council ahead of elections
MUSCAT // Elections for Oman’s shura council are expected next month, the second such vote since the body was promised greater powers following Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.
Yet, Omanis’ enthusiasm for the council – the last vote saw a 76 per cent turnout – appears to be waning because of a perception that it has accomplished little in the past four years.
Though the council now has greater legislative and oversight capacities, its powers are limited and there appears to be little follow through on promises after candidates are elected, according to Omani citizens.
US and Iran stick to military warnings despite nuclear deal
ABU DHABI // Despite an international accord over Tehran’s nuclear programme, the United States and Iran have not hesitated to remind each other of their military capabilities.
‘No place in Syria for Assad,’ says Saudi Arabia
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister made clear that his country’s position on Syrian president Bashar Al Assad remained unchanged on Tuesday during a visit to Russia, a key backer of Damascus.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister to visit Russia for talks on Syria conflict
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabian foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir will visit Moscow this week to discuss the conflict in Syria with his Russian counterpart.
Saudi Arabia ‘still determining’ identity of mosque suicide bomber
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia is still determining the identity of the suicide bomber who killed at least 15 people in an attack on a mosque in the southwestern Asir province, an interior ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
Deal with Iran ‘will make the Gulf safer’
ABU DHABI // Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers welcomed the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on Monday, following a presentation in Doha from the US secretary of state.
Bahrain bombing kills two police officers
Two police officers were killed in what authorities described as a “terror” attack in Bahrain on Tuesday.
Details emerge of Kuwait mosque bomber’s path to radicalisation
Fahd Suleiman Abdulmohsen Al Qaba’a, arrived at the Al Imam Al Sadeq mosque last Friday. He got out of the car quickly and entered the building. The car’s driver sped off.
Away from Syria’s battlefields, Saudi Arabia and Russia look to build bridges
Saudi Arabia and Russia are rarely on the same side in the Middle East’s various conflicts.
It was surprising therefore to see the kingdom’s deputy crown prince and defence minister Mohammed bin Salman meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin last week, in an effort to improve ties between the two countries.
Middle East’s troubling position is one thing experts can all agree on
DOHA // The crowd gathered at the Sheraton hotel in Qatar’s capital was hardly dashing. The international milieu of academics, government officials, and analysts were under no illusions that they could solve the Middle East’s many troubles. Nor did any of these individuals really hope that they would convince anyone that disagreed with them to change their point of view on one set of policies or another.
The National, June 5, 2015
UAE and Germany set up joint fund to rebuild after ISIL
DOHA // The UAE and Germany are leading new efforts to bring stability to areas of Iraq after ISIL has been driven out.
The two have set up a special fund administered by the UN and aimed at restoring basic infrastructure, services and governance to parts of the country recaptured from the militants.
The National, June 3, 2015
Book review: The Arabs at War in Afghanistan
Conversations between enemies are rare and still more rarely overheard. Mustafa Hamid and Leah Farrall are not enemies, but they represent two vastly different worlds, and ones that routinely clash. This makes their new book The Arabs at War in Afghanistan an important and very unusual collaboration.
Saudi Arabia’s former spymaster aims to give centre influence
RIYADH // If there is one person whose public comments offer clues about what Saudi Arabia’s government is thinking it is former spy master Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud.
Newsmaker: Mohammed bin Nayef
Whether or not a person can ever truly change is something Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has probably thought about very deeply.
Kerry expected to press Saudi for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Yemen
RIYADH // US secretary of state John Kerry is expected to press for a “humanitarian pause” to the bombing of Yemen in talks with Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman changes line of succession
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced a shake up at the highest levels of power on Wednesday, shifting the line of royal succession at a time of unprecedented regional strife.
Startups flourish in Kuwait as entrepreneurial spirit takes hold
KUWAIT CITY // Premlal PK left his home in India’s Kerala state in April 2012 and moved to the Kuwaiti capital to begin a new life.
Kuwait role in Yemen a surprise, yet underlines frustrations with Tehran
KUWAIT CITY // Of all the countries in the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, Kuwait’s participation is perhaps the most surprising.
Donors pledge $3.8bn for Syrians at Kuwait aid conference
KUWAIT CITY // Donors at an international aid conference in Kuwait pledged US$3.8 billion on Tuesday to help victims of the Syrian conflict, as the country’s emir warned of the vast consequences of inaction.
Donors urged to take long view on aid for Syrians
KUWAIT CITY // United Nations agencies are calling for a long-term approach to helping Syrian refugees as aid organisations and government representatives meet on Tuesday to raise funds for the millions of civilians affected by the country’s civil war.
Hardliner chosen to head council that selects Iran’s supreme leader
ABU DHABI // The appointment of an ultraconservative cleric as head of Iran’s most influential council is a signal that hardliners want to highlight their power as the deadline for a framework deal with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme approaches.
King Abdullah laid to rest as new monarch faces Middle East challenges
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s new king promised to continue the policies of his predecessors as his half brother Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was laid to rest – his death on Friday ending nearly 20 years at the helm of the region’s most powerful country.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died in the early hours of Friday, according to the royal court.
Yemen instability sets off alarm bells in GCC
ABU DHABI // Houthi militants showed their preference for violence over political compromise when they occupied Yemen’s presidential palace, seized a missile base and attacked the president’s residence in Sanaa.
Saudi crown prince gives speech on behalf of King Abdullah
ABU DHABI // With King Abdullah in hospital, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince delivered the monarch’s traditional address to the Shura Council on Tuesday, warning that the country faced unprecedented challenges.
With conflicts raging in neighbouring Iraq and Yemen and plummeting oil prices casting a shadow over domestic policies, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud sought to reassure Saudis that the government was aware of the critical position the country finds itself in.
Year in review 2014: Iran’s spymaster Qassem Suleimani rises from the shadows
Major General Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, wanted to send a message. Posing with Shiite militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq, the images told the world that even after years of punishing sanctions and the costs of propping up Bashar Al Assad in Syria, Iran’s military was at the forefront in the fight against ISIL.
Suleimani, 57, has been present on Middle East battlefields for decades, but this summer was the first time he allowed photographs of himself on the front lines to be released.
Despite brutal heat and great danger, he was on the ground, his mere presence lifting the spirits of the militias trying to push back the Islamist extremists who had crushed Iraq’s US-equipped and trained army.
Year in review 2014: GCC fortified by turbulent year
The six GCC countries displayed a new assertiveness in 2014, despite an unprecedented internal dispute that threatened the group’s unity. Air strikes were launched on Islamist militants in northern Syria by several GCC countries and two of them formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.
Such direct actions were previously unheard of in the history of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which for decades has made a careful point of exerting influence quietly.
It was the rise of ISIL and the eruption of turmoil and violence across the region that prompted a surprise shift towards a regional strategy that analysts described as projecting force to counter threats before they hit home.
Gulf states unite in face of regional threats
DOHA // A police force spanning Gulf countries, a joint navy to be based in Manama and a combined military command.
The plans announced at the end of the GCC’s 35th annual summit indicate that not only is the Arabian Peninsula facing unprecedented security threats, but that a unified front to tackle those threats takes precedence over the six nation’s political differences.
The dangers posed to the stability of Gulf countries appears to have fundamentally altered the security calculations of the GCC states and drawn them closer together. At Tuesday’s summit in Doha, leaders highlighted the need to work together amid the mushrooming conflicts in the region.
The new voices of Kuwait eager for change
KUWAIT CITY // In a complex region such as the Middle East, it is a startling, simple inquiry for a young person to make.
“Why wait Kuwait?” Nada Faris, a Kuwaiti writer, implores the audience at a slam poetry competition.
Nada, 28, is hardly well-known in Kuwait. Yet the poem, which uses Kuwait’s past as a way to examine the present, poses a question asked by many young people.
UAE’s tolerance of extremism is ‘quite low’
ABU DHABI // The UAE’s threshold for extremism is “quite low”, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said, explaining the country’s recent terror group designations.
The UAE released a list of 83 groups it considers to be terror organisations on November 15.
“Our threshold is quite low when you talk about extremism. We cannot accept incitement or funding when we look at some of these organisations,” Sheikh Abdullah told Fox news journalist Bret Baier in an interview published online on Friday.
Oman marks national day without Sultan Qaboos
MUSCAT // For the first time in more than 40 years, Omanis marked National Day without their widely loved ruler leading the celebrations.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has been receiving medical treatment in Germany since July, and told his subjects earlier this month that he would be unable to return for the occasion, which falls on his birthday.
Muscat was draped with flags and banners, there was a fireworks display, and cars drove in a jubilant procession along Qurum Beach as usual on Tuesday, but the annual military parade that Sultan Qaboos has traditionally overseen was cancelled.
Return of ambassadors to Qatar paves way for GCC summit
MUSCAT // The return of three Gulf ambassadors to Qatar after an unprecedented dispute will allow the annual GCC summit to go ahead as planned in December and free the group to focus on pressing regional issues.
The ambassadors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were recalled eight months ago over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and accusations of interference in the internal affairs of other member states. The dispute was said to be over after an extraordinary meeting of GCC leaders in Riyadh on Sunday.
The meeting was seen as a final attempt to reach a compromise before the GCC summit, in Doha from December 9-10. Qatar is still expected to take over the council’s rotating presidency for the next year.
Omantel network disrupted ahead of National Day
MUSCAT // Oman’s public telecoms provider, Omantel, was down for several hours on Monday in an unprecedented glitch a day before the country’s National Day celebrations.
Several Omanis said that it was the first time the network was out of service for so long. Customers could not make phone calls, use the internet, ATMs, or in-store credit card machines until about 8pm local time.
“The Network Operations Centre at Omantel headquarters has diagnosed the issue and identified the affected areas, and is now working on resolving it,” Omantel tweeted.
Kuwaiti man brings comic relief to Syrian refugees
KUWAIT CITY // Ali Al Nusf, a Kuwaiti accountant, took a troupe of merrymaking clowns into the dusty confines of Syrian refugee camps and hoped the ensuing antics would change the displaced peoples’ lives, if only for a moment.
He is one of the many Kuwaitis who donate, either financially or by volunteering their time, to efforts aimed at helping those affected by Syria’s three-year-old civil war.
While Kuwait is under international scrutiny for private donations that fund extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, it is also one of the biggest contributors of charity to those affected by the conflicts.
The GCC finds new meaning amid year of turmoil
KUWAIT CITY // The Gulf Cooperation Council has experienced a roller-coaster year so far, with an internal dispute spilling into public, airstrikes on the extremist Islamist group ISIL, and calls for reforms on state spending.
Such events are hardly common practice among the six-member GCC, currently headed by Kuwait.
For the moment, the group appears to have emerged stronger, with the unfamiliar actions symptomatic of a shift towards more assertive policies.
Kuwait faces challenge in curbing terror financing
KUWAIT CITY // Talal Al Sayegh is at the forefront of Kuwaiti government efforts to convince its international partners that donations from private citizens will stop going to extremist militants in Syria.
A technocrat with 20 years of experience at Kuwait’s central bank, Mr Al Sayegh was appointed to head the country’s newly empowered Financial Intelligence Unit in January.
The unit faces its first major test on October 24 when the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental policy group that sets standards for fighting terror funding and money laundering, is expected to update its outlook on Kuwait.