GULF REGION in April 2023
3 April 2023
- China Touts Gulf of Oman Naval Exercises with Russia and Iran (Al Sharq Al-Awsat). The Chinese Ministry of Defense said yesterday that joint naval exercises between China, Iran, and Russia in the Gulf of Oman had enhanced the ability of the navies of the three countries to carry out various naval tasks. Tan Kefei, a ministry spokesman, said the exercise had “enhanced friendship and practical cooperation between the three countries.”
- Under the Multi-Trillion Dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Saudi Arabia and China Launched Joint Refinery Petrochemical Venture (Daily Sabah). According to the Chinese daily Global Times, the $12.2 billion project between China and Saudi Arabia, dubbed a green and low-carbon initiative, was launched in Panjin city of northeastern Liaoning province.
- Recent OPEC+ Decision to Cut Oil Production Could Raise Oil Prices by $10 a Barrel (Al Khaleej Online). The reason for this voluntary cut is OPEC+’s unanimous rejection of selling oil according to prices set by the West, said the Saudi Minister of Energy. Commenting on the new cut, Amrita Sen, founder and director of Energy Aspects, told Reuters: “OPEC is taking proactive steps in the event of any potential demand cut.”
- Saudi Arabia Will Invite Bashar al-Assad to May 19th Arab Summit (Al Khaleej Online). Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia plans to officially invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab Summit in Riyadh on May 19. The agency cited three unnamed, well-informed sources, stating that “the kingdom intends to invite Assad to the Arab League summit hosted by Riyadh, a move that would formally end Assad’s regional isolation.”
- UAE Cancels License for Russia’s Sanctioned MTS Bank Branch (Al Arabiya English). On Friday, the United Arab Emirates Central Bank said it would cancel the license for a branch of Russia’s MTS bank, which it approved to operate last year and was made subject to British and US sanctions in February. Operations at the bank licensed in the emirate of Abu Dhabi will wound down within six months under central bank supervision.
- Saudi Arabia Succeeded in Combating Unemployment (Al Khaleej Online). The government’s plan to combat unemployment is based on a gradual reduction in its rate, as the unemployment rate reached 12.9% between 2016 and 2018; However, it witnessed a significant decline in subsequent years until it reached 11% in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to official data. Unemployment among Saudi women decreased to 15.4% in the last quarter, down from 20.5% in the third quarter of 2022. The General Authority for Statistics stated that the country’s total unemployment rate, including Saudis and non-Saudis, decreased to 4.8% in the fourth quarter, compared to 5.8% in the previous quarter.
4 April 2023
- As Part of its 2023 Financial Strategy, Saudi Arabia Offers Government Bonds in Electricity Sector to International Buyers (Sky News Arabia Business). The Electricity Company, in which the Public Investment Fund owns approximately 75 percent of its shares, said that it aims from the offering to finance the company’s public purposes, including capital expenditures and funding a portfolio of green projects. Reuters reported, quoting a document it had seen, that the Saudi Electricity Company set an initial guiding price at about 165 basis points over US Treasury bonds to issue green sukuk [Islamic finance bonds] for ten years.
- Voluntary Production Cuts: Did OPEC+ Seek to Avoid a Repeat of the 2008 Collapse? (Sky News Arabia Business). The sudden decision of several oil-exporting countries within the “OPEC +” coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to voluntarily reduce oil production by 1.657 million barrels per day until the end of 2023…reflects important economic and potential political considerations. Russia publically attributed the decrease in its oil production to the high level of global inflation. Kuwait stated that the decision is related to recession due to fear of a significant global crisis. “This decline was fueled by traders’ fears that the collapse of banks would weaken global economic growth,” explained Ramadan, a Kuwaiti expert, to Sky News. Saudi Arabia said the decision came after the significant decline in oil prices. A Saudi expert said, “The decision is aimed at rebalancing oil prices and absorbing current or expected surpluses from some refineries, in light of Iran’s return to the markets, as well as Venezuela and some other countries that have begun to increase production.” An Iraqi expert commenting on his country’s reason for this decrease said, “This step came after many steps taken by oil-producing countries, including non-OPEC countries. Among them are countries that could benefit from the process for political purposes about removing oil as a political weapon used against other countries.”
- 9.4 Million Visitors to the Great Mosque of Mecca in 10 Days (Al Sharq Al Awast). The scenes circulated from the al-Mataf and Sa’y bowl in the Great Mosque of Mecca monitor millions of Muslims as they flock around the clock since the start of Ramadan. In front of the daily influx of millions to perform Umrah and prayers in the Meccan Mosque, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques announced the completion of the preparation of the third Saudi expansion with all its floors, roofs, and squares to accommodate the largest number of pilgrims to the Grand Mosque, and to provide all services in all the halls of the third expansion.
- White House Says OPEC+ Decision to Reduce Oil Production Is Illogical (Al Sharq Al Awsat). [NSC spokesman John] Kirby said the Biden administration is “focusing on prices for American consumers,” adding that it will continue to work with all producers and consumers to ensure that “the oil market supports economic growth and lower prices for American consumers.”
- The Eastern Camp is Expanding…Gulf Countries Are Turning to the Shanghai Organization (Al Khaleej Online). In light of the diminishing American interest in the Middle East, the shift to internal files, and the raging conflict between Russia and Ukraine for more than a year and its various international repercussions, the Arab Gulf states are gradually turning towards the eastern camp to preserve their political and economic interests and strengthen their role internationally.
5 April 2023
- A Leap in Middle East Diesel Exports to Europe and Africa. What is the Reason? (Sky News Arabia). Record flows of Russian diesel into the Middle East in March boosted the region’s exports to Europe and Africa as traders took advantage of lower prices to stock up on fuel. The Middle East region is rapidly becoming a major supplier of industrial fuels to Europe and Africa, with the addition of stocks to Asia, as Russian imports increased the production of refineries in the region…A Reuters analysis revealed that ship tracking data from Refinitiv, Kepler, and Vortexa, Russia, showed that no less than 500,000 tons of fuel were unloaded in the region during March.
- Saudi Arabia’s Digital Dream: Silicon Valley For The Middle East (Middle East Eye). Saudi Arabia is spending billions of dollars, and hopes to attract billions more, to become the digital hub of the Middle East, investing in data centres, metaverses and fibre optic cables. Global players Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Meta and Apple are all piling into the kingdom, attracted by its deep pockets, high internet usage and plans for the future…Saudi Arabia has joined ventures and partnerships with tech companies globally, including Huawei. It also hosts the Global Tech Hub, a joint venture between Russia and the kingdom.
6 April 2023
- CIA Director Visited Saudi Arabia to Reinforce US Commitment to Intelligence Cooperation (Al Arabiya English). The head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Bill Burns was in Saudi Arabia this week to meet with officials and reinforce Washington’s commitment to intelligence cooperation…The CIA director’s quiet trip comes on the heels of a surprising agreement signed between Riyadh and Tehran, brokered by China, to restore diplomatic ties, reopen embassies and exchange ambassadors in the next month.
- Saudi, Iranian Top Diplomats to Hold Rapprochement Talks in China (Daily Sabah). The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet in Beijing Thursday as the two countries work to hash out their China-brokered diplomatic rapprochement. The meeting between Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, will be the first formal meeting between Saudi Arabia and Iran’s most senior diplomats in more than seven years.
- Lionel Messi, Argentine’s Top Soccer Player, Will Likely Join Saudi Club Al-Hilal, Potentially Facing Cristino Ronaldo, who plays for Rivals Al-Nassr (ESPN). The move aims to rekindle the fabled rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo, who spent most of their careers at fierce rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, in Spain’s La Liga.
- Saudi Arabia Resumes Flights between Jeddah and Erbil (Sharq al Awsat). Flights resumed between the airports of Jeddah and Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq on Wednesday, as a Saudi plane arrived at Erbil airport coming from Jeddah, [while another plane] today arrived in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia, the first plane coming from Erbil in several years.
12 April 2023
- Mohammed bin Salman and Lindsey Graham Discuss Common Issues (Al Sharq Al Awsat). According to the Saudi Press Agency, Mohammed bin Salman and US Senator Lindsey Graham reviewed the friendly relations between their countries and several issues of common concern during their meeting. The meeting occurred amidst significant tension in Saudi-US relations due to the US position on Saudi Arabia’s push for OPEC Plus to reduce oil production rates under President Joe Biden’s administration.
- UAE Denies Report of Intelligence Cooperation with Russia Amid US & UK Confrontation (CNN Arabic). The United Arab Emirates has denied reports that Russian intelligence was promoting deeper ties with the Emirati government and planning actions against the United States and the United Kingdom, as reported by the Associated Press, citing a US intelligence document.
- IMF Raises 2023 Growth Forecast for Saudi Arabia (Sky News Business). The International Monetary Fund has increased its growth forecast for Saudi Arabia this year to 3.1 percent, up 0.5 percentage points from its initial estimate… Last year, Saudi Arabia achieved an impressive growth rate of 8.7 percent, the highest among the G20 countries, and exceeded all expectations.
April 13, 2023
- US Floats Sanctions Warning as Arab Isolation of Syria Nears End (Al Arabiya). Saudi Arabia became the latest Gulf country to take a step toward normalizing ties with the Syrian regime on Tuesday after Bashar al-Assad’s top diplomat visited Jeddah. But Washington has warned that its sanctions against the Assad regime remain in place…“Our position is clear: We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent real progress towards a political solution to the underlying conflict,” a National Security Council (NSC) official told Al Arabiya English. The US has stressed to Arab countries engaging with the Syrian regime that credible steps to improve Syrians’ humanitarian and security situation should be front and center in any engagement, the NSC spokesperson said. “We have also made clear that the core architecture of our sanctions remains firmly in place,” the official added.
- Chinese Sinopec Acquires a Stake in a Qatari Gas Field (Sky News Business). Sinopec has finalized an agreement with Qatar Energy to supply four million tons of LNG annually for 27 years, marking the most extended contract ever signed by Qatar for LNG supply.
- US Targets Firms in UAE, Turkey over Russia Sanctions Evasion (Al-Monitor). The Biden administration unveiled new sanctions Wednesday on more than 120 targets, including firms based in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, accused of bolstering Russia’s war effort in Ukraine and helping it evade sanctions.
14 April 2023
- Hours After Assad’s Foreign Minister Visits Jedda, Saudi Arabia Intercepts 3.6 Million Amphetamine Pills Concealed in Potato Shipment (Syria TV). The spokesman for the General Directorate for Drug Control in Saudi Arabia confirmed that the drug shipment recipients, including 3 residents and 2 expatriates on a visit visa, were arrested in the Riyadh region. However, the identity of the arrested people and the shipment’s source were not disclosed.
- Saudi Foreign Minister Meets with White House Middle East Coordinator McGurk (Al Arabiya). Prince Faisal and US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk discussed further strategies to enhance joint coordination between the two countries and exchanged views on regional and international developments, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet.
- Qatari PM: Syria’s Arab League Return is Mere Speculation (Al Hurra). The Qatari prime minister stated on Qatar state television that the reasons for suspending Syria’s membership and boycotting the Syrian regime still exist for the State of Qatar. This statement comes ahead of an upcoming Gulf Arab meeting on Friday to discuss the Syrian crisis and the potential return of Damascus to its Arab surroundings.
- US Envoy for Yemen Will Meet with Yemeni, Saudi, and International Partners to Discuss Next Steps in Peace Process (Al Hadath). The US State Department has announced that its envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, is embarking on a tour of Gulf countries to advance the peace process and end the country’s ongoing war. The statement also noted that “after more than a year of intensive diplomatic efforts by the United States and the United Nations, and with support from regional partners such as Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman, Yemen is witnessing an unprecedented opportunity for peace.”
- Yemeni Presidential Council Confirms Full Readiness for Peace (Al Hadath). The Head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad al-Alimi, said, “The Presidential Leadership Council and the government are committed to the pursuit of a just and comprehensive peace, demonstrating complete readiness for this accomplishment, which serves the interests of the Yemeni people and their aspirations to restore state institutions, security, stability, and development.”
18 April 2023
- Lindsey Graham Advocates for U.S.-Saudi Arabia Mutual Defense Agreement (Arab News). US Senator Lindsey Graham said he “reserved the right to change course” on his opinion of Saudi Arabia following a visit to the Kingdom…Graham said US interest in Saudi Arabia was about “caution and opportunity,” adding that American firms can help develop the Kingdom’s plans for a nuclear energy program which, unlike Iran’s, would be for peaceful purposes.
- Saudi Crown Prince Hosts Iraqi Shiite Leader Ammar Al-Hakim (Ammar Alhakeem Website). Al-Hakim voiced his support for any measure that aids in halting the violence and conflict in Yemen, a fraternal nation, and re-establishing its pivotal Arab and regional role and standing. Furthermore, he expressed his delight at the ongoing practical steps to reinstate Syria and secure its place at the forthcoming Arab summit. Finally, Al-Hakim emphasized that the diplomatic developments between Riyadh and Tehran will have positive repercussions throughout the region.
- Market Value of Saudi Aramco Exceeds $2 Trillion (Al Khaleej Online). The stock’s increase followed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s announcement yesterday that 4% of the company’s shares would be transferred to Sanabel Investment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund…Crown Prince bin Salman explained that the share transfer aimed to bolster the national economy long-term, diversify its resources, and create more investment opportunities.
- Italy Lifts Embargo on Arms Sales to UAE (Al Arabiya). Italy halted the sale of missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in January 2021, citing its commitment to restoring peace in Yemen and protecting human rights. Since then, it had already loosened restrictions on arms exports to both Gulf states, according to sources, to ease diplomatic tensions.
- Kuwait’s Crown Prince Announces Parliament Dissolution and Calls for New Elections (Al Jazeera). The escalating tensions between the legislative and executive authorities in the country have led to the dissolution of the 2020 Parliament, the annulment of the 2022 Parliament, and the reinstatement of the former by the country’s Constitutional Court on March 19th. This turbulence has also resulted in the dismissal and resignation of two governments within a short timeframe.
19 April 2023
1.Ukrainian Foreign Minister Urges Kuwait to Assist in His Country’s Reconstruction (Al Khaleej Online). These remarks were made by Minister Kuleba during his inaugural visit to a Gulf country since the onset of the Russian conflict with Kyiv in February 2022 … during his meeting with the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development’s Director-General, Walid Shamlan Al-Bahar, in the Kuwaiti capital, Kuleba said: “The Russian aggression has caused extensive destruction, but we will undoubtedly rebuild everything.”
- IMF Expects Greater Revenues for Saudi Arabia after Reducing Oil Production (Sky News Business). Saudi Arabia is expected to benefit more from the oil production cuts it announced with OPEC and its allies, as it will generate more revenues in its budget thanks to higher oil prices, according to the International Monetary Fund.
3.Qatar and UAE Prepare for Embassy Reopening (Al Khaleej Online). An Emirati official informed the agency, “Diplomatic relations are being revitalized, including the reopening of the two countries’ embassies,” anticipating “the reopening of both embassies and the appointment of two new ambassadors by mid-June.” Abu Dhabi and Doha’s relationship has significantly improved since the Gulf reconciliation.
20 April 2023
- Middle East is unlikely to Slow Down on AI and ChatGPT Rollout (Al-Monitor). Astra Tech, backed by Abu Dhabi AI company G42, created the first Arabic language ChatGPT last Wednesday. Also this week, the number of open letter signatories increased more than sixfold since last Monday’s 3,000, highlighting the growing concern about unregulated AI.
2.Brazil Signs $12.65 Billion in Deals with UAE, China Amid Struggling Economy (Al-Monitor). Brazil is the UAE’s top trading partner in Latin America, according to 2022 non-oil foreign trade figures.
24 April 2023
- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov Discusses the Situation in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan with UAE (Syria TV). Bogdanov met with Anwar Gargash, diplomatic advisor to the President of the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai on April 22…The UAE and Russia back the Syrian regime and its endeavors to regain standing on Arab and international levels, despite the numerous war crimes and human rights violations it has been accused of. They also supported the initiative to reinstate the regime to Syria’s suspended seat in the Arab League, which recently failed.
25 April 2023
1.Saudi Arabia Ranks Fifth Globally in Military Spending for 2022 (Al Khaleej Online). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report revealed that Saudi Arabia’s military spending in 2022 increased by 16%, reaching an estimated $75.0 billion, the first increase since 2018, earning the country a fifth-place ranking globally.
26 April 2023
1.Saudi Arabia Thwarts Smuggling of 12 Million Captagon Pills, Arrests Syrian Involved in Operation (Syria TV). The drugs were concealed in a shipment of pomegranate fruit and entered through the port of Jeddah…The official spokesperson for the General Directorate for Drug Control confirmed the arrest of four drug addicts in Jeddah Governorate: two residents of Egyptian nationality and two residents of Syrian and Yemeni nationalities.
- Oman’s Foreign Minister and Iranian Counterpart Discussed Regional and International Issues (Al Khaleej Online). It was agreed to hold a joint economic committee. Oman has played a constructive role in the talks to lift the embargo.
27 April 2023
- As Efforts to Exclude the Dollar Accelerate, Will the Dollar Lose its Dominance? (SNA Business). Russia, which has been most affected by the US dollar’s significant role in global trade due to sanctions, has become one of the countries leading efforts to move away from the greenback in commercial transactions by using local and national currencies to pay for energy sales… The largest beneficiary of this step, China, is also trying to enhance the role of the Shanghai Stock Exchange in settling oil and gas transactions in the Chinese yuan.
2.Saudi Arabia Releases Son of Hamas Leader (Al Khaleej Online). The Saudi government has freed Hani al-Khudari, the son of former Hamas representative in Riyadh, Muhammad al-Khudari…This release comes after a high-level delegation from Hamas, led by its political bureau head, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Saudi Arabia on April 18th. This visit marks a turning point in the long-standing estrangement and indifference in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Hamas.
- Aramco Overtakes Microsoft as World’s Second Largest Company (Al Khaleej Online). Saudi Aramco has secured the second spot in the world’s most significant company ranking by value, with a total worth of $2.11 trillion (7.92 trillion riyals), after its shares reached 36 riyals ($9.60) on Wednesday, overtaking Microsoft and moving up the global ranking.
- Expansion of BRICS Alliance: Implications for the Global Economy (SNA Business). The BRICS group anticipates significant developments at the upcoming summit in South Africa. The summit is expected to address 19 applications for membership, including 13 formal requests and six informal requests. The expansion of the BRICS Alliance will further enhance its role as a formidable economic alliance and put it in a better position to compete against the Group of Seven.
5.Saudi Initiative for Sudan Solution Involves All Political Forces, Not Limited to the Two Generals (Al Arabiya). The Umma Party stated in an exclusive interview with Al-Arabiya that there are military officers who have affiliations with the Brotherhood and remnants of the former regime and are willing to cause harm to Sudan rather than relinquish their hold on power. Therefore, the party advised Hamidti to be cautious of any provocations being instigated by the Islamists.