Category Archive : Middle East

Yemen war: Mud-brick Seiyun Palace ‘at risk of collapse’


That left it vulnerable to

the heavy rains and flash floods that hit Yemen this summer, killing dozens of people.



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UAE government delegation heads to Israel for first official visit


DUBAI: The first ever official United Arab Emirates delegation to Israel set off on Tuesday after the two countries normalised ties last month under a US-brokered accord forged largely over shared fears of Iran.
An Etihad Airways plane carrying Emirati government officials, with U.S. dignitaries accompanying them, left the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, headed to Ben-Gurion Airport, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
Israeli officials said the five-hour visit would be restricted to the airport due to coronavirus concerns.
The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign deals to establish formal ties with Israel, a move that Washington and its allies have said would foster regional peace and stability but which has been rejected by the Palestinians.
“This is an historical moment for the UAE country and Israel and we are looking forward to salaam (peace) … in the region,” one of the pilots could be heard saying in a video posted on Twitter by U.S. Middle East envoy Ari Berkowitz.
Berkowitz and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are accompanying the Emirati delegation, which is being led by Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq al-Mari and Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer, according to a UAE foreign ministry spokeswoman.
The U.S. officials had on Sunday joined an Israeli delegation to Bahrain for a signing ceremony to formalise ties.
Israel and the UAE have already signed several commercial deals since mid-August, when they first announced they would establish full relations.
Israeli officials said the two sides were expected to sign a mutual visa-exemption agreement – Israel’s first with an Arab country.



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As US vote looms, Gulf powers count Trump blessings


DUBAI: Brandishing a sword and dancing to traditional music on his first visit to Saudi Arabia soon after taking office, Donald Trump launched a dramatic relationship revamp that freed the hands of the Gulf monarchies.
More than three years on, regional leaders are playing their diplomatic cards in support of an erratic but valuable partner in Washington as he seeks a second term — one that would likely lead to even deeper tensions with Iran and more opportunities for their one-time enemy, Israel.
The businessman-turned-president’s warm ties with the Gulf Arab states contrast with those of his predecessor Barack Obama, whose deal-making with Iran appalled arch-rival Saudi Arabia and its neighbours.
As Trump trails in the polls against Joe Biden — Obama’s vice president who would be expected to shift back to a more conventional stance on human rights and arms deals — the oil-rich region faces a delicate balancing act.
“The historic visit in May 2017 was the beginning of an exceptional relationship with a US president. It has opened many doors,” a Gulf official close to political circles in the region told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Decision makers here would logically want those doors to stay open, but they aren’t blind,” the official added. “They are also getting ready for the other scenario.”
On his first foreign trip as US president, Trump was given a hero’s welcome in Riyadh.
Far from accusations of collusion with Russia at home, he accepted a golden medal and addressed Muslim leaders — while vilifying Iran and muting rhetoric on human rights.
His son-in-law Jared Kushner, a property developer and diplomatic neophyte, took the lead on the Middle East peace process. He forged friendships with divisive Gulf figures, including Saudi Arabia’s young de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“It pivoted the relationship between the US and the (Gulf) countries to be more about personalities, that of the president and his son-in-law, and less about institutions,” said Randa Slim, director of conflict resolution at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
In the years that followed, Trump’s unconventional and impulsive strategy produced a head-spinning sequence of signature achievements, risky moves and failed initiatives that have redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape.
The US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and assassinated its once-untouchable general Qasem Soleimani. It moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and wound back America’s military presence in a region Trump believes has lost much of its strategic importance.
The policies generally played well in the Gulf, despite a lack of action on major incidents like the unprecedented attacks last year against Saudi energy giant Aramco, blamed on Iran.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE shared a perception that the Obama administration abandoned its traditional Gulf allies,” said Elham Fakhro, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“Saudi Arabia has vastly improved relations with the Trump administration, owing in part to its decision to impose the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign” against Iran, she said.
As the 2020 presidential election has neared, Trump secured a major victory by sponsoring a deal between the UAE and Israel to normalise ties, giving the Jewish state an unprecedented foothold in the Gulf and forming a united front against their common foe, Iran.
The small kingdom of Bahrain, politically and economically influenced by Saudi Arabia, also agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
The timing of the deals, long considered taboo without the blessing of the Palestinians, was seen as an attempt to provide Trump with a foreign policy win ahead of the vote.
With Biden leading in the polls, now both the UAE and Saudi Arabia worry about a rollback on sanctions against Iran under a Democrat administration, said Fakhro.
Trump was “also more willing to ensure that arms sales to these states moved ahead swiftly,” and a Biden administration would be unlikely to be as accommodating, she added.
The White House has pushed back against anti-Saudi resolutions in Congress over its controversial Yemen war, which has come at the cost of thousands of civilian lives, and the grisly assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
“I saved his ass,” Trump told investigative reporter Bob Woodward of the Saudi crown prince, known by his initials MBS, who has remained in power despite the Khashoggi scandal.
“A Biden administration will come with a foreign policy team that is ready to re-examine the underlying tenets of the US-Saudi relationship and will embrace a hard-line position on the Saudi leadership,” said Slim from the Middle East Institute.
“As long as MBS is the crown prince and if he were to ascend the throne in the next four years, US-Saudi relations will at best enter a deep freeze.”
A Biden administration would most likely attempt to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and adopt more vocal rhetoric on human rights.
“It would be a difficult thing for the Saudis, but at the end of the day, they would have to live with it,” said Middle East expert James Dorsey.
“It is going to be a difficult dance.”



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Covid-19 may inflict a decade of economic pain to Mideast, Central Asia, IMF says


DUBAI: It might take countries in the Middle East and Central Asia a decade to return to the economic growth seen before the coronavirus crisis, the International Monetary Fund said, as long-standing regional vulnerabilities weigh on their recovery.
Lack of diversification among oil-exporting countries and the reliance of oil importers on sectors like tourism, as well as their dependence on remittances, are likely to curb growth, the IMF said on Monday in its outlook for the region, which spans around 30 countries from Mauritania to Kazakhstan.
Oil-exporting countries have been hit the hardest. Oil prices are around 40% below pre-crisis levels, slashing their main source of revenue and reflecting their limited success in diversifying their economies.
“The COVID-19 crisis represents the fastest-moving economic shock of its depth in recent history,” the IMF said.
Economic “scarring” — which includes long-term losses to growth, income and employment — is likely to be deeper and longer-lasting than after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, it said.
Five years after that crisis, real gross domestic product in Middle East and Central Asia countries was more than 4% below pre-crisis trends.
“This time, given preexisting vulnerabilities, it is estimated that five years from now, countries in the region could be 12 percent below the GDP level implied by pre-crisis trends, and a return to the trend level could take more than a decade,” said the IMF.
The Washington-based IMF expects economies in the region to shrink by 4.1% this year, a contraction 1.3 percentage points larger than it forecast in April.
“The management of the crisis, the priority to save lives, had an impact on economic activity that was compounded by the shock of oil prices, but I would say, relatively speaking … the outcome in 2020 is acceptable,” Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF told Reuters.
“This crisis has exacerbated vulnerabilities,” he said.
The IMF estimates oil will average $41.69 a barrel this year and $46.7 a barrel in 2021. Last week, it lowered its 2020 real GDP projections for most countries in the oil-rich Gulf.
For regional oil importers, the benefits coming from lower oil prices have been offset by the impact of the crisis on trade, tourism, and remittances.
INEQUALITY
The downturn has limited the region’s ability to provide fiscal support during the crisis, with fiscal packages averaging about 2% of GDP – lower than a 3% average across emerging markets and developing economies.
“The average size of fiscal support in the region is the smallest among regional groups, reflecting both existing fiscal constraints and those created by the crisis,” the IMF said.
The crisis has also brought to light the region’s dependence on expatriate labour, particularly in the Gulf, where hundreds of thousands of workers left after losing their jobs.
“The toll on employment could be much more severe than after the global financial crisis,” the IMF said. Inequality is likely to widen as informal jobs are hit harder and social safety nets remain weak, it said.
Countries relying on remittances from the Gulf will also see a significant drop in inflows.
“On average, remittances to Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan oil importers would take more than four years (twice as long as the recovery following both the global financial crisis and the 2014–15 oil shock) to recover to pre-crisis levels,” the IMF said.



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Saudi woman in Guinness book for world’s largest coffee painting


DUBAI: A Saudi Arabian artist has entered her name in the Guinness Book of World Records by drawing the world’s largest coffee painting using expired granules, becoming the first woman from the kingdom to achieve the feat.
Ohud Abdullah Almalki’s coffee painting illustrates seven renowned figures of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
She drew two giant pictures of founding fathers, King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman and Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Saudi Arabia and the UAE respectively.
Almalki used approximately 4.5 kgs of expired coffee powder. She painted all the figures in hues of brown mixing the coffee powder with water.
“It took me 45 days of continuous work to complete under the watchful eyes of two witnesses, video recording and drone footage. My aim is to remind the world of the centuries-old entente between the two nations,” Almalki said.
Called “Naseej 1”, the painting is spread over 220.968 square meters, 15.84 meters long and 13.95 meters wide. It is made out of seven connected cotton cloths; each measuring 15.84 meters long x 2 meters wide.
“Normally, only one kind of coffee is used in such paintings, but I have used four different shades of brown coffee. I used several rollers and paint brushes of different sizes to finish this project. A drone footage of the painting was shown in “Mokhatat Ar-Riyad” neighborhood in Jeddah with the artist behind the painting with her father,” she said.
Women of Saudi Arabia took part in previous Guinness World Records attempts, but this is the first time a Saudi woman has achieved the feat on her own.
In 2015, the largest human awareness ribbon consisted of 8,264 participants and was achieved by the women of Saudi Arabia.
As a student in the Vth year of College of Law at King AbdulAziz University in Jeddah, Almalki features weekly on popular TV channels across the Middle East and North Africa region.



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Covid-19: Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat in ‘serious’ condition


“Mr Erekat is receiving top-notch professional care like all serious corona patients at Hadassah, and the staff will do everything to assist his recovery,” the hospital’s director, Prof Zeev Rothstein, said. “At Hadassah, we treat every patient as if he were our only patient.”



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Israel and Bahrain establish formal diplomatic relations


Explainer: Israel, annexation and the West Bank



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Hay Festival severs UAE ties after sex assault claim by employee


Ms McNamara, 32, told the Sunday Times that the alleged attack happened on 14 February at a remote private island villa where she had been summoned, she thought, to discuss preparations for the first-ever Hay Festival in Abu Dhabi, which was opening 11 days later.



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Egypt releases satirical blogger Shadi Abu Zeid



The activist is reunited with his family after spending 29 months in jail for spreading “fake news”.



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Iran says UN arms embargo on Tehran has been lifted


TEHRAN: Iran said a longstanding UN embargo on arms sales to and from the Islamic republic expired Sunday in line with a 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers from which Washington has withdrawn.
Tehran, which could now purchase weapons from Russia, China and elsewhere, has hailed the development as a diplomatic victory over its arch enemy the United States, which had tried to maintain an indefinite freeze on arms sales.
“As of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran… are all automatically terminated,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The embargo on the sale of conventional arms to Iran was due to start expiring progressively from Sunday, October 18, under the terms of the UN resolution that blessed the 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.
“As of today, the Islamic Republic may procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs,” the ministry added in the statement sent out on Twitter.
It insisted that under the terms of the deal, struck with the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, “the lifting of arms restrictions and the travel ban were designed to be automatic with no other action required.”
US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has unilaterally begun reimposing sanctions on Iran.
But Washington suffered a setback in August when it failed to win support from the United Nations Security Council to indefinitely extend the arms embargo.
It was “a momentous day for the international community,” the Iranian ministry said on Sunday, adding the world had stood with Tehran “in defiance of the US regime’s efforts”.
But it stressed that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine”.
Despite pulling out of the nuclear deal, the Trump administration insists it is still a “participant” and can therefore go ahead with reimposing sanctions.
Washington has said it has decided to unilaterally reinstate virtually all of the UN sanctions on Iran lifted under the accord.
But the US legal argument has been rejected by almost the entire UN Security Council, with European allies of the United States saying the priority is to salvage a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran urged the US to “abandon its destructive approach vis-a-vis Resolution 2231”, adding that American attempts to “violate” the resolution had been “categorically rejected several times in the past three months by the Security Council”.
The statement added that in the case of measures amounting to a “material breach of the resolution and the purposes” of the deal, Iran “reserves the right to take any necessary countermeasures to secure its national interests”.
Moscow said in September that it was ready to boost its military cooperation with Tehran, while Beijing has also spoken of its willingness to sell arms to Iran after October 18.
Washington maintained it will seek to prevent Iran from purchasing Chinese tanks and Russian air defence systems.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the international community had “protected” the nuclear deal and Sunday marked the “normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world”.



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