Region

Gulf and Red Sea Regions

Stories under this heading cover the Gulf and the Red Sea regions, including the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and the countries bordering the Red Sea.

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News
Saudi King appoints Mohamed bin Salman as new prime minister

Saudi King appoints Mohamed bin Salman as new prime minister

King Salman ibn Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has appointed Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as prime minister. This is the first time that a Saudi King has not held himself the post of prime minister since the system of Cabinet of Ministers was first introduced. Seperating the two roles is likely to improve the process and speed of decision making in the Kingdom which in the past had seen backlogs of decisions and appointments waiting for the King's approval. The appointment formalises the authority of Mohamed bin Salman over the Saudi government, and is seen as part of the process of renewal that the Kingdom embarked on a few years back. Mohamed bin Salman, or MBS as he is sometimes called, has been a controversial figure since he was appointed as Crown Prince in 2016. The war in Yemen, the murder of Adnan Kashoggi and a heavy handed approach towards critics have made him a target of much criticism by western media. But inside Saudi Arabia itself, MBS is mostly seen as a reformer who has taken on, successfully, the conservative religious elite, that had dominated life in the Kingdom since the Saudi State was established in the early 20th century. His appointment as prime minister will help consolidate his power, and is likely to embolder him on to the next set of changes. Internationally, the appointment comes days after a Saudi diplomatic success, which saw Mohamed bin Salman negotiating the release of ten foreigners held as prisoners by Russia for their participation in the Ukraine war. 

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Opinion
Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia will open a new era in relations with the Middle East

Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia will open a new era in relations with the Middle East

The president of the United States, Joe Biden, will this week visit the Middle East for what promises to be the launch of a new era in US relations with the region. Commonspace.eu will be following the visit and reporting on its importance. Late on Saturday, President Biden published an article on the Washington Post, outlining the reasons for his visit, and why it is so important. We reproduce it here in full. In the article, Biden argues that a more secure and integrated Middle East benefits Americans in many ways. "Its waterways are essential to global trade and the supply chains we rely on. Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine." The president states "We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values."
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News
Is the Negev Forum about to become something bigger?

Is the Negev Forum about to become something bigger?

On 27–28 March 2022 in Sde Boker, Israel hosted the foreign ministers of four Arab states – Bahrain, UAE, Egypt and Morocco, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for an unusual summit aimed at putting together a united front of countries concerned with Iran’s destabilising role in the Middle East. By all accounts the meeting appeared to be hastily prepared, and lacking proper focus. A lot of the serious fault-lines of the region emerged in the meeting too, including different perspectives on the Palestinian question and relations with Russia. But the participants did agree that they want to turn their meeting into a permanent process, and so the creation of the Negev Forum was announced. Now, it seems, the six countries have taken the first step to making this platform a regional player. On Monday (27 June) senior officials from the foreign ministries of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States held the inaugural meeting of the Negev Forum Steering Committee in Manama, Bahrain. The Committee’s main objective is to further coordinate collective efforts and advance a common vision for the region. In this context, they outlined a framework document for the Negev Forum, setting out the objectives of the Forum, and the working methods of its four-part structure: the Foreign Ministers’ Ministerial, the Presidency, the Steering Committee, and the Working Groups.
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News
The great Saudi-Turkish restart

The great Saudi-Turkish restart

After years of dispute during which relations fell to a historical low, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday sealed a restart in their relations during a state visit to Turkey by the Kingdom's Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman. The turquoise carpet was laid out at the presidential palace in Ankara as the Crown prince arrived to be greeted by Turkey's president, Recip Tayip Erdogan. The two men held discussions on bilateral relations and regional and international issues. But this visit was mainly about symbolism. The substance had already been sorted over weeks and months of discussions involving senior officials from the two countries. President Erdogan was himself in Saudi Arabia only a month ago. But the visit of Mohammad bin Salman to Ankara had huge symbolic significance and it marked the final act in a process that saw the two countries draw back from years of animosity, rooted mainly in different perspectives on the future of the Middle East and the broader Islamic world. Both countries see themselves as leaders in the region, as well as a beacon for Muslims worldwide. Prior to visiting Turkey, the Saudi Crown Prince also visited Egypt and Jordan. In a few weeks time he will welcome in Riyadh US President Joe Biden, in a final act that will see the complete rehabilitation of the heir to the Saudi throne who had been caught in international controversy.
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Commentary
US-Saudi Relations remain the bedrock for Gulf Security

US-Saudi Relations remain the bedrock for Gulf Security

US President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia on July 15 and 16 upon the invitation of King Salman. The US president will meet with the king and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to discuss areas of bilateral cooperation as well as joint efforts to address regional and global challenges.” A statement from the White House said that Biden will also attend a Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan while in the Kingdom. “The President appreciates King Salman’s leadership and his invitation. He looks forward to this important visit to Saudi Arabia, which has been a strategic partner of the United States for nearly eight decades,” the statement read. In this commentary the state of relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia is discussed in the light of tensions between the two sides over the last years.  “Now, it appears that the two sides are ready to make up. Biden will travel to Riyadh next month, and US officials have been in and out of the Saudi capital in recent weeks, softening the ground and preparing for the visit. Biden is right in working towards a reset. US-Saudi relations remain the bedrock for Gulf security.” It adds that “when Joe Biden visits Riyadh next month he has his work cut out for him. It will be a hugely important visit to a country where personalities still count. Both sides appear ready to put the difficult last few years in their relationship behind them. This is good for both, as well as for the rest of the world.”
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News
Lavrov on diplomatic offensive in the Gulf, as poll results suggest Arab street is indifferent to Ukraine situation

Lavrov on diplomatic offensive in the Gulf, as poll results suggest Arab street is indifferent to Ukraine situation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Bahrain and Saudi Arabia this week as part of efforts to consolidate relations with the region, despite the international outcry over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The visit comes amid finding in a poll by YOUGOV that show that the Arab street is largely indifferent to the events in Ukraine. Faisal Abbas, the Editor in Chief of Arab News which commissioned the poll, in an article on 30 May, said that "most strikingly, perhaps, the findings lay bare the extent of the distrust of the West across all 14 of the countries covered in the survey. Almost a quarter of the 7,835 people surveyed (24 percent) pointed the finger of blame for the conflict squarely at NATO, while more than one in ten (13 percent) said US President Joe Biden was responsible. Only 16 percent blamed Russia." Abbas says that "this can be attributed in part to Russia’s massive investment in its own news channels in Arabic, and to a massive online outreach effort. But underpinning the widespread Arab skepticism on this issue is not so much the success of Russian propaganda, but rather the steady ebbing away of trust in the West over the past two decades."
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News
Yemeni civil society pushes for opening of roads to the city of Taiz despite Houthi reluctance

Yemeni civil society pushes for opening of roads to the city of Taiz despite Houthi reluctance

Yemeni civil society groups are campaigning actively for the opening of roads connecting the Yemeni city of Taiz with other major urban centres despite reluctance by the Houthi rebel group. UN Special Envoy, Hans Grundberg, on Saturday  (28 May) concluded an initial round of discussions in Amman, Jordan, attended by representatives of government and rebels on options to open key roads in Taiz and other governorates, as per the UN-mediated truce agreement signed in April. A proposal for the phased re-opening of roads, including an implementation mechanism and guarantees for the safety of civilian travelers was drawn up based on the three-day discussions and options presented by both sides. Civil society actors and local mediators, many of whom are from Taiz, also took part in the discussions by offering their insights and expertise as well as practical options for road openings. Dozens of human rights groups, activists, government officials and Taiz residents have launched a new campaign on social media, using hashtag #Siege_of_Taiz_crime, calling for the opening of roads to the city. Yemenis widely circulated images of cars loaded with goods and fuel overturning on the steep and unpaved slopes drivers were forced to turn to after the Houthis blocked the city’s main entrances.