GCC News Roundup: Saudi Arabia faces rebuke, Gulf States react to Golan Heights decision (March 1-31)
By Sumaya Attia
Saudi Arabia faces first rebuke from UN council
Saudi Arabia was rebuked by three dozen countries, including all EU members, at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The involved countries issued a joint statement, urging Saudi Arabia to release 10 activists and cooperate with a U.N.-led investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This marked the first rebuke of Saudi Arabia since the council was established in 2006.
The joint statement expressed concern regarding Saudi Arabia’s “use of the counter-terrorism law and other national security provisions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights and freedoms.” In response, Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz M.O. Alwasil said that his country has worked to protect human rights, adding that rights issues should be dealt with “in an impartial and objective manner.”
Gulf states push back on Golan Heights decision
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait pushed back on U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying that the territory was occupied Arab land. Iran, Lebanon, and the European members of the U.N. Security Council also refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
FIFA looks to expand 2022 World Cup to Oman, Kuwait
FIFA is considering having Oman and Kuwait host a few matches of the 2022 World Cup, in addition to Qatar, as part of a larger proposal to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams. FIFA president Gianni Infantino is pushing to expand the tournament ahead of schedule, despite concerns expressed by Qatari officials.
If the plan to expand the tournament goes ahead, most of the 2022 matches would still take place in Qatar. A final decision on the plan will be made during the FIFA annual Congress in June. Qatar’s consent is required for the decision to be implemented.
Qatar and EU to have open skies by 2024
Qatar and the European Union signed a broad air services pact, enabling Qatari and EU member state airlines to have unlimited access to each other’s airspace. According to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker, the number of flights permitted between Qatar and the European Union will continue to increase, resulting in “full open skies” by 2024. This is the first agreement of its kind between the European Union and a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country.
UAE included in EU tax blacklist
The European Union added the UAE and nine other jurisdictions to a blacklist of tax havens. The chairman of the UAE Banks Federation, Abdulaziz al-Ghurair, said that the decision was due to a “lack of communication” between the European Union and the UAE government. The UAE government added in a statement that it is committed to all international tax agreements and is cooperating with international partners, including the European Union, to “achieve compliance with these charters.”
The blacklist was originally set up in 2017, following the discovery of largescale tax avoidance schemes. Jurisdictions included on the list are subject to stricter controls on EU transactions.
Bahraini court sentences 167 people to prison
Bahrain sentenced 167 people to prison in late February. They were arrested in 2017 at a sit-in held in support of Bahrain’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim. According to court documents, the High Criminal Court sentenced most of the defendants to one-year prison terms; however, 56 individuals were sentenced to 10-year terms. None of the defendants were present in court during the sentencing, for fear of being arrested.
Moody’s downgrades Oman credit rating
Rating agency Moody’s downgraded Oman’s credit rating to junk, adding that its outlook for the rating was negative. Moody’s shifted Oman’s ranking from Baa3, its lowest investment-grade rating, to Ba1.
According to a statement issued by the agency, “The key driver of the downgrade is Moody’s expectation that the scope for fiscal consolidation will remain more significantly constrained by the government’s economic and social stability objectives than it had previously assessed.” Moody’s added that Oman’s large fiscal deficits, caused by falling oil prices over the past few years, could increase the country’s external vulnerability.