GCC News Roundup: Gulf states roll out COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, Saudi Arabia faces financial woes (December 1-31)

A Kuwaiti man, Abdulla al Anazi, gets a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Kuwait City, Kuwait December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

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Gulf states roll out COVID-19 vaccination campaigns

Bahrain will provide the COVID-19 vaccine for free to all citizens and residents, state news agency BNA reported on December 10. The country said on December 13 that it had approved the use of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine, following its earlier approval of a vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Dubai began inoculating people with the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech for free on December 23, the government said.

Kuwait received 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 23 and expects to receive about 450,000 doses of it in the first quarter of 2021, said Ghada Ibrahim, head of public relations at the health ministry.

Oman started coronavirus vaccinations on December 27, two days ahead of plans to resume all flights and open borders that temporarily closed amid concerns over a new strain of the disease.

Qatar started on December 23 the first phase of its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, vaccinating several hundred people that day.

Saudi Arabia began inoculating people in the kingdom with a COVID-19 vaccine on December 17, becoming the first Arab country to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

Saudi Arabia to cut spending, Aramco may have to sell assets

Saudi Arabia plans to cut more than 7 percent in spending next year, the finance ministry said on December 15, as the region’s biggest oil producer seeks to trim a gaping budget deficit amid the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices.

Meanwhile, oil giant Aramco, whose dividend remains vital to helping Saudi Arabia contain a huge deficit, may have to sell assets and borrow more to fulfil its fiscal role amid uncertainty in oil prices, market specialists said on December 16.

Kuwaiti emir reappoints PM, approves new cabinet after parliamentary vote

Opposition candidates made gains in a parliamentary vote in Kuwait on December 5 in which two thirds of MPs lost their seats and no women were elected, a result which analysts said could hamper government reform efforts to address a severe liquidity crunch.

On December 8, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah reappointed Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as prime minister. The emir then approved a new cabinet that included new ministers of oil and finance on December 14.

Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to almost 6 years in prison

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, was sentenced December 28 to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly worded counterterrorism law.

The ruling nearly brings to a close a case that has drawn international criticism and the ire of U.S. lawmakers.

Top US general convenes with Taliban in Qatar

The top U.S. general met Taliban representatives in Qatar, urging them to reduce the level of violence and move more swiftly towards a political solution in Afghanistan, the U.S. military said on December 17.

The meeting in Doha with the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, comes as negotiators representing the Afghan government and the Taliban take a break until January 5 when they will continue to work on an agenda.

US Senate backs arms deal with UAE

An effort to stop President Donald Trump’s high-tech weapons deals with the United Arab Emirates fell short on December 9 in the U.S. Senate as Trump’s fellow Republicans opposed resolutions of disapproval seeking to block the sale of drones and advanced F-35 fighter jets.

The Senate voted 50-46 and 49-47, mostly along party lines, to stop consideration of the resolutions, killing them at least until President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.

Bahraini trade minister stirs controversy with Israeli import remarks

Bahrain will not allow the import of Israeli goods produced in settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, state news agency BNA reported on December 5, disavowing comments made by the Gulf state’s trade minister. The minister had said on December 3 that Bahrain’s imports from Israel would not be subject to distinctions between products made within Israel and those from settlements in occupied territory, drawing a rebuke from the Palestinians.