GCC News Roundup: Saudi Arabia in hot water over Khashoggi’s death, British academic released on bail in UAE (October 1-31)

A security staff member stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal -

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Jamal Khashoggi’s death casts spotlight on Saudi Arabia

Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and a critic of the Saudi government, went missing on October 2 after visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents. Soon after, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was likely killed inside the consulate.

Saudi Arabia initially denied the allegations, but the journalist’s disappearance drew heavy international pressure on the kingdom. On October 11, Turkish authorities released a statement that 15 Saudi operatives travelled to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. Many of the suspects are close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

There was also pressure on the United States to push for a formal investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. After speaking with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Trump said that “rogue killers” might be behind it. Soon after, President Trump said that he believed Khashoggi was dead, and Saudi officials were involved in the incident.

After more than two weeks of denying charges, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi died, but they claim he was killed in a fistfight that got out of control inside the consulate in Istanbul. Saudi officials also said that they do not know where the body is located. Three officials were dismissed from their positions in Saudi Arabia, among them was Ahmed Assiri, the head of the country’s General Intelligence Presidency and an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disputed Saudi Arabia’s statement, saying that it was a “premeditated murder.”

Bahrain Minister supports Uber boycott 

Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, released a statement about pulling out from the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the largest investors in the company.

As a response, the Bahrain Foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, encouraged the boycott of Uber on Twitter, by asking his followers to “boycott anyone who boycotts Saudi Arabia.”

Another prominent UAE businessman, Khalaf Al-Habtoor, also encouraged the boycott of companies not attending the FII conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“Now it is time for GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) to prove their loyalty by boycotting Virgin and Uber and all the companies pulling out of KSA… Together we can prove our unity and that we cannot be bullied,” he said in a Twitter post.

Qatar starts WTO proceedings against Saudi Arabia 

Qatar has filed proceedings at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Saudi Arabia for intellectual property rights violations.

One of these violations is Saudi Arabia’s blocking and piracy of beIN content. The blocking of beIN Sports is part of the boycott the kingdom imposed on Qatar in June 2017.

Qatar also accused Saudi Arabia of not taking measures against the piracy of beIN content by BeoutQ. BeoutQ has been accused of airing content that beIN has the exclusive right to air in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia plans deal with Kuwait to restart oil fields

On October 5, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince said they are close to making a deal with Kuwait about two jointly-owned oil fields. The joined field can produce half a million barrels a day of crude.

The two fields, Khafji and Wafra, are located in the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Although there is no definite answer over sovereignty, the Crown Prince said the two fields can still resume production.

“Davos in the Desert” conference convenes amidst Khashoggi controversy 

On October 23, business leaders gathered together in Saudi Arabia for an investment forum, despite the controversy surrounding the alleged murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Though names like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and AOL founder Steve Case chose not to attend the event as a form of protest, Mohamad bin Salman was still met with a standing ovation from the thousands of attendees that showed up.

“You support your friends in good times and bad,” said an unnamed U.S. executive who was present at the event. “The trajectory [in Saudi Arabia] is toward more openness and transparency, but there are going to be bumps in the road.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince praises Qatar’s economy

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, praised Qatar’s economy during his speech at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has maintained a land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar for over a year.

Mohammed bin Salman stated that Qatar is one of the countries capable of changing the region in the next five years: “Even Qatar, despite our differences with them, has a very strong economy and will be very different.”

His comments came amid allegations that he ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey, which enjoys close ties with Qatar, accused the Saudi government of killing Khashoggi and ordered the Crown Prince to hold the murderers, and anyone involved, accountable for their actions, including high officials.

British academic accused of espionage in UAE released on bail, awaits trial 

On October 29th, British academic Matthew Hedges, was released on bail in Dubai, after spending six months in prison when charges of spying were brought against him.

Hedges had been detained at the end of his two-week visit to Dubai this past May. The UAE government released a statement about his arrest, saying, “The attorney general of United Arab Emirates …confirmed today that Mr Matthew Hedges, a British citizen, has been charged with spying for and on behalf of a foreign state, jeopardizing the military, economy and political security of the UAE.”

Hedges is scheduled to appear before a court on November 21.

UAE successfully launches its first satellite 

KhalifaSat, the UAE’s most sophisticated satellite, was successfully launched on October 29. The satellite was designed and created entirely by Emirati engineers, and was described as an “unprecedented Emirati achievement” by leaders in the UAE.

The purpose of the satellite is to take images that will help governments and private companies across the globe with things like climate changes, disaster relief, and urban planning.

KhalifaSat was designed and built at the Space Technology Laboratories, at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.