GCC News Roundup: Saudis release Houthi prisoners, Gulf countries hint at easing tensions (November 1-31)

GCC leaders pose for a photo during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 30, 2019. Picture taken May 30, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1AC05BD4F0

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Saudis release Houthi prisoners, Oman mediates talks

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on November 26 it had released 200 Houthi rebels to advance a U.N.-brokered deal aimed at ending the war in the Arab world’s poorest country. Yemeni government officials said the release of prisoners was a trust-building measure aimed at encouraging the Houthis to negotiate with the coalition to end the war.

On November 13, officials from both sides told The Associated Press that Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels were holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the war. The negotiations are taking place with Oman as a mediator.

Gulf countries hint at easing of tensions

Qatar’s foreign minister has made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, reported Reuters on November 28, amid signs that a 2-1/2-year rift among U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states could soon subside. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met with senior Saudi officials in October, said one of the sources, the highest-level visit since May when Qatar’s prime minister attended an Arab summit in Mecca.

Another sign of tensions easing was the participation of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf Cup, which kicked off in Qatar on November 26. Arab media reports said the Saudi team flew directly to Doha from the kingdom — a rare direct flight between the two countries given the boycott still officially in place.

Kuwait names new PM after dismissing government

Kuwait’s ruler has named a new prime minister after dismissing the government amid a row between powerful ministers from the ruling family. The state-run KUNA news agency said on November 19 that the appointment named Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al Hamad Al Sabah as prime minister. It comes after Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah declined keeping the post after deliberations with Kuwait’s ruler.

Saudi Aramco IPO oversubscribed, says lead manager

The retail portion of Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO) has been oversubscribed, with orders reaching 38.1 billion Saudi riyals ($10.2 billion), lead manager Samba Capital said on November 28. The state oil giant plans to sell a 1.5% stake, or about 3 billion shares, and has said at least one-third of the sale is expected to be covered by retail investors, who have until Thursday to sign up. It will be the world’s biggest IPO if it tops the $25 billion set by China’s Alibaba in 2014.

US, France boost Saudi radar systems

The United States and France are boosting Saudi Arabia’s radar systems following crippling drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure in September, which Washington blames on Iran, according to a Reuters report published on November 23. The chief of the U.S. Central Command and France’s defense minister, whose countries have taken divergent approaches to Iran, also touted rival versions of maritime missions to protect Gulf waters at a Bahrain security forum on November 23. More than two months after the biggest assault on Saudi oil facilities, Riyadh and Washington have yet to provide concrete proof linking Iran to the attack, while Saudi Arabia has provided few details about how it is addressing gaps in its air defenses.

Saudi Arabia detains 8 amid crackdown

Saudi Arabia has detained at least eight people, mostly intellectuals and writers, two sources including London-based Saudi rights group ALQST said, amid a two-year crackdown on free expression in the kingdom. They were taken from their homes in the capital Riyadh and the Red Sea port city of Jeddah last week by plainclothes police but the reason was unclear, said one of the sources.