GCC News Roundup: UAE, Israel normalize ties, Qatar reforms labor laws (August 1-31)

Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, U.S. President's senior adviser Jared Kushner and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Saudi Aramco income falls by 50 percent

Saudi Aramco’s net income plunged by 50 percent in the first half of the year, according to figures published August 9, offering a revealing glimpse into the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on one of the world’s biggest oil producers.

Profits for the first six months of the year plunged to $23.2 billion, half of last year’s $46.9 billion for the same time period.

Saudi former official files federal suit against crown prince

A former top Saudi counterterrorism official has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, alleging the royal tried to trap and kill him in the United States and Canada.

The lawsuit, filed on August 6, by Saad Aljabri is the latest effort by the former intelligence official to try and bring about international and public pressure on the crown prince, following years of silence in exile abroad.

Chinese firms begin Phase III of vaccine trials in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain 

A Saudi health ministry spokesman said on August 9 that the country would soon begin Phase III clinical trials on around 5,000 people for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s CanSino Biologics Inc. The Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm had also begun the third stage of trials of a vaccine in Bahrain, after launching similar trials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month, Bahrain’s health ministry said on August 10.

US State Department says arms sales to Saudi Arabia were not illegal 

A final report by the office of the State Department acting inspector general found Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s emergency certification on arms sales to Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia last year did not break the law, a senior department official said on August 10.

The official’s comments — made before the report was made public — came after President Donald Trump abruptly fired then-Inspector General Steve Linick, who was looking into Pompeo’s certification, in May. Linick was succeeded by Stephen Akard, who resigned from his post after recusing himself from the arms sales investigation.

Israel, UAE normalize ties in historic deal

Israel and the UAE announced August 13 they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. The deal was condemned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, yet was welcomed by Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on August 19 rallied against the agreement. Following the deal’s announcement, telephone lines between the two countries were opened and two Emirati and Israeli firms signed a “strategic commercial agreement” to cooperate on research and development related to COVID-19.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on August 17 that Israel is preparing for direct flights to the UAE as part of the deal, while Israel’s president invited the Gulf state’s de facto leader to visit Jerusalem. Despite this, Netanyahu said on August 18 that Israel would oppose any U.S. F-35 warplane sales to the UAE, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.

By contrast, the ruler of the UAE issued a decree August 29 formally ending the country’s boycott of Israel.

Gulf states continue easing coronavirus restrictions

The Kuwaiti cabinet said on August 13 it would start implementing the fourth stage of the gradual go-to-normality plan on August 18 and some activities that were set to open during the fifth stage including gyms, sport clubs, beauty salons and tailors would be open as a part of the fourth stage.

Oman’s ministry of tourism said that it would allow as of August 17 the reopening of tourist and international restaurants, as well as gyms and swimming pools located in hotels, under certain regulations and requirements.

Bahrain’s health ministry announced on August 19 it would end a protocol that required all those arriving in the country to self-isolate at home for 10 days regardless of the outcome of testing.

Iran seizes Emirati ship  

Iran seized a UAE-registered ship violating its territorial waters on August 17, Iran’s foreign ministry said, adding that UAE coastguards killed two Iranian fishermen on the same day.

Tensions have risen between the two countries, which face each other across the Gulf, since an agreement was reached between the UAE and Tehran’s arch-foe Israel to normalize ties.

Qatar reforms labor laws

Qatar announced changes to its labor laws on August 30, raising the minimum wage by 25 percent to 1,000 riyals ($275) a month and scrapping a requirement for workers to get permission from their employers to change jobs.

The new minimum wage, which comes into effect in six months and is 250 riyals more a month than the old one, is non-discriminatory and applies to all workers. Companies must also provide accommodation and food or a combined monthly stipend of 800 riyals. The removal of employer permission to change jobs was effective immediately.