GCC News Roundup: UK student pardoned in the UAE, opposition leaders receive life sentences in Bahrain (November 1-30)

Daniela Tejada, wife of British academic Matthew Hedges who was jailed in U.A.E. for spying, talks to the media outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Britain, November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson - RC13F6E13BE0

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.

Qatar Sets Up Fund for Exploited Workers

On November 1, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, issued an official decree to set up a fund for migrant workers in Qatar. This fund is intended to reduce the vulnerability of workers to exploitation, according to the International Labor Office (ILO).

Qatar has been hiring migrant workers to build the 2020 FIFA stadiums, and several articles have exposed the abuse that these workers face. Following international pressure, Qatar has passed new laws to protect migrant workers from exploitation. These laws guarantee a minimum wage of QR750 per month and prevent work sponsors from withholding workers’ passports or preventing them from leaving the country.

Trump Administration Halts Refueling of Saudi-led Coalition Aircraft in Yemen

The Trump administration is halting the practice of refueling Saudi-coalition aircraft, announced the U.S. and Saudi governments in a statement on November 1, 2018. The refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft was the most controversial aspect of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s three-year war in Yemen, as these aircraft are allegedly responsible for killing thousands of unarmed civilians.

Going forward, the Saudi-led coalition will use its own military capabilities to support operations in Yemen, a decision supported by the Pentagon, said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Opposition Leaders Receive Life SentenceS in Bahrain Over Spying for Qatar

Bahrain has sentenced three opposition leaders to life in prison, having charged them with spying for Qatar, according to a statement made by the public prosecutor.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of an opposition movement called Al-Wefaq, as well as Sheikh Hassan Sultan and Ali al-Aswad were sentenced to life in prison on November 4, 2018. The three senior leaders were accused of committing “acts of hostility” against Bahrain by working with Qatari intelligence to overthrow the Bahraini Government.

A call between Salman and Qatar’s foreign minister in 2011 was used as evidence for the spying charges, said Sima Watling, Amnesty International’s campaigner on Bahrain. In an interview, she called the verdict “absurd.”

UAE to Start Operations at Military Base in Somaliland

A United Arab Emirates military base will start operations in June 2019 in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, according to a diplomat involved in talks for the facility.

The growing UAE military presence in the Horn of Africa is intended to protect the flow of trade through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which is a key shipping lane en route to the Suez Canal. This shipping lane is used by oil tankers and other cargo vessels.

“The UAE military base will help the whole region — piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping: we don’t have resources to watch our coast,” said Somaliland’s former ambassador to the UAE Bashe Awil Omar.

UK Student Pardoned by UAE Government

Shortly after being sentenced to life in prison, U.K. student Matthew Hedges was pardoned by the UAE government. He landed at London Heathrow airport on November 27, 2018.

UAE officials said that the pardon was granted due to a letter from Hedges’ family and to the historical ties between UAE and The United Kingdom.

However, the UAE has continued to insist that Hedges was a member of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency, showing a video at a press conference of him purportedly confessing to be an MI6 agent.