GCC News Roundup: Saudi Arabia and Canada face off, public listing of Aramco blocked (August 1-31)

Logo of Saudi Aramco is seen at the 20th Middle East Oil & Gas Show and Conference (MOES 2017) in Manama, Bahrain, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed - RTS11S6Y

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 Arabia and Canada locked in a diplomatic rift

On August 3, Canada’s foreign ministry’s official Twitter account tweeted concern over Saudi Arabia’s recent arrests of women’s rights activists. Saudi Arabia responded with a tweet of their own, declaring that no foreign entity interferes with their domestic affairs. As a result, Saudi Arabia suspended all flights to Toronto, froze trade with Canada, and expelled its ambassador, citing interference.

Saudi king tipped the scale against Aramco IPO plans

In the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been preparing to place up to 5 percent of its national oil company on the stock market. The planned listing was to be the cornerstone of the kingdom’s promised economic overhaul and, at a targeted $100 billion, the biggest IPO ever. But after months of setbacks, the international and domestic legs of the IPO were pulled after interference from King Salman.

According to sources, the king’s interlocutors told him that the IPO, far from helping the kingdom, would undermine it. Their main concern was that an IPO would bring full public disclosure of Aramco’s financial details, the sources said.

UAE uses Israeli spyware in hacking scheme, says lawsuit  

According to leaked emails, United Arab Emirates (UAE) rulers have been spying on local dissidents and rivals using Israeli spyware for more than a year. A lawsuit was filed against the spyware creators in both Israel and Cyprus, by victims of the spyware, a Qatari citizen, and Mexican activists and journalists.

Despite the UAE not recognizing Israel as a state, spyware is considered a weapon in Israel, which means its sale to the Emiratis could have only been signed off by the Israeli defense ministry, suggesting an alliance behind the scenes between the two countries.

A glimpse inside the annual Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj

On August 19, almost two million Muslims from all over the world congregated together in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to perform the holy ritual of Hajj, a mandatory religious duty required of all financially and physically-abled adult Muslims. The Hajj is considered an act of spiritual solidarity and submission to God, performed over five to six days.

During this time, Muslim pilgrims renew their sense of purpose in the world and come together in a unified sense with Muslims from all over the world. At the end of Hajj, the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha commences, where an animal sacrifice (generally a lamb) is made and a portion of it is given as charity to the poor.

Mattis signals support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen 

On August 28, the United States indicated that it would continue its support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. This came after news that a Saudi-led airstrike struck a school bus full of children, killing dozens. Despite reiterating that U.S. support to the Saudis was not “unconditional,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters that while the bus incident was a tragic mistake, the U.S. will continue to work with the Saudis, stating, “We haven’t seen any callous disregard by the people we’re working with.”

Mattis also said that the goal of the U.S. was to, “…reduce this tragedy and to get it to the U.N.- brokered table as quickly as possible.”