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Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (C), an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, accompanied by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland (R) and Saba Abbas, general counsellor of COSTI refugee service agency, arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 12, 2019.  REUTERS/Carlos Osorio - RC1A167A5FB0
Up Front

GCC News Roundup: Qatar increases investment in the U.S., Saudi Arabia faces backlash (January 1-31)

SAUDI ARABIA FACES HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is facing intense scrutiny over its human rights record after Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, a Saudi Arabian woman, sought asylum in Thailand, and supporters organized a major social media campaign to spread the word about her asylum claim.

Al-Qunun fled from Saudi Arabia to Thailand from what she said was an abusive family to seek asylum. In the process, Al-Qunun barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to resist being expelled by authorities. The Saudi embassy denies the accusations that Riyadh requested the extradition of Al-Qunun.

A Twitter campaign with the hashtag #SaveRahaf was launched, with a network of activists around the world urging for asylum for Al-Qunun. This campaign prompted the Thai government to reverse the decision to force the woman to return to her family within 36 hours.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Al-Qunun refugee status, with Canada agreeing to grant her asylum.

QATAR TO INCREASE INVESTMENT IN THE UNITED STATES 

Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) plans to increase investments in the United States to $45 billion within the next two years. Qatar’s objective is to balance the portfolio of investment that is currently concentrated in Europe.

CEO Mansour Ibrahim al-Mahmoud told reporters that QIA currently has about $30 billion invested in the United States. He stated that QIA has intentions to increase investments in key sectors such as real estate, technology, and U.S. exchanges.

The value of bilateral trade between Qatar and the United States has doubled in 10 years. Qatar’s minister of trade, Ali Al-Kuwari, stated at the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue conference that the United States tops the list of exporters to the Gulf nation. Qatar is looking to develop relations with other countries following its severed ties with other Gulf nations.

DUBAI AIRPORT SEES DROPS IN PASSENGER GROWTH 

Dubai International Airport faced the weakest annual growth in 2018, with 89.1 million passengers, a drop from its anticipated 90.3 million passenger target. It was the first slow year after 15 years of strong growth.

The airport’s chief executive Paul Griffiths believes that double-digit passenger growth could resume as early as this year, aided by closer ties between Emirates and Flydubai. Dubai International Airport is planning to overtake Atlanta and Beijing airports to become the world’s busiest overall airport by 2021.

QATAR GIVES ARMED VEHICLES TO SOMALIA

Somalia has refused to take sides in the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, an ally to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Recently, the relationship between Somalia and the UAE has been strained, due to the UAE’s investments into the breakaway region of Somaliland. In April, Somalia disbanded a UAE program to train some of its troops.

According to Qatar’s defense ministry, Qatar donated 68 armored vehicles to Somalia during this time.

NETFLIX FREEDOM OF SPEECH CONTROVERSY 

Netflix opted to withdraw an episode of the comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” from its internet streaming service following complaints from Saudi Arabian officials. This specific episode criticized the country over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Netflix commented that it supported artistic freedom all over the world, and only removed the episode from Saudi Arabia after a legal demand from the Saudi government.

Amnesty International denounced “Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix,” as “further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression.”

Amnesty’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, Samah Hadid, further added that by following the Kingdom’s demands, Netflix is in danger of facilitating the Kingdom’s denial of people’s right to freely access information.

FIRST LNG TERMINAL IN BAHRAIN

The first liquified natural gas (LNG) floating unit arrived in the Gulf as Bahrain gets ready for its maiden imports of the super-chilled fuel. “Bahrain Spirit,” a floating storage unit with a capacity of 173,000 cubic meters, is anchored in Fujairah after docking in the United Arab Emirates region and is on a 20-year charter to Bahrain LNG.

The LNG import terminal is expected to start commercial operations early this year. According to the terminal’s website, it will provide Bahrain with both an insurance in case of domestic shortages of gas and the ability to supplement domestic gas supplies with gas from LNG.

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