Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Rima Alsammarae wrote in Middle East Architect of 17 April 2019 that:

According to Jordanian architect and founder of award-winning London-based practice OAOA, Omar Al Omari, architecture in the GCC has “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development across the region.

‘Architecture lost its direction’ in GCC, says Jordanian architect Omar Al Omari

“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.

Omar Al Omari, founder and director of OAOA

“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”

Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.

OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021

The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.

Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.

“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”

Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.

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MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth

MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth

Mouayed Makhlouf says governments have become more receptive to private sector involvement in economies as debt levels have grown reports Zawya #financial services.

Zawya produced this article dated March 12, 2019, about how the MENA debt boom leading to private sector growth would afterall result in a more sustainable development model.

MENA debt boom provides a route for private sector growth: IFC chief

By Michael Fahy, ZAWYA

Governments in the Middle East are becoming more receptive to growing private sector involvement in their economies because public sector debt in many markets is ballooning, an official from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) has said.

Speaking on an investors’ panel debate at the Global Financial Forum in Dubai on Monday, the IFC’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) director, Mouayed Makhlouf, said: “For the first time, because of the massive rise in public debt across the region, we see a difference. Our narrative with these governments has changed.  Now, they are coming to us and they are saying ‘can you help us with the reforms?'”

General view of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 22, 2018. Image for illustrative purposes. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Makhlouf said that the MENA region needs to create 300 million new jobs – “basically, double the population” by 2050 due to the burgeoning youth population in the region, and that Egypt alone needs to create around 700,000 jobs per year, although he said it is MENA’s fastest growing economy currently, with GDP growth of 5.3 percent, compared with a regional average of around 2-3 percent.

“The social contract in MENA is as such where most of the services (are) provided by the public sector.  But what you have ended up with… is a huge public debt that has been rising for the past few years,” he said, adding that debt-to-GDP ratios stand at around 96 percent in Egypt, 97-98 percent in Jordan and 150 percent in Lebanon.

“For us, the main thing we need to find in this region are… growth and jobs.  And I really believe both of these things can only come through a larger private sector participation,” Makhlouf said.

In a separate panel on the outlook for the region’s banking sector, JP Morgan‘s Asif Raza said that the decline in oil prices that began in 2014 had created opportunities for international banks to advise governments that are looking to diversify on how to embark on “monetisation and privatisation” of assets.

Naveed Kamal, MENA head of corporate banking at Citi, said that governments had run up deficits as oil revenues fell, and had financed these through “various instruments where banks have been involved”.

“And we expect to see that continue over the next 2-3 years.”

Although total GCC fixed income issuance declined by 16 percent year-on-year to $145.3 billion in 2018 as oil prices rallied, according to Kamco Research, JP Morgan’s Raza said the current pipeline is “huge”.

A faster flow

Raza said that at this stage last year, “over $15.4 billion worth of issuance was done in the MENA region – this year, it’s $28 billion”.

He added that in 2018, “the loan market was (at an) all-time high in this region”.  Figures published earlier this month from Acuris showed that syndicated loan activity in the MENA region last year outstripped bond issuance – with $133 billion of syndicated loans issued, compared to $89.5 billion in bonds.

Raza said that at the top end of the corporate banking market, “there’s lots of activity still happening”.

“There’s still quite a decent pipeline of financing and refinancing,” he said.

However, Citi’s Kamal argued that the market has been much tougher for SMEs in recent years.

“I believe that there is room for improvement for all countries in the region as far as creating the right balance for SMEs (is concerned),” he said.

He said that “time and again” in tougher economic times large corporates, government-related entities and even government departments have delayed payments to SMEs, which causes cashflow problems and affects their ability to repay creditors.

Quick exits

“And some of the legal framework that surrounds the corporate sector – we all know about bounced cheques and the consequences of that.  In summary, what happens is SMEs can’t stay back in a number of cases (to) fight through these cycles.  So, we see skips, people leave and that does not leave a very strong impact as far as consumer confidence is concerned.”

Yet funding shortages for private sector firms can also create opportunities – not least for the region’s private equity sector, according to Karim El-Solh.

Speaking on the investment panel, El-Solh said that his firm’s pipeline “has increased dramatically as a result of a lack of availability of funding for businesses elsewhere.

“The IPO market is not open; the bank liquidity has dried up so for us it’s an opportunity to come and be a provider of growth capital.  We are seeing more companies, better quality companies, we’re acquiring controlling stakes at lower valuations,” he said.

Makhlouf said more opportunities need to be created for the private sector, stating that levels of private sector involvement in the economy in the region lag behind other emerging markets.

“MENA region is only one-fifth in terms of private sector participation compared to Latin America,” he said.

© ZAWYA 2019

Why we’re living in the ‘Asian Century’

Why we’re living in the ‘Asian Century’

This article originally appeared on Fast Company, it was republished by the World Economic Forum on 8 March 2019. It is to be noted that in the eastern end of the MENA region, notably in the Gulf Cooperation Countries, Asian populations and investments happily cohabitate with the respective native minorities.

The centre of the world. Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Why we’re living in the ‘Asian Century’

By Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

This excerpt is from Parag Khanna’s book “The future is Asian”. The book was chosen as February’s book for the World Economic Forum Book Club. Each month, a new book will be selected and discussed in the group. The author will then join in on the last day of the month to reply to some questions from our audience.

Join here: wef.ch/bookclub

When we look back from 2100 at the date on which the cornerstone of an Asian-led world order began, it will be 2017. In May of that year, sixty-eight countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population and half its GDP gathered in Beijing for the first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit. This gathering of Asian, European, and African leaders symbolized the launch of the largest coordinated infrastructure investment plan in human history. Collectively, the assembled governments pledged to spend trillions of dollars in the coming decade to connect the world’s largest population centers in a constellation of commerce and cultural exchange—a new Silk Road era.

The Belt and Road Initiative is the most significant diplomatic project of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of the mid-twentieth-century founding of the United Nations and World Bank plus the Marshall Plan all rolled into one. The crucial difference: BRI was conceived in Asia and launched in Asia and will be led by Asians. This is the story of one entire side of the planet—the Asian side—and its impact on the twenty-first-century world.

The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, And Culture In The 21st Century Image: Simon & Schuster / Hachette, February 2019

Asians once again see themselves as the center of the world—and its future. The Asian economic zone—from the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey in the west to Japan and New Zealand in the east, and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south—now represents 50 percent of global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. Of the estimated $30 trillion in middle-class consumption growth estimated between 2015 and 2030, only $1 trillion is expected to come from today’s Western economies. Most of the rest will come from Asia.

The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, And Culture In The 21st Century Image: Simon & Schuster / Hachette, February 2019

Asia produces and exports, as well as imports and consumes, more goods than any other region, and Asians trade and invest more with one another than they do with Europe or North America. Asia has several of the world’s largest economies, most of the world’s foreign exchange reserves, many of the largest banks and industrial and technology companies, and most of the world’s biggest armies. Asia also accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population. It has ten times as many people as Europe and twelve times as many people as North America. As the world population climbs toward a plateau of around 10 billion people, Asia will forever be home to more people than the rest of the world combined. They are now speaking. Prepare to see the world from the Asian point of view.

To see the world from the Asian point of view requires overcoming decades of accumulated—and willfully cultivated—ignorance about Asia. To this day, Asian perspectives are often inflected through Western prisms; they can only color to an unshakable conventional Western narrative, but nothing more. Yet the presumption that today’s Western trends are global quickly falls on its face. The “global financial crisis” was not global: Asian growth rates continued to surge, and almost all the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Asia. In 2018, the world’s highest growth rates were reported in India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan. Though economic stimulus arrangements and ultralow interest rates have been discontinued in the United States and Europe, they continue in Asia. Similarly, Western populist politics from Brexit to Trump haven’t infected Asia, where pragmatic governments are focused on inclusive growth and social cohesion. Americans and Europeans see walls going up, but across Asia they are coming down.

Rather than being backward-looking, navel-gazing, and pessimistic, billions of Asians are forward-looking, outward-oriented, and optimistic.

These blind spots are a symptom of a related oversight often found in foreign analyses of Asia, namely that they are actually about the United States. There is a presumption that Asia (and frankly every other region as well) is strategically inert and incapable of making decisions or itself; all it is waiting for is the US leadership to tell them what to do. But from the Asian view, the past two decades have been characterized by President George W. Bush’s incompetence, President Barack Obama’s half-heartedness, and President Donald Trump’s unpredictability.

The United States’ laundry list of perceived threats—from ISIS and Iran to North Korea and China—have their locus in Asia, but the United States has developed no comprehensive strategy for addressing them. In Washington it is fashionable to promote an “Indo-Pacific” maritime strategy as an antidote to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, failing to see how in reality Asia’s terrestrial and maritime zones cannot be so neatly separated from each other. For all their differences, Asians have realized that their shared geography is a far more permanent reality than the United States’ unreliable promises. The lesson: the United States is a Pacific power with a potent presence in maritime Asia, but it is not an Asian power.

The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, And Culture In The 21st Century Image: Simon & Schuster / Hachette, February 2019

The most consequential misunderstanding permeating Western thought about Asia is being overly China-centric. Much as geopolitical forecasters have been looking for “number one,” many have fallen into the trap of positing a simplistic “G2” of the United States and China competing to lead the world. But neither the world as a whole nor Asia as a region is headed toward a Chinesetianxia, or harmonious global system guided by Chinese Confucian principles. Though China presently wields more power than its neighbors, its population is plateauing and is expected to peak by 2030. Of Asia’s nearly 5 billion people, 3.5 billion are not Chinese.

Asia’s future is thus much more than whatever China wants. China is historically not a colonial power. Unlike the United States, it is deeply cautious about foreign entanglements. China wants foreign resources and markets, not foreign colonies. Its military forays from the South China Sea to Afghanistan to East Africa are premised on protecting its sprawling global supply lines— but its grand strategy of building global infrastructure is aimed at reducing its dependence on any one foreign supplier (as are its robust alternative energy investments).

China’s launching the Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t prove that it will rule Asia, but it does remind us that China’s future, much like its past, is deeply embedded in Asia. BRI is widely portrayed in the West as a Chinese hegemonic design, but its paradox is that it is accelerating the modernization and growth of countries much as the United States did with its European and Asian partners during the Cold War. BRI will be instructive in showing everyone, including China, just how quickly colonial logic has expired. By joining BRI, other Asian countries have tacitly recognized China as a global power—but the bar for hegemony is very high. As with US interventions, we should not be too quick to assume that China’s ambitions will succeed unimpeded and that other powers won’t prove sufficiently bold in asserting themselves as well. Nuclear powers India and Russia are on high alert over any Chinese trespassing on their sovereignty and interests, as are regional powers Japan and Australia. Despite spending $50 billion between 2000 and 2016 on infrastructure and humanitarian projects across the region, China has purchased almost no meaningful loyalty. The phrase “China-led Asia” is thus no more acceptable to most Asians than the notion of a “US-led West” is to Europeans.

China has a first-mover advantage in such places where other Asian and Western investors have hesitated to go. But one by one, many countries are pushing back and renegotiating Chinese projects and debts. Here, then, is a more likely scenario: China’s forays actually modernize and elevate these countries, helping them gain the confidence to resist future encroachment. Furthermore, China’s moves have inspired an infrastructural “arms race,” with India, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and others also making major investments that will enable weaker Asian nations to better connect to one another and counter Chinese maneuvers. Ultimately, China’s position will be not of an Asian or global hegemon but rather of the eastern anchor of the Asian—and Eurasian—megasystem.

The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, And Culture In The 21st Century Image: Simon & Schuster / Hachette, February 2019

The farther one looks into the future, therefore, the more clearly Asia appears to be—as has been the norm for most of its history—a multipolar region with numerous confident civilizations evolving largely independent of Western policies but constructively coexisting with one another. A reawakening of Western confidence and vitality would be very welcome, but it would not blunt Asia’s resurrection. Asia’s rise is structural, not cyclical. There remain pockets of haughty ignorance centered around London and Washington that persist in the belief that Asia will come undone as China’s economy slows or will implode under the strain of nationalist rivalries. These opinions about Asia are irrelevant and inaccurate in equal measure. As Asian countries emulate one another’s successes, they leverage their growing wealth and confidence to extend their influence to all corners of the planet. The Asianization of Asia is just the first step in the Asianization of the world.

More Middle East billionaires during 2018-2023

More Middle East billionaires during 2018-2023

11 per cent growth will be seen in Middle East billionaires during 2018-2023.

Why the number of millionaires is set to rise in UAE

By Waheed Abbas / Dubai

March 7, 2019

The number of millionaires in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will increase from 440 last year to 511 in 2023 and from 192 to 223, respectively.

The number of millionaires in the UAE increased last year and this trend will continue over the next five years as growing investment opportunities will generate more millionaires locally as well as political and economic stability will also woo rich individuals and families from foreign countries, say researchers and analysts.

According to the latest report released by global consultancy Knight Frank, the number of millionaires, or high net worth individuals, in the UAE expanded 3 per cent to 53,798 last year from 52,344 in the previous year. The numbers are projected to grow 14 per cent to 61,292 by 2023. Similarly, the number of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) – who own more than $30-million wealth – in the UAE grew from 672 in 2017 to 693 last year and will reach 799 by 2023.

The study predicted that the number of UHNWIs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will increase from 440 last year to 511 in 2023 and from 192 to 223, respectively.

Issam Kassabieh, senior financial analyst at Menacorp, believes that the ultra-rich will continue to flock to the UAE in coming years.

“At the moment, Dubai is attractive for foreigners. Now, it is a place not just for good investments returns but also to stay for long term. Government is focusing on key sector so that the cash comes in and stays in the country through different measures such as longer visas and ease of doing business initiatives,” Kassabieh said.

“The UAE is an attractive place for foreign investors – financial markets are at an early stage and have a long way to go. Real estate was the first to anchor the economy and that brought foreign investors here. Going forward, the focus will be on more diverse sectors. Also, the ease of doing business chart shows the UAE is first in the region and also competitive globally,” he added.

“Dubai offers a full package – good quality of life, healthcare, education and investment opportunities. All these complement each other and attracts high net worth individuals to this country. In addition to that, diversity of population plays a big role in this,” said Kassabieh.

Knight Frank data revealed that Dubai and Abu Dhabi will witness higher growth in UNHWIs as compared to Manama and Riyadh.

Raju Menon, chairman and managing partner, Kreston Menon, said the number of millionaires will undoubtedly continue growing in the UAE in coming years.

“Whatever the business challenges or revenue decline the companies are facing today, it is temporary. We need to look at long-term of 5 to 10 years. Millionaires should grow here in the UAE because money is available here so the investment avenues will be opened. The UAE’s economy offer big opportunities,” he said.

Menon believes that most of the new millionaires will be homegrown mainly in retail, trading, healthcare, real estate, services and shipping sectors. 

Iyad Abu Hweij, Managing Director of Allied Investment Partners, said the UAE, home to over 9.4 million residents, remains an attractive destination for HNWIs in the region.

With investor and business friendly policies, world class infrastructure and a stable outlook, HNWIs are expected to continue to grow in numbers in the country over the next coming years. Such policies and initiatives have played an important role in bolstering the confidence of investors and attracting Foreign Direct Investments in the UAE, which in turn creates jobs for a highly talented workforce,”  Abu Hweij said

Additionally, the UAE, viewed as a regional startup hub and a digital leader, continues to boast more startups than any other country in the region. Naturally, such startups attract more venture capital and private equity investments locally than anywhere else regionally, he added.

“The UAE continues to provide solid investment opportunities for investors locally and globally, which, along with a rapidly developing financial services sector, has played a catalyst like role for the growth of HNWIs in the country.”

Regional performance

The number of millionaires in the Middle East with wealth below $30 million grew three per cent from 446,384 in 2017 to 459,937 last year. The number is projected to grow 18 per cent to 541,311 by 2023. Similarly, the ultra-high net worth individuals with more than $30m assets grew four per cent year-on-year to 8,301 last year. It’s estimated that the number will grow 20 per cent over the next five years to 9,997.

According to Knight Frank forecast, the number of billionaires in the region will grow from 89 last year to 99 by 2023.

Globally, the number of millionaires with less than $30 million assets are projected to expand from 19.6 million in 2018 to 23.4 million by 2023, an increase of 19 per cent. While ultra rich will increase 22 per cent during 2018 to 2023 from 198,342 to 241,053.

waheedabbas@khaleejtimes.com

Expatriate workers continue increasing in the Arabian Gulf

Expatriate workers continue increasing in the Arabian Gulf

Migrant or expatriate workers continue adding to the labour force of oil-rich Gulf due to mega-construction projects, UN data shows.  Al Jazeera posted this article dated 20 Dec 2018 elaborating on a situation known to all since the advent of oil.

Gulf Arab blue-collar workforce continues to grow: UN

by James Reinl

Blue-collar migrant workers continue adding to the labour force of the oil-rich Gulf, skewing long-standing efforts by its leaders to increase the percentage of its own citizens in the workforce, data of the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) shows.

Figures released this month in a 78-page study, ILO Global Estimates on National Migrant Workers, showed that the proportion of migrants in the eastern Arab region’s workforce ballooned by 5.2 percent from 2013 to 2017, mostly in the construction sector.

Migrants now make up 40.8 percent of the workforce across a 12-nation region that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

This is a much higher proportion than other rich regions that attract some of the world’s estimated 164 million migrant workers. In comparison, migrants make up only 20.6 percent of the labour force in North America, and 17.8 percent in Europe.

In Dubai, Doha and other Gulf boomtowns, foreigners make up as much as 90 percent of workers, according to older figures. The ILO did not have data on separate countries for this month’s report; Ryszard Cholewinski, the ILO’s Beirut-based expert on migrant workers, said that figures provided by Gulf governments are often incomplete.

Blue collar jobs

The increase in labour flows to Gulf states these past five years was driven mainly by mega-construction projects, including pavilions for Expo 2020 Dubai and the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums being built across Qatar, said Cholewinski.

Demand has also grown for maids, gardeners, drivers and other domestic staff, he added. In particular, more foreign carers are being hired to look after a growing number of elderly folks in their homes, as the Gulf population ages.

“The demand for male workers in the Arab states explains the sharp increase in the share of migrant workers in this region. Many of these workers are manual labourers, located mostly in the construction sector,” Natalia Popova, an ILO labour economist, told Al Jazeera.

“Possible other reasons for the increase in the high share of migrant workers may include the increasing demand for domestic workers, both male and female, as well as for migrant workers in the hospitality sector.”

Nationalisation efforts

While data on nationalisation efforts is skewed due to the sheer amount of blue-collar migrants, Gulf leaders have long sought to boost the numbers of their working citizens, mainly in the white-collar workforce.

However, state-led hiring drives, with such names as Qatarisation, Emiratisation and Saudisation, have had only limited success, particularly in the private sector, according to the ILO.

“Many of these nationalisation policies are not really having any impact. It’s one of the region’s big challenges,” Cholewinski told Al Jazeera.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric on nationalisation in for example Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda. But in practice, this is going extremely slowly.”

Al Jazeera contacted the UN missions of all six Gulf states by email and telephone over the course of several days, but was not able to get a comment on this issue.

While each Gulf nation faces different challenges when it comes to nationalisation, many Gulf citizens loathe taking jobs in private companies, which cannot compete with the pension plans, generous holidays and shorter working hours in the cushy jobs-for-life enjoyed by civil servants.

This can lead to odd distortions. A visitor to Dubai, the UAE’s tourism hub, can spend their whole week-long vacation being served by migrant workers in shops, taxis and eateries, and the only Emirati they meet is a passport-stamping immigration clerk at the airport.

Last month, the UAE launched it’s so-called Citizen Redistribution Policy to temporarily shift civil servants into private sector jobs. It also rolled out training schemes for Emiratis and online recruitment tools.

In recent months, Riyadh has introduced rules requiring shops to have Saudis in at least 70 percent of sales jobs. Expat workers pay monthly fees for their spouses and children, employers pay similar penalties for foreign employees.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 agenda aims to overhaul the Saudi economy by massively expanding the healthcare, education, recreation and tourism sectors and slash the high unemployment rates for young Saudis.

John Shenton, chairman of the Chartered Institute of Building’s Novus initiative, which supports construction jobs in Dubai, told Al Jazeera that Gulf nationalisation schemes were bearing fruit.

In some state-regulated sectors, such as banking, legal and financial services, the number of local staff has grown, Shenton said. “If the goal is to get more Emiratis in the workforce then it’s having some effect,” said Shenton. “However there are other factors that will mean that those efforts may not be reflected in the data.”

These gains are dwarfed by the mass-recruitment of foreign construction workers to build the skyscrapers, malls and artificial islands for which the region is famous, he added.

“At a site level, the chaps in safety boots and hard hats will always be from the subcontinent or South Asia,” Shenton said.

“At the engineering and supervisory level, the skill set required can’t be satisfied by the number of local graduates. The volume of work being undertaken and the discreet programme dates associated with projects like Qatar 2022 necessitate our hosts resourcing from overseas.”

Melissa Roza, a headhunter at a Dubai-based recruitment firm, said nationalisation schemes had made gains in some white-collar jobs, but that state-set hiring quotas and penalty fees were also hurting these sectors.

Banks in the UAE often prefer to pay fines for hiring foreigners than to cover the recruitment costs involved in hiring an Emirati, training them up and meeting their high salary expectations, she said.

Executives have also found workarounds by hiring migrants via outsourcing firms, which do not affect the quota count, added Roza, whose name was changed so she could talk frankly on a hot-button issue. 

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

  • Inside Story happen when the Gulf countries’ oil runs out?

SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

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UN clears Qatar over treatment of migrant workers

INFOGRAPHIC

Pakistan’s ties with the Gulf countries

Saudi Arabia’s standoff with Qatar continues

Saudi Arabia’s standoff with Qatar continues

Saudi Arabia’s standoff with Qatar continues – and Donald Trump has made it worse

By Beverley Milton-Edwards, Queen’s University Belfast

The crisis that erupted between a Saudi-led bloc of Arab states and Qatar led to the tiny Emirate facing an attack on them that was unprecedented. A full year later, the crisis is still unresolved. Read against the wider exigencies of US interests in the Gulf, the crisis has also highlighted profound weaknesses in Donald Trump’s approach to global politics.

Qatar out of the picture: Donald Trump meets with Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House. Kevin Dietsch/EPA

From the onset of the crisis, the Saudi-led bloc cut diplomatic ties and hit Qatar with embargoes, including air land and maritime restrictions. They also deployed bot-fuelled hashtags and social media attacks. It was clear that the Saudis and their allies were not only targeting Qatar’s leadership, but also its institutions, citizens and residents.

The Saudi-led bloc confronted Qatar with 13 demands, mostly focused on curtailing the Qatari approach to foreign policy, counter-terrorism and media freedom. When leaders in Doha refused to succumb, they were instead given six broad principles to abide by. The overall objective was clear: to achieve Qatar’s capitulation without making any concessions.

The Arab Gulf can ill afford such a crisis. Already coping with the demands of fragile states such as Yemen and Iraq as well as ongoing challenges posed by radical jihadist insurgents, there had been evident rapprochement and unity among the GCC states, Qatar included. And in the wake of the Arab Spring, the Gulf’s rattled monarchies had attempted to align themselves more closely, especially against Iran, even if this meant accepting Saudi Arabia’s aspirations to regional supremacy.

In this climate of apparent pragmatism, the move against Qatar blindsided observers. It also forced governments and security analysts to reassess the motivations of the Gulf’s leaders – especially the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman – and the implications of the Trump presidency. Indeed, in the early months of the crisis, more and more observers became convinced that Donald Trump had personally played a part in encouraging the move against Qatar.

America drops the ball

Trump may have thought that by siding against Qatar he was building influence and promoting US national security policy interests in the Middle East. He was wrong; instead, his approach to the crisis has only left the US more open to exploitation by foreign interests including the very Gulf actors he considers his friends.

Trump attempted to set the policy on the move against Qatar and all but declare it a terrorist state. This signalled a view radically at odds with his own Department of Defence and the State Department, both of which consider Qatar an essential ally Qatar, for example, is the leading regional security host for the US air forces.


An awkward moment at the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting – rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE did not attend. EPA/Noufal Ibrahim

The upshot is that for a full year now, it’s been impossible to have full confidence in the US’s ability to effectively mediate and help resolve the crisis. From the start, the White House has failed to fully understand its own interests in the region and has been vulnerable to the machinations of others. The knock on effects on the wider region have cost the US dearly, in particular the actions of an emboldened Iran, which has sought to exploit the crisis and drive a deeper wedge between the Gulf’s Arab states.

But there may be hope for US interests yet. Since the late spring of 2018, there have been signs that the Trump administration is issuing something of a course correction. This is probably a matter of pure strategic self-interest; it seems to have been impressed upon Trump that he badly needs a united GCC to back him up in his anti-Iranian policies – not least his withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and the ensuing sanctions he will enforce against Tehran.

The ConversationThe president might just be listening to his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who has unequivocally stated that it’s time for the Saudis to resolve the crisis and help preserve American interests in the Gulf. But Pompeo faces a huge test: to pull the US out of full-blown incoherence and return it to strategic competence, all under the leadership of a dramatically unpredictable president – and to do so while a resurgent Iran pushes its luck in a region roiled by conflict and divided by deep enmity.

Beverley Milton-Edwards, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center and Professor of Politics, Queen’s University Belfast

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation