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The Euro-Gulf Monitor 19 – 25 May 2023

BY Veronica Stigliani & Elen'Alba Vitiello

5 Top Points

  1. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended the Arab League Summit in Jeddah.
  2. Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi became the first Arab woman in space and on the International Space Station (ISS).
  3. Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior met with his Russian counterpart in Riyadh.
  4. Qatar and Hungary discussed energy cooperation.
  5. Bahrain hosted the first meeting of the Permanent Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue.

‘Round and About the Gulf

Al-Fateh Grand Mosque in Bahrain

Kingdom of Bahrain ​ Kingdom of Bahrain-img

Wednesday, 24 May–Bahrain hosted the first meeting of the Permanent Committee for Islamic-Christian Dialogue, which brings together Islamic scholars and representatives of the Catholic Church. Mohamed Abdelsalam, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council for Elders, headed the inaugural meeting, which aimed at coordinating joint efforts and initiatives to enhance coexistence among people of different religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as to support Islamic-Christian dialogue.

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Wednesday, 24 May–Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will discuss a draft agreement regarding the railway link project linking the two countries, as the negotiations mandate was approved by Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet. A French transportation consultancy, Systra, was appointed to conduct a feasibility study for the high-speed railway earlier this month as the first step of Kuwait’s Railway Network project.

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Sultanate of Oman Sultanate of Oman-img

Tuesday, 23 May–Brazilian mining group, Vale, signed a land reservation agreement with Oman’s Port of Duqm Company, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Marafiq company to establish an integrated industrial complex in the Special Economic Zone at Duqm. The agreement aims to build a Mega Hub in Oman, while the MoU aims to provide the project with access to all the utilities and services required for its operations. The facility will produce low-carbon products for the steelmaking industry.

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Monday, 22 May–In partnership with Qatar’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Qatar Free Zone Authority, Google launched a cloud region, a geographical area in which a cloud data centre is located. Google opened a country office and virtual centre in Msheireb, Qatar. According to Google Cloud’s research, conducted by Access Partnership, the launch of the project is expected to contribute $18.9 billion (about €17.6 billion) to Qatar’s economic output between 2023 and 2030.

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Sunday, 21 May–Saudi Arabia and the US announced a short-term ceasefire for Sudan. Representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces signed an agreement on a seven-day ceasefire and humanitarian arrangements, including facilitating the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance, restoring essential services, and withdrawing forces from hospitals and essential public facilities.

Monday, 22 May–Saudi astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, became the first Arab woman to travel to space and land on the International Space Station (ISS). Barnawi and her Saudi colleague, Ali Al-Qarni, arrived at the ISS for an eight-day science mission, becoming the first Saudi citizens to visit the orbiting outpost. The mission is expected to pave the way for Saudi Arabia’s astronaut programme announced last year.

Monday, 22 May–Saudi Arabia’s private utility Acwa Power and Water and Electricity Holding Company (Badeel), signed power purchase agreements worth $3.25 billion (about €3 billion) with the Saudi Power Procurement Company, to develop and operate three major solar photovoltaic independent power producer projects. The new plants aim to produce a combined capacity of 4.55 gigawatts of renewable energy, enough to power approximately 750,000 households.

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United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates-img

Friday, 19 May–The UAE announced it would waive fines incurred in the past month by Sudanese citizens in the country with expired visas as the conflict in their homeland continues. The decision affects Sudanese citizens who have lapsed resident and work permits or have overstayed their planned departure date, in a bid to show solidarity with the people of Sudan.

Friday, 19 May–The UAE President, Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, ordered financial assistance for low-income Emirati farm owners in the form of electricity subsidies. The support is in line with the aims of the country’s leadership to provide a decent standard of living for citizens and help reduce the financial burden related to electricity bills. The support, which will be rolled out in July, covers eligible low-income farm owners who are registered in a federal or local social welfare programme.

The EU Corner

Thursday, 18 May–The EU-GCC Dialogue on Economic Diversification Project and the European Union Delegation to Saudi Arabia jointly hosted an event in Riyadh, on “Fueling the Future: Unleashing Business Opportunities with Green Hydrogen”. Attended by the Minister Counsellor, Head of Trade and Economic Affairs at the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, Thomas Jürgensen, by a member of King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), Jitendra Roychoudhury, and by the European Commission’s Policy Officer, Directorate General for Energy, Alessandro Polito, the event highlighted Saudi Arabia’s hydrogen production capacities and EU’s import needs, and how to spur lucrative business partnerships.

Monday, 22 May–The European Council sanctioned five individuals and two entities responsible for human rights violations in Iran. It targets the current commander of the Tehran Police Relief Unit of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, the spokesman of the Iranian Police, and the secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace of Iran (SCC), the authority responsible for repression in cyberspace, the IRGC Cooperative Foundation and the Student Basij Organization (SBO), among others. The sanctions now apply to a total of 216 individuals and 37 entities, which consists of assets freeze, a travel ban to the EU and an EU-wide prohibition on providing them with funds.

Wednesday, 24 May–The EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, Patrick Simonnet, and representatives of the Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Cypriot and Romanian Embassies held a meeting in Muscat to discuss domestic and regional developments as well as further ways to strengthen ties between the European Union and Oman.

Key official visits

Friday, 19 May–The Arab League’s annual summit was hosted in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with 22 member states taking part. Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad attended the summit for the first time after his country was suspended 12 years ago. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky also participated in the event, in a bid to enhance Ukraine’s ties with the Arab world. On the sidelines, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, held talks with Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, and Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Friday, 19 May–Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, and his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Mohamad Hussein, chaired the 4th meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Political, Security and Military Committee, in Jeddah. The two sides discussed Saudi-Iraqi relations and means to enhance them in the political, security, and military fields.

Saturday, 20 May–Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture, Badr bin Abdullah Al-Saud, and his Italian counterpart, Gennaro Sangiuliano, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance cultural cooperation between the two countries. The two ministers met in Venice, where they discussed Saudi-Italian cultural relations and means to enhance them in various fields, including heritage, architecture, design, visual arts, museums, fashion, culinary arts, and music. Under the MoU, the two countries will exchange expertise and enhance cooperation in preserving tangible and intangible heritage.

Sunday, 21 May–Oman’s Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, visited Egypt, where he met with President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, to review bilateral relations and regional issues. The two sides signed an agreement on prevention and avoidance of tax evasion, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) related to cooperation in areas relevant to financial policies and developments.

Sunday, 21 May–Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, held a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen. They discussed ways to broaden their relations and the political situation in the Middle East, stressing the importance of security, peace, and stability across the region.

Sunday, 21 May–Qatar’s Minister of Municipality, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Subaie, met with French Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Marc Fesneau, on the sidelines of the 90th General Session of the World Assembly of Delegates of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) in Paris. They discussed way to enhance agricultural, food security and livestock cooperation.

Monday, 22 May–British Consultant of the Defence Ministry for the Middle East, Martin Sampson, visited Kuwait and met with Prime Minister, Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, and Acting Minister of Defence, Talal Khaled Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and Head of the National Center for Cyber Security, Mohammad Boarki, among other officials.

Monday, 22 May–Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, travelled to Qatar where he was received by the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to discuss the strengthening of their relationship and moving forward on their gas purchase agreement. The natural gas deal is expected to enhance energy security for Hungary while fostering economic growth and cooperation between the two nations.

Monday, 22 May–British Minister for Business and Trade, Kemy Badenoch, travelled to Qatar, Doha, to speak at the Qatar Economic Forum on 23 May. She then continued her Gulf tour to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, during which she met with the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, and officials of of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a bid to discuss the UK trade deal with the GCC countries.

Tuesday, 23 May–Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior, Abdulaziz bin Saud Al-Saud, held official talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, in Riyadh. During the meeting, they discussed security cooperation and various issues of common concern.

Tuesday, 23 May–Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Khalid bin Salman Al-Saud, met with the head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, in Riyadh, and reaffirmed his support to UN efforts towards a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. The meeting came a month after Saudi Arabia began peace talks with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Sanaa, in a bid to revive a truce and reach a political solution.

Tuesday, 23 May–The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, met with Deputy Director General and Head of the Safeguards Department at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Massimo Aparo. The meeting reviewed ways to strengthen cooperation between the GCC and the IAEA, especially in offering programs by the IAEA in supporting the GCC for the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Wednesday, 24 May–The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, received Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, in Abu Dhabi, to discuss efforts to bolster the relationship between the UAE and the Vatican. The two sides reiterated their commitment to continue promoting tolerance and coexistence with each other and other nations around the world, and exchanged opinions on regional and international issues.

Wednesday, 24 May–The UAE Speaker for the Federal National Council, Saqr Ghobash, held talks with his Russian counterpart, Valentina Matvienko, in Moscow. The two sides expressed their willingness to enhance cooperation in various fields, especially in parliamentary relations. They also reviewed economic ties between the UAE and Russia, and means to develop them.

Wednesday, 24 May–Bahrain’s Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force, Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, met with Riyadh-Resident Spanish Military Attaché to Bahrain, José María Bonastre Cenarro. The meeting was also attended by Bahrain’s Defence Affairs Minister, Abdullah bin Hassan Al-Nuaimi.

Wednesday, 24 May–Bahrain’s Labour Minister, Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan, held two separate meetings with his Lebanese and Syrian counterparts, Moustafa Bayram and Louai Emad El-Din, on the sidelines of the 49th session of the Arab Labor Conference, in Cairo. The meetings reviewed ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries especially in the field of human resources and workers development.

Wednesday, 24 May–Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Lipavsky, led a business delegation to Riyadh aiming to deepen bilateral political and economic cooperation. During the visit, he held talks with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, among other officials.