Middle East Weekly Roundup: January 17th – 22nd, 2016

Energy Sector

Economic slowdown forecasted with decreases in regional demand for oil

Between 2008 and 2014, rising oil prices contributed not only to economic growth in Middle East oil producing nations, but also to the rise in energy consumption in these countries. Over the past decade, besides China, the Middle East was the fastest growing region for oil consumption as a young population and booming economies created a rise in fuel demand. Consumption of their own oil rose by an average of 3.9% per year between 2004 and 2014, reflecting high per capita consumption among Middle Eastern populations living in harsh climates, with heavily subsidized oil and gas costs.   In addition, the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council grew at a compound average rate of 5.8% per year between 2000 and 2012. However, with oil prices dropping 70% since the Summer of 2014, an economic slowdown in the Gulf is fast approaching.  As a result, governments in the region have indicated a cut in energy subsidies and a rise in prices for their customers.  Demand growth will thus decrease.  As the global stock markets fall and the world economy’s health comes into question, the outlook for oil demand in North America, China, and other emerging markets is weakening, which in turn puts downward pressure on prices and the Gulf producers themselves.  

Countering Violent Extremism

UN Secretary General releases plan to prevent violent extremism

On Friday, January 15, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented his Plan of Action to prevent violent extremism. The Plan includes 70 recommendations centered around 5 points: (1) putting prevention first, (2) principled leadership and effective institutions, (3) promotion of human rights, (4) an all-out approach, and (5) UN engagement.

New estimates of Islamic State’s effects on civilians

An estimated 3,500 people, mainly women and children, are being held as slaves in Iraq by ISIL, according to the UN. The group is responsible for acts that may “amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide,” particularly against minorities, a report said. Iraqi security forces and allied groups, including Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, have also killed and abducted civilians, it said. At least 18,802 civilians were killed in violence in Iraq from January 2014 to October 2015, and 36,245 civilians were wounded, the report said.

Turkey to offer work permits to refugees

Turkey will grant work permits to Syrian refugees, an official statement said Friday, which would allow Syrians to build more prosperous and stable lives in the country. An official announcement said that work permits would be granted to refugees who have fled to the country to escape the conflicts in their homeland. It did not specify nationality, but the measure chiefly applies to the over 2.2 million Syrians who have fled the almost five-year conflict for the safety of Turkey, as well as some 300,000 Iraqis.

Terror suspects under questioning after Istanbul bombing

Turkey’s state-run news agency says 17 Syrians with suspected links to the suicide bomber who killed 10 Germans are being questioned by officials at an Istanbul court where they could face charges of membership in a terror group.


UAE considers harsher penalties for hackers

The Federal National Council of the UAE has drafted a new law that would impose a minimum of three years in prison and fines of up to 2 million AED for hackers convicted of IP fraud. Commonly known as spoofing, IP fraud involves masquerading as a known, trusted user in order to gain access to secured networks, systems, or data. The proposed law comes as part of a national initiative to improve cybersecurity, as the UAE continues to promote itself as a global technological vanguard.

News from the Arabian Peninsula

Delays in UN peace process in Yemen

The UN envoy to Yemen left the rebel-held capital empty handed late last week after a mission aimed at reaching an agreement for talks between the insurgents and the government. “We have not set a new date for the next round of talks,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told reporters at the airport in Sana’a airport before departing the conflict-riven country. A drone attack believed to have been carried out by U.S. forces killed three suspected Al-Qaeda members traveling in a car in southeast Yemen, security and tribal sources said Saturday.

Al-Qaeda and ISIL benefit from civil war in Yemen

The Combating Terrorism Center published a report that argues that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL have benefited from the civil war. As the war continues, AQAP will attempt to acquire and govern more territory while the Islamic State will seek to further radicalize local populations by grafting an Iraqi-style sectarian war onto the existing conflict.

Oman closes border crossings with Yemen

Yemeni security officials said that Oman has closed two border crossings with Yemen over fears of militant attacks. Three security officials from the eastern province of Mahra, which borders Oman, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the closure took place earlier this year, but did not give specific dates

Saudi Arabia feels pressure from competition with Iran

Saudi officials fear the end of sanctions on Iran could boost what they see as its subversive activities in the Middle East while also enriching a diverse economy that the oil-dependent kingdom views as a major competitor for regional influence. Saudi-Iranian political rivalry has aggravated tumult across the Middle East for years, but has escalated in recent months as Riyadh’s new rulers have taken a harder line and as the nuclear deal has relieved pressure on Tehran. The relationship hit a low point after Saudi Arabia executed 47 people for terrorism two weeks ago, including a prominent Shi’a cleric.

Reports from Bahrain of missile defense plans aimed at countering Iran

Gulf Arab states are cooperating on regional missile defense and hope to announce the results soon, a Bahraini officer said on Wednesday, suggesting progress in long-stalled efforts to create a cross-border approach to counter Iran’s growing missile capabilities.


North Africa Report

Discord over distribution of ministerial posts in Libya

In a country that has not seen a stable government since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s Presidential Council has announced a new government of national accord driven to unite the nation’s warring parties under a U.N-backed plan. Yet there have already been reports of disputes over the distribution of ministerial posts, causing the Tunis-based council to push back the deadline for naming the government by 48 hours. Only 7 of the 32 ministers have signed the document, casting doubt as to whether a new government will be formed that can tackle the growing threat from ISIL fighters streaming into the country. Critics have been quick to point out that the plan does not represent the entirety of Libya’s groups and interests. Additional accusations have been aimed at the U.N negotiator, Bernardino Leon, stating he was “secretly negotiating a high-paying job” with the UAE, which has backed the Tobruk government.

Bomb blast during police raid in Cairo

At least nine people, including six policemen, were killed when a bomb exploded during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in Cairo. Though the Egyptian government stated the raid was targeted at a group of Muslim Brotherhood members planning an attack, the Islamic State has publicly claimed responsibility for the bomb. The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed no involvement in the incident, which comes during heightened security in preparation for next week’s fifth anniversary of the uprising that removed Hosni Mubarak from the presidency.