Russian Hackers Responsible for Sowing Discord Middle East

Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Picture by Presidencia de la República Mexicana

CNN reported on Tuesday that Russian hackers were able to insert a made-up news story into Qatar’s state news agency in order to influence diplomacy in the Middle East in a negative way.

According to US authorities, Russia was most likely trying to create a breach in relations between the United States and its allies in the Gulf region.

US intelligence agencies hinted that Russian hackers were connected to the first cyberattack that took place two weeks ago. Since that event FBI agents went to Doha, the capital of Qatar, to help them investigate who was responsible for the original attack.

Although it is clear that some entities based in Russia are the source of the hacking, it is not yet known if they are criminal organizations or Russian military groups, like perhaps the GRU. The actual source might not be that significant since, as one unnamed official said, based on previous intelligence on Russia’s cyber-hacking behavior,

“nothing much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”

The Qatar News Agency published a story on May 23 that they stated was falsely attributed to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the country’s emir. The story quoted the emir as wondering what the future has in store for President Trump and the hostility the US harbors towards Iran. Iran is an ally of Qatar, but an enemy of the other Gulf states, including US ally Saudi Arabia.

The story said that Al-Thani said, “There is no wisdom in harboring hostility towards Iran.” Qatar said that the report itself as well as the quote were not true, calling the report a “shameful cybercrime.”

Relations between Qatar and the other Gulf Cooperation states hit a new low this week when it was announced that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were going to withdraw their ambassadors and support staff out of Qatar, and cease flights in the region.

“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

Enel Helping Oil Giants Make Transition to Renewable Energy

Annual electricity net generation from renewable energy in the world (1980-2011). Graphic courtesy of Lery007

Italian utility owner Enel SpA says now is the tine to approach middle eastern countries to get on board with renewable energy supplies as the cost of solar power falls along with oil.

Francesco Starace, CEO of Rome-based Enel said in an interview held in Abu Dhabi that, “We will wait for the first tenders in Saudi Arabia.” Dubai the second largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates, after Abu Dhabi, has begun a renewable program, along with Abu Dhabi. Starace said he would like to see Enel participate in that.

Starace has taken a pro-active position on developing greener sources of energy while scaling back on large power stations. Enel reintegrated its renewable energy division, Enel Green Power, last year, and is predicting a 39 percent cut in the use of fossil fuels over the coming five years for generating power. Two oil giants, Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and the UAE, the fourth largest oil producer in OPEC, both would like to shrink their oil dependence and generate more power from solar and other sources.

Enel concluded an agreement with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority to help improve the emirate’s power grid. They also reached an agreement with the Saudi Electricity Company in January, 2017. Over the next five years Saudi Arabia would like to generate 10 gigawatts of power from solar, wind and other types of renewable energy, said Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih. By 2050 DEWA hopes to be able to produce three-quarters of its power from renewable sources.

 

Oman Shifts Position on Iran and Terrorism

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia after he deplaned from his Boeing 747 following his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, on September 3, 2015, to visit President Barack Obama. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Contrary to its usual role as conciliator and neutral arbitrator, Oman has indicated its willingness to be a part of 40-country alliance to oppose Iran and its state sponsorship of terrorism. Until now the Sultanate has been concerned that a wider regional confrontation with Iran would lead to internal de-stabilization within its own borders.

“Oman has always in the past taken positions and policies that are contrary to the Gulf positions regarding the region. This now shows the return of Oman to the Gulf consensus against Iran and its political positions,” one source said.

Siding with Saudi Arabia against Iran is a huge shift for Oman since “it is known that Oman has been close to Iran, the traditional enemy of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.”

Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed will most likely visit Muscat soon to prepare the groundwork for a visit to Oman by King Salman, the source added.

One reason given for the change in policy is that Oman realized that there was a definite “lack of seriousness and of benefits” of cooperation with the Iranians.

The 40-country alliance was announced last December by the Saudis, a move that was met with approval by the United States. Washington has been urging the region to unify in a campaign to fight ISIL militants who have control of land in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL had threatened the monarchies of the Gulf states, promising to overthrow the kingdoms, and has launched several attacks on Shi’ite Muslim mosques and military personnel in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Defensive Fences Going Up All Over Middle East

Somewhere south of Mahbes, Western Sahara, in the freed zone. Sahrawi women in the II International march against the Moroccan built wall that divides western Sahara. The longest wall built on Earth, this wall consists of a long wall with a berm, barbed wire, millions of landmines and electronic systems, survived by thousands of Moroccan soldiers.By Western Sahara (Sahrawi women against the wall of shame) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere south of Mahbes, Western Sahara, in the freed zone. Sahrawi women  march against the Moroccan built wall that divides western Sahara. The wall consists of a long wall with a berm, barbed wire, millions of landmines and electronic systems, survived by thousands of Moroccan soldiers.Photo by Western Sahara (Sahrawi women against the wall of shame) via Wikimedia Commons

As terrorism continues to rear its ugly head throughout the Middle East, several countries are taking an old approach to defending themselves, construction of walls and fences.

Tunisia, the country where a group of terrorists murdered foreign tourists along a popular beach is building a fence with watchtowers on its border with Libya. It is believed the killers were trained there.

After a suicide bomb exploded in a town in Turkey, the Turkish government announced its plans to strengthen the border with Syria, putting up a security fence.

Saudi Arabia is planning a wall along its entire border with its southern neighbor, Yemen.

In Morocco the world’s oldest functioning security barrier, built in the 1980s, protects the country from areas controlled by Polisario. Another barrier along the border with Algeria has been under construction since 2014.

“The Middle East and North Africa is now the most walled region in the world,” said Said Saddiki, a professor of International Relations and International Law at Al-Ain University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. They range from “fences inside cities to anti-migrant walls and separation barriers to counter-insurgency” barricades, he said.

New Saudi King Greets Egypt’s Sisi at Airport

"Abdel Fattah el-Sisi" by Kremlin.ru.

“Abdel Fattah el-Sisi” by Kremlin.ru.

In an unusual break of protocol, the new king of Saudi Arabia, Salman, met Egypt’s President Abdel Fatteh el Sisi at the airport when he arrived for high level meetings in Riyadh on Sunday, March 1. The unusual move was an expression of the King’s positive feelings towards Sisi particularly at a time when parts of the Arab media have questioned whether past close ties between the two countries will continue with the rein of the new King.

This is the first time since Salman’s rise to power that the two leaders have met for in-depth talks on regional issues. The talks are considered crucial in light of the growing turmoil in the region. The pair is expected to discuss security in the Red Sea as a result of political upheavals in Yemen.  It is expected that other issues will be discussed with the aim of strengthening Arab and Sunni unity. Riyadh perceives threats coming not only from Iran, but also from Islamic State extremists.

John Kerry will also be in the region this week. The US Secretary of State is there to discuss finding a deal with Iran to curb their nuclear development program which Saudi Arabia sees as a threat from its main regional rival.

Chevy Cruze 2014 Arrives in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Chevy Cruze 2014

Chevy Cruze 2014

The exclusive dealer for Chevrolet in Saudi Arabia, Abu Khader Automotive (AKA) has just taken possession of the brand new Chevrolet Cruze for 2014 in its showroom on Mecca Street.

Mr. Taher Al Husseini, general manager of the dealership commented on the arrival of the new car:

“Chevrolet Cruze is our best-selling car that has truly earned its position in the Jordanian market which is why it is being offered in a variety of models and options than before in order to satisfy our clients’ needs.”

Syrian Conflict Creating Bus Shortage for Haj Pilgrims

Buses During Haj

Syrian instability could lead to a serious shortage of buses to transport people coming to Saudi Arabia for the soon to arrive Haj season.

The president of the National Haj and Umrah Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Saad Al-Qurashi, said that his committee is already well involved in organizing for the upcoming Haj season, with procedures for registration counters to open already underway.

"But they are still awaiting the Haj Ministry's spot allocations for companies and institutions in the holy sites of Mina and Arafat," he said.

Due to the ongoing turmoil now taking place in Syria, the availability of buses from there, which are among the most crucial and least expensive, is uncertain. Buses from Turkey are also facing obstructions as the border there is closed.

“If buses are not available from Turkey, the Egyptian market would be considered," Al-Qurashi said.

Buses from Jordan are not an option, Al-Qurashi added, due to the high prices that bus companies there charge.
 

Job Opportunities Exploding in UAE and Other Gulf States

Sanjay Modi, Managing Director of Monster.com

Over the course of the past year available jobs as listed on the internet has soared in the UAE by 33 percent. The figure, which was announced by the monthly Monster Employment Index, is based on online job posting activity which the index tracks in 12 leading industry sectors in the six GGC countries and in Egypt.

June’s Monster Index shows that the UAE leads the rest in the increase in online job postings over the past twelve months, while Kuwait followed closely with a 30 percent increase in job opportunities from June 2011 until June 2012. Qatar was tracked with a 23 percent gain.

Overall the increase was even more impressive, growing by an incredible 39 percent annually. Only Saudi Arabia did not grow in the double digits, expanding by only 2 percent for the year in its online job opportunities.

In Egypt job openings posted online surged by 15 percent, while in Bahrain and Oman online job listings increased by 18 and 20 percent respectively.
 

Oman Going to Riyadh Travel Fair 2012

Riyadh Travel Fair

After realizing a 17% increase in tourism from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to the Sultanate of Oman from 2010 to 2011, the Ministry of Tourism in Oman has decided to participate in the upcoming Riyadh Travel Fair 2012.

Director General of Tourism Promotion at Oman’s Ministry of Tourism Ali Khaburi said:

"Saudi Arabia is a key tourism market from many perspectives. Saudi visitors are growing in number and we think they are also increasing their length of stay. The market is broadening from business and family segments with short break leisure travel becoming more prominent. We also think Salalah has significant year-round potential for the Saudi Arabian market, and growing demand for travel will lead to non-stop air services between Saudi Arabia and Salalah.”

The fair will be held from May 15 to 18 and is considered an important event for tourism networking with many countries participating. The Oman Ministry of Tourism is especially excited to showcase many of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, with an emphasis on newly opened resort hotels at Jebel Sifah and Salalah.
 

GCC Imposing Additional 100 Percent Health Tax on Tobacco Imports

Anti Smoking Poster from Saudi Arabia

Expected to take effect in the coming month, the GCC is placing a 100 percent “health tax” on cigarettes and other tobacco products imported into the area.

The finance ministers from the six Gulf States are meeting in May and will decide whether or not to approve the tax height said one Saudi official.

The Ministry of Health supervisor of the Saudi program which was designed to discourage smoking, Majed Al-Monief said the ministers of finance and health from the GCC states have already decided, at least in principal to raise the tariff from the present 100 percent to 200 percent.

"The new duty will be known as the 'health tax,' taking into account the huge amount of money each GCC state spends on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases as well as for the rehabilitation of smokers. The finance ministers will decide when the tax will take effect," Al-Moneif said.

"The GCC states can take a decision in this respect unanimously. The Gulf states had earlier hiked tobacco customs tariff from 50 to 100 percent, and are now moving toward making a further hike of 100 percent," he added. 

The additional funds raised via the health tax will be used to help prevent smoking and hopefully lesson the destructive impact smoking has, especially on young people.

In spite of the heavy taxes which already exist on tobacco products in Saudi Arabia, imports climbed by 57 percent in 2011 compared to 2009. According to reliable statistics 22,000 deaths occur in Saudi Arabia every year from a variety of illnesses connected to tobacco use. The World Health Organization says there are 6 million smokers in the Kingdom, approximately 25 percent women.

Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest importer of tobacco in the world with average consumption per person estimated to be 2,130 cigarettes each year. According to the WHO about 5 million people die every year due to tobacco related ailments.