The UAE has been scaling back its military commitment to Yemen, in an unannounced move which appears to have been at least partly prompted by the Hodeidah peace agreement between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi signed in Stockholm in December.
Saudi Arabian Military Industries (Sami), the defence arm of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s favoured investment vehicle the Public Investment Fund (PIF), stepped up its deal-making activity in late June, with a string of acquisitions and joint ventures.
Western allies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are having to get creative in order to continue delivering weaponry to the Gulf. The United States and United Kingdom governments are both seeking loopholes to be able to fulfil previously agreed contracts. However, some deals continue to be held up, notably in France where another shipment of arms destined for Saudi Arabia has failed to leave port.
The Council of Ministers (cabinet) has approved a plan to loosen restrictions on expatriate visas in an effort to attract more international investment into the kingdom. The new ‘green card’ permits will be offered without the need for a local sponsor; those granted a new residency permit will be allowed to allocate visas for family members and to own real estate in the country. There will be two types of permit: one offering permanent residency and the other renewable on an annual basis. It is not clear when the authorities will start issuing the permits and who will be able to apply; further details are expected in the coming months.
Dramatic suggestions that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had gone to ground or been frozen out of the decision-making process by his father King Salman continued on 18 March, with another story in UK daily The Guardian about the apparent rift between the two men. However, such speculation was undermined by the return of MBS to public duties on 19 March when he chaired a meeting of the Council of Economic Affairs and Development (CEDA) at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh.
A report by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, released on 19 February, set out claims by a number of whistleblowers that members of United States President Donald Trump’s administration have been working with US firms on plans to transfer highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saud Arabia, in the process bypassing the usual safety conditions and the reviews by Congress required by law.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources has invited companies to express interest in seven renewable energy projects with a combined generating capacity of 1.5GW.
Try as it might, Saudi Arabia can’t put the murder of Jamal Khashoggi behind it. Four months after the brutal killing in Istanbul by a team of men close to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the late journalist’s many friends are unwilling to let the matter be forgotten. Saudi Arabia is making great efforts to win back influence, but looks powerless to change the narrative – at least in the West.
Energy, industry and mineral resources minister Khalid Bin Abdelaziz Al-Falih led a delegation to the UAE in mid-January to inspect progress at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, in a visit likely to increase speculation that South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) is in prime position to win the contract to develop Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power plants, if and when those plans move forward.
The Royal Court announced the death of Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on 15 December. Funeral prayers were held the following day at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, led by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Prince Talal’s eight surviving sons attended the prayers, including prominent businessman Prince Alwaleed and deputy governor of Asir region Prince Turki. (he was promoted to govenor a few days later) , as well as princes Khalid, Abdelaziz, Abdulrahman, Mansour, Mohammed and Mashhoor Bin Talal.