IA) Political Developments: Covid-19 Pandemic

Regional Impact of Covid-19: The Pandemic tapers off as vaccinations rise  

The decline in Covid-19 confirmed cases and the fatalities continued in WANA countries during the month, led by those with high mass vaccination ratios. The growth in confirmed cases declined in the region to 6.48% from 9.5% and 44.1% in the previous two months. Similarly, the deaths went down to 5.79% from 11.3% and 16.0%. The following table provides details:

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Covid-19 and the Individual WANA Countries:

  • On June 24, Israel reintroduced masks indoors, within ten days of un-prescribing them as the delta variant of the Coronavirus led to a quadrupling of the new infections during the previous week. The country has fully vaccinated 55% of its population.  
  • On June 27, the UAE health authorities over-ruled Dubai emirate to continue with the ban on entry from India, South Africa and Nigeria. Earlier, tourism-dependent Dubai emirate had indicated lifting of the ban. On June 13, Dubai claimed to have fully vaccinated 2/3rd of eligible people. On June 16, Abu Dhabi became the world's first city to introduce Sotrovimab medicine to combat Covid-19.
  • On June 12, Saudi Arabia limited the next Hajj to 60,000 pilgrims from within the Kingdom.  No Hajjis from abroad are to be allowed. Last Hajj was similarly curtailed. Among other anti-Covid measures, the Kingdom began vaccinating 12 to 18-year-olds with Pfizer vaccines from June 27.  From August 1, the entry to the malls in Saudi Arabia was restricted to fully vaccinated people.
  • On June 25, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, 82, received the first shot of COVIran Barakat, a locally developed vaccine.
  • On June 17, Kuwait announced that it would allow entry to fully vaccinated non-citizens from August 1.
  • Oman announced the detection of three cases of Black Fungus (mucormycosis) on June 16.

IB) Political Developments

Iran

Ebrahim Raisi, Chief of the judiciary since 2019, won a decisive victory in the Presidential election held on June 18. With all 28.9 million ballots counted. Raisi was elected with a tally of 17.9 million ballots among 28.9 million polled. Turnout in the 4-man race was a record low of around 48.8% of which 3.7 million were invalid ballots that were likely to have been the protest votes. In all, the Guardian Council had approved seven candidates for the election, out of whom three dropped out on June 16. In his post-election press interaction, Raisi committed himself to terms of understanding being negotiated to facilitate the US return to the JCPOA in tandem with the removal of the American economic sanctions imposed on Iran. He, however, pledged to form a “strong government” to steer the agreement in the “right direction.” He also ruled out any possibility of meeting US President Biden, even as he sought to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. He emphasised that Iran’s regional activities and its missile programme were non-negotiables. Relevant to add that the US had imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 for human rights violations for mass executions in the late 1980s.
Comment: The election of Raisi was an outcome of politico-clergy manoeuvring and manipulation to downsize the moderates combined with the voters’ apathy, despite exhortations by the Supreme Leader and President. With Raisi as President, conservatives’ sway in the Majles and clergy’s dominance over society, the Islamic hardliners have finally established their preponderance over Iran. On other hand, the moderates have been decimated largely by the unredeemed promises of “Achhe Din” post-JCPOA, with Trump’s maximum pressure strategy and Covid-19 pandemic playing spoilsports. 
​​​​It remains to be seen as to how the hardliners would leverage their control over the country’s polity. Some reports suggest that they would engage in some political re-engineering to replace the Presidential system with a Prime Minister directly accountable to the Majles. This would remove one more centre of power which could challenge the new order. Over the longer term, Raisi, 60, as President, may position himself as the successor of Ali Khamenei, 82, as the Supreme Leader.
With Raisi’s election, Iran has made a trade-off in favour of domestic stability and predictability over a liberal and pluralistic order. Depending on several known unknowns (sanctions removal, oil revenues, regional geopolitics, Iran’s youth, women and minorities, corruption, etc.) pan out, Raisi has a chance to improve the current plight. However, his narrow political experience and his symbiotic ties to the Supreme Leader and the IRGC may constrain him from any fundamental changes in Iranian policies, both at home and in the region.
Further Reading:
(i) “Iran vote points to the hard-line goal of long-term power – analysts” Reuters, June 21; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/nalysis-analysis-idUKKCN2DX1NS/sgwx5/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824;
 
(ii) “Hardliners gain a lock over Iranian politics”, Editorial in Financial Times, June 21;  http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/b4-cb3f-4cfd-9e3f-ea69ebe920eb/sgwx7/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824         
(iii) “What Ebrahim Raisi’s election means for Iran and the nuclear deal”, The Economist, June 24; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-won-a-rigged-election-in-iran/sgwx9/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824

The sixth round of the indirect JCPOA talks between Iran and the US concluded on June 20 without any indication of the terms of the agreement being negotiated. On June 24, Iran’s interim deal with IAEA on monitoring its nuclear installations came to an end without any extension being reached. In a suo moto statement on June 25, Iran confirmed its intention to reverse the nuclear measure it had taken in response to the US sanctions. On June 23 Iran claimed that a hostile attempt to attack a civilian nuclear facility at Karaj near Tehran was blocked before any damage being done. No other details were provided. 

Iran’s voting rights at the United Nations, suspended on May 28, were restored on June 11 as it paid back $16.2 mn of the $65 mn dues owed after the US agreed to permit the economic sanctions to be lifted for that specific purpose.

Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian navy caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman on June 2. All naval personnel on board were rescued. Iran offered neither any explanation nor blamed the usual suspects for this mysterious loss.

In a first of its kind, on June 10 the US removed sanctions on three Iranian officials, including a former MD of NIOC. Ironically, this move was preceded by Secretary of State Blinken hinting on June 8 that “hundreds of sanctions could still remain on Iran even after a deal on JCPOA. On June 22, the US Justice Department blocked three dozen websites, many associated with Iran’s disinformation campaign.

A Canadian government report on June 24 on the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in January 2020 near Tehran airport, found no evidence that the attack was premeditated. It nevertheless held Iran “fully responsible” for the death of all 176 onboard the flight, 138 of whom had ties with Canada.

Israel:

A “unity” government comprising of a motley coalition of eight parties across the Israeli political spectrum – from ultra-right to United Arab List (UAL) – was sworn in on June 13 and won Knesset confidence vote by 60-59 margin. It replaced the Likud coalition led by Benyamin Netanyahu, who has been Israel’s Prime Minister for the past 12 years and has defined Israeli politics for an even longer period. The government was led by Neftali Bennett, 49, former Chief of Staff of Netanyahu, who split from Likud to form his own Yamina party. He was to interchange positions mid-way to his term with Yair Lapid, the Foreign Minister, and head of Yesh Atid party with the largest number of seats (17) in the coalition. For the first time, Abbas Mansour led UAL, an Israeli Arab political entity, was part of a ruling coalition, even as it was to have no ministerial berth in the government.  
Comment: The political denouement of Netanyahu was as dramatic as his politics has always been. Despite consistently being the largest political party in Knesset over the past four general elections, his Likud party failed to sustain a majority – just desserts for his divisive politics. While he called the new government “fraud of the century” and promised to stage a comeback, his opponents seemed united to resist his return. Moreover, his ongoing corruption trial was to keep him occupied and his supporters downcast. He is unlikely to be missed in Washington. Last but not the least, Israel, being a relatively young society, also needs a generational shift from 71-year-old Netanyahu to 22 years younger Bennett. History, would, however, regard Netanyahu as someone who remoulded Israeli politics by slaying the Labour party which dominated the first five decades of Israel and became a face of the Israeli right.  
The new government, comprising of desperate political tendencies, would have relatively low manoeuvrability and would have to concentrate on managing its inner contradictions. At the same time, it has its hands full with issues such as Iran, Resurgent Covid-1, economic recovery (No National Budget for two years, debt/GDP at 72.4%, fiscal deficit/GDP at 11.6%, etc) and exceptionalism of the ultra-orthodox and settlers’ fringe.
Further Reading: “New man in charge: Naftali Bennett’s new Israeli government has its work cut out” The Economist, June 19; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/overnment-has-its-work-cut-out/sgwxc/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824

On June 2 the Knesset voted to elect Issac Herzog, 60, as Israel’s 11th President. His 7-year term begins on July 9. The current President Reuven Rivlin was received by US President Biden on June 28 in Washington.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid became the first Israeli minister to pay an official bilateral visit to the UAE on June 29-30 to inaugurate the embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate General in Dubai. He had a meeting with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. There was, however, no word about him being received either by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed or Dubai Emir and UAE Vice President and PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed. The two countries signed several agreements, including one for joint research on anti-drone technology. It was disclosed that during the ten months since Abraham Accords, Israel UAE trade has risen to $675 mn.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 28 in Rome. Lapid later acknowledged that Israel has made mistakes in violating the traditional bipartisan approach in the US domestic politics. He also expressed Israeli reservations about Iranian intentions.

Israel launched two airstrikes on targets in Gaza on June 16 and 17 in retaliation to the alleged launch of incendiary balloons by Hamas. These were the first such action since the ceasefire last month. On June 21, PM Bennett warned that the new government had a zero-tolerance policy on any hostile acts by Hamas and its proxies.

In a TV interview on June 11, the outgoing Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen tacitly acknowledged his agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia:  

On June 18, Pakistan disclosed that Saudi Arabia has decided to shift its promised mega-refinery in Pakistan from Gwadar to Karachi. While Pakistani sources hinted at this decision being necessitated for logistical reasons: as Gwadar was yet well connected to northern Pakistan with highways and railways. However, some observers also saw it as a sign of Riyadh delinking this iconic bilateral project from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which terminates at Gwadar. In the same vein, a despatch in Financial Times on June 21 disclosed that following PM Imran Khan’s fence-mending visit to Saudi Arabia in May, Riyadh had decided to resume its oil loan facility to Pakistan at $1.5 bn annually, less than half of its original size of 3.4 bn. (Further Reading: (i) “Massive Setback For China-Pakistan’s CPEC Project As Saudi Arabia Shifts Multi-Billion-Dollar Refinery Deal”, The Eurasian Times, June 14; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/i-billion-dollar-refinery-deal/sgwxf/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824 ; (ii) “Saudis agree oil deal with Pakistan to counter Iran influence” The Financial Times, June 21;  http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/tificationinstant-emailcontent/sgwxh/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824)  

On June 8, al-Jazeera reported that Saudi Arabia had initiated moves to normalise diplomatic ties with Syria after nearly a decade of estrangement and support to various Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime. The move was seen as a part of Saudi drive to win friends in the region and specifically aimed at reducing the Iranian influence over Syria. (Further Reading: “Times have changed: Saudi Arabia-Syria in rapprochement talks” al-Jazeera, June 8; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/i-syria-in-rapprochement-talks/sgwxk/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824 

On June 2, the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin had a telephone conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkey:

On June 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a meeting with President Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels. On the agenda of the meeting were several contentious issues such as Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system, aggressive Turkish nationalism on regional issues such as Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Turkey, in turn, was miffed at Biden Presidency formally recognising Armenian genocide by Turkish forces a century ago. On the positive side, Turkey confirmed that around 500 of its troops would guard the Kabul airport after the US and Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan. While no concrete measures to reset the ties were announced, both leaders expressed satisfaction at the talks, their first such contact since the change in the White House nearly six months ago.

Turkey held air exercises called ‘Anatolian Eagle 2021’ from June 22 till July 3 with the participation of the air forces of Pakistan, Qatar and Azerbaijan participating.

On June 21, Turkey’s constitutional court ordered HDP, the country’s third-largest political party, to undergo a trial for alleged links to PKK terrorist group fighting for Kurdish independence. Earlier on June 7, the same court had rejected the public prosecutor’s request on technical grounds.

On June 26, President Erdogan broke the ground for a bridge linked to the Istanbul Canal project to relieve the growing maritime pressure on the Bosporus strait connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. The controversial $15 bn project involves digging a 45 km navigation canal over the next six years parallel to Bosporus. Several groups have opposed the Canal on ecological grounds.  

Iraq:

Egyptian President Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah held a tripartite summit in Baghdad on June 27 with Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi. It was the first such summit since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait under President Saddam Hussein in 1990.
Comment: While this Baghdad summit was short on concrete achievements, it appeared to be part of a concerted attempt to reintegrate Iraq into the Arab mainstream by filling the power vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the US forces and reducing the Iranian influence over the Arab country.

Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi attended the military parade held by the pro-Iran Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a Shia militia, to mark the seventh anniversary of its founding to fight ISIS. Addressing the parade that included tanks and rocket launchers, the Iraqi PM praised the sacrifices made by the PMF but warned against “sedition.” In a related move, on July 7, the Iraqi authorities released Qassim Muslih, PMF’s Commander in Anbar province after his arrest for involvement in the attack on the US military bases.
(Further Reading: “Thirsting for change: Few things are harder than building a state in Iraq”, The Economist, June 19; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/-than-building-a-state-in-iraq/sgwxm/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824

On June 27, the US launched airstrikes on three Shia militia bases, two of them in Syria. The action was in retaliation for their drone attacks on the US military facilities. The US forces in the South-East of Syria came under fire on June 28 in apparent retaliation for these air-raids. 

Palestine:

The custodial death of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of Palestine President Mahmud Abbas on June 24 led to violent protests for three days.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Beirut on June 28-30 and was received by the Lebanese President and Parliament Speaker. He also met with Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on June 29 to brief him about Israel-Hamas fighting last month.

Algeria:

The Parliamentary elections held on June 12 were marked by low voter turnout estimated at below 30%. The results for the 407-member Peoples National Assembly announced subsequently gave no single party a majority: FLN, which has ruled uninterruptedly since independence, got 105 seats followed by MSP (moderate Islamists) with 64 seats and 78 seats going to the independent candidates. On June 30 President Tabboune named outgoing finance minister Ayman Benabderrahmane as the next Prime Minister.
Comment: Despite widespread and sustained demand spearheaded by the Hirak movement for comprehensive political and economic reforms, the FLN and Military alliance has made only token concessions. Over the past two years since the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Le Pouvoir (“The Power”) has managed to get facile public mandates for a new Constitution, President and the Parliament. It would hope that these political manoeuvres and their capacity to sit out the agitators would allow it to acquire political legitimacy by default. Its success would depend on two factors: the enhanced oil and gas revenues and how other currently dormant actors including Islamic militancy (Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and incipient Kabylie separatism play out. Meanwhile, President Tabboune’s call for a “New Algeria” notwithstanding, the Le Pouvoir would very much wish to return the country to the old established order that has governed the country for the past six decades of independence in 1962.  

Jordan:

On June 13 a Military Court commenced sedition trial of former Royal Advisor and ex-Finance Minister Bassem Awadallah and Sherif Hassan Zaid, a distant relative of King Abdullah. They are accused of conspiring with former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein (who has not been charged) for agitating to destabilise the monarchy. They both have pleaded not guilty.

Yemen:

Saudi-led coalition halted air raids on al-Houthi targets from June 11 as a gesture to boost the peace efforts mediated by Oman. An Omani delegation was in Sana’a on June 21 for discussions.
Comment: While Riyadh, under pressure from Biden Presidency, has been keen to extricate itself from its Vietnam in Yemen, it needs several guarantees from al-Houthis and other players. These range from insisting upon a stable bilateral border, assurances that al-Houthis will distance themselves from Iran and would avoid disturbing the current pro-Saudi al-Hadi government which is internationally recognised. Al-Houthis, who have survived six years of coalition onslaught, are now ascendant and have different expectations from any peace deal: unconditional lifting of the air and maritime siege on their territory and non-interference in Yemen. Further, though the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council is nominally a part of the al-Hadi government, it has not renounced its demand for restoration of South Yemen as a separate entity. On other hand, the US and its allies insist on measures to ensure that Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) does not return to Yemen. Marrying these and other demands into a viable peace package is proving to be difficult.   

The UAE:

The UAE was among five UN members elected unopposed for a two-year non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council beginning on January 1 2022.

In a despatch on June 8, the Financial Times noted that several factors, including Biden Presidency and pandemic related stress, had pushed the UAE foreign policy from hard “muscular” diplomacy to greater emphasis on the economic diplomacy and mediation of disputes such as between India and Pakistan and Sudan and Ethiopia. 
(Further Reading“UAE resets a decade of muscular foreign policy” FT, June 8; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/12-696f-42f0-b0a9-00b2affd666b/sgwxp/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824)

On June 23, the Human Rights Watch, a US NGO, claimed that since October 2020, the UAE authorities were detaining and deporting several Pakistanis of Shia extraction. Those charges were rejected by the UAE, which has, nevertheless, banned the visa to the Pakistanis for the past few months.

Blue Nile Waters:

Following collapse of the mediation by the African Union on their dispute with Ethiopia over sharing the Blue Nile waters, Egypt and Sudan issued a joint statement on June 6 in which they agreed to "coordinating the efforts at the regional, continental and international levels to push Ethiopia to negotiate seriously."

On June 15, Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Doha adopted a resolution calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the dispute over Ethiopia's plan to fill a giant dam it is building on the Blue Nile. They agreed on "steps to be taken gradually" to support Egypt and Sudan in the dispute without giving details. They also called on Ethiopia to negotiate "in good faith" and refrain from any unilateral steps that would harm Egypt and Sudan. In response, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry rejected the Arab League resolution in its entirety.

Qatar:

Reuters reported on June 14 that following its withdrawal from Afghanistan, NATO has asked Qatar for permission to set up a base to train Afghan Special Forces. Qatari response to the proposal was not mentioned.

On June 23 the head of Qatar's World Cup 2022 organising committee said that the conditions for low paid migrant workers have improved but that more work was needed and the Gulf Arab state was committed to doing it. He also claimed that the World Cup would contribute around $20 bn to the economy with a significant portion benefiting the construction and tourism sectors.

Mauritania:

Former President Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, who ruled during 2008-19, was jailed on corruption charges on June 23.

Libya:

Germany and the United Nations hosted a Conference on Libya in Berlin on June 23 aimed at taking stock of the current situation in that country and consider the next steps needed.  It concluded  by reiterating the commitment to hold the general elections on December 24, as scheduled. It also called for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the country.

Lebanon:

France hosted a virtual meeting of the world powers on June 17 to support the Lebanese army with funds in emergency aid. In the event, the meeting concluded without any specific aid package being announced. Earlier on June 10 French President Macron had publicly mentioned that he was working with un-named international partners to create a financial mechanism for Lebanon.    

Sudan:

 On June 2, Sudan’s army chief revealed that Khartoum was reviewing a deal with Russia, signed during ousted President al-Bashir’s term, to permit Russia to establish a naval base at Port Sudan in return for Russian arms and equipment.

Gulf Cooperation Council:

The statement issued on June 16 after meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh called for inclusion of the Iranian missile programme and Tehran’s support for regional proxies in the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and its JCPOA partners. They also they said GCC states should be involved in global negotiations with Tehran and they were ready to "cooperate and deal seriously and effectively with the Iranian nuclear file ... on the basis of respect for sovereignty and good neighbourliness". The statement urged Tehran to engage seriously with talks and avoid escalations.

Syria:

In its report to the UN Security Council on June 4, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that it had investigated 77 allegations against Syria, and concluded that in 17 cases chemical weapons were likely or definitely used. Syrian government has denied the OPCW findings.

Tunisia:

On June 20, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur won the Birmingham tennis tournament women’s title, becoming first Arab woman ever to win a WTA trophy.

II) Economic Developments

Oil Related Developments:

  • On June 1, OPEC+ agreed to continue with the current schedule of easing the supplies gradually. Accordingly, it was to increase production by 2 mbpd with Saudi Arabia undoing the voluntary cut of additional million barrels per day. The decision helped shore up the oil prices during the month in the range of $71-$77 a barrel for Brent crude.
  • There was considerable speculation about the future course of the oil market. An OPEC Group report foresaw a rise in global oil consumption by 6 mbpd during 2021, of which nearly 5 mbpd was to come during H2 of the year. OPEC SG stated on June 7 that the oil inventories in industrialised countries were down by 160 mb in April 21 as compared to a year ago – indicating a tightening demand-supply gap. Indeed, oil majors’ CEOs participating in the QEF warned (June 22) that the oil could climb up to $100/barrel due to a lack of upstream investments. They also foresaw huge volatility in the market. On other hand, the IEA projected OPEC+ to have a spare capacity of 6.9 mbpd in July 2021, even with the Iranian oil under current sanctions.  
  • In a report published on June 21, Moody’s rating agency warned that the GCC states would take at least a decade to diversify their economies away from oil dependence. It cited lower oil revenues reducing their capacity to spend on such projects, the reluctance of the regimes to raise taxes and greater intra-GCC competition.
  • On June 4, Turkish President Erdogan announced the discovery of an additional 135 bcm of natural gas in the Sakarya gas field on the Black Sea coast. Taken with similar announcements last year, the total discoveries reach 540 bcm or nearly 11 years of current annual gas imports. It hopes to have sustained plateau production from these discoveries starting in 2027 or 2028.
  • On June 9, Saudi Aramco sold $6 bn of Dollar-denominated Sukuk (Islamic bonds) perhaps to meet its commitment to pay $75 bn in annual dividend, mostly to the Saudi treasury, its biggest shareholder.

Following economy-related developments took place in individual WANA countries:

  • Lebanese Lira fell to a record low of 15150 to a US Dollar on June 13, having lost 90% of its value since late 2019 when civil unrest began. Earlier on June 2 in a damning report, the World Bank described Lebanon’s economic plight as among the third-worst in the past 150 years, without any armed hostilities: The national economy is likely to shrink by 9.5% in 2021 dragging over half the population below the poverty line. Inflation reached 157.9% in March 2021 when unemployment was 40% and the public debt was 174% of the GDP. In a related development, France became the second country after Switzerland to open an investigation into the conduct of longstanding Governor Salame of the Lebanese Central Bank.
  • Kuwaiti economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020, official sources declared on June 13.
  • There were contradictory signals on the Turkish economy, the WANA region’s largest. While IMF predicted (June 11) it to grow by 5.8% in 2021, the country’s Finance Minister claimed that Q2/21 GDP y/y growth would be 20%. On June 13, President Erdogan announced that Turkey has the forex swap deal with China raised to $6 bn from $2.4 bn – the move made to help the national currency, the Lira which plummeted to a record low of 8.7 to a US Dollar on June 3. After its regular meeting on June 17, the country’s central bank left the bank rate unchanged.
  • On June 17, the UAE Central Bank projected the national economy to grow by 2.4% in 2021 and 3.8% in 2022. On June 22, Dubai repaid $500 mn bonds due on that day, apparently in a bid to showcase its fiscal stability unlike the case in the 2008-09 crisis. While the Dubai government said in 2020 that its debt/GDP level was nearly 28% in 2019, that figure goes up to over 100% if debt raised by government-related entities is taken into consideration. Dubai was hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, which decimated its key tourism, real estate and trade sectors. S&P Global Ratings has estimated the economy shrank by 10.8% last year and that gross domestic product in dollar terms will return to pre-pandemic levels only in 2023. For instance, Emirates Airlines with a revenue loss of 66%, incurred a loss of $5.5 bn in 2020, its first in 33 years of existence. The passenger numbers were the lowest in 20 years. Dubai government had to inject $3 bn into the airlines’ coffers. Among the vote of confidence in Dubai’s future was a commitment by HSBC to earmark $5 bn in corporate lending to help emirate’s economy. 
  • The UAE authorities warned all of it’s nearly half a million firms that unless they disclose their ultimate owners by June 30, they would be subject to heavy penalties. This was done to avoid being put FATF Grey List. In the same vein, the German Finance Minister admitted on June 11 that his country had paid to get the data on tax evasion by the German nationals based in the UAE. 
  • On June 11, Amazon Web Service announced that it would set up a $1 bn data centre in Israel.
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a strategy on June 29 to make the Kingdom a global logistical hub by 2030 when it was expected to make a contribution of $12 bn to the non-oil revenue of the country. As a part of this strategy, a new national airline is to be established with eventually connecting with 250 international destinations and double air cargo capacity to more than 4.5 mn tons.  

III)  Bilateral Developments

  • On June 20 Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Ebrahim Raisi on his victory in Iran’s Presidential elections.
  • EAM Dr S. Jaishankar paid an official visit to Kuwait on June 9-11 during which he was received by Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. His visit was also to mark sixtieth anniversary of establishment of bilateral relations. An MOU on welfare of Indian domestic workers in Kuwait was signed during the visit. The two sides decided to hold the next session of their joint commission before the yearend.
  • On way to Kuwait, EAM had a brief stopover in Doha during which he met Qatar’s NSA Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned.  EAM returned to Qatar on June 15 to meet Qatari NSA and FM as well as the US Special Representative on Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. Subsequent reports in India media indicated that the contacts were to facilitate the direct engagement between India and Afghan Talibans. Further Reading: “Indian delegation met Taliban in Doha, says Qatari official” Suhasini Haidar, The Hindu, June 21; http://go.pardot.com/e/827843/i-official-article34895560-ece/sgwxr/273698752?h=D3qzCs9kUcCz4LKORjEe5j7njnOOeAPCOscvyFyx824
  • An India naval ship INS Trikand held two day exercises on June 18-19 in Gulf of Aden with ships of the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR).  Separately, INS Tabar paid a goodwill visit to the Egyptian port of Alexandria on June 27-28.
  • On June 24 Indian security agencies arrested four students in Thang village of Kargil (Ladakh)  for involvement in a blast outside Israeli embassy in New Delhi on Jan 29 2021.
  • On June 16, three centres of excellence under Indo-Israeli Agricultural Cooperation programme were inaugurated in Karnataka. This takes the total number of such centres to 29 spread in 12 Indian states.
  • On June 24 Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) Chairman Mukesh Ambani  announced at its AGM that Saudi ARAMCO Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan would join the RIL board as an independent director.  This move hinted at an early realisation of a 20% Aramco stake in RIL worth nearly $15 bn initially proposed in 2019. On June 28 RIL indicated discussions with ADNOC on a $2.1 bn chemical plant at Ruwais in the UAE. The final investment decision in this regard is to be taken in 2022. This would be RIL’s first major international foray.
  • India’s Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan had a virtual meeting with OPEC Secretary General Dr Mohammed Barkindo on June 24.
  • India’s sourcing of crude from the Middle East declined to 52.7% of the total imports in May 2021 from 67.9% in the previous month. The imports from Latin America, the US, Mediterranean and Nigeria went up correspondingly. Anecdotal evidence suggested that India’s fuel demand picked up in  June 2021 as second wave of pandemic eased. It was nevertheless still lower than the consumption in June 2019.
  • On June 16, ADQ, an Abu Dhabi state holding company, announced investment of an undisclosed amount in Biju, Indian edutech unicorn.​​​​​​
  • International Cricket Council (ICC) announced on June 29 shifting of 2021 T20 Cricket World Cup from India to the UAE and Oman. The qualifying round of 8 teams would begin from Oct 17 in Oman and the UAE with top four teams joining 8 teams already selected for matches in the UAE. The final would be played on November 14. The tournament was initially given to India but twin issues of taxation and Covid-19 prevalence forced BCCI to relocation. 

 


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(The views expressed are personal)
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About the author

Ambassador Mahesh Sachdev

Former Ambassador of India to Algeria, Norway and High Commissioner to Nigeria and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre 

Ambassador Mahesh Sachdev retired from Indian Foreign Service in October 2013. His 35-year diplomatic career included three Ambassadorial assignments spanning 11 years to Algeria, Norway and Nigeria – all major oil exporters. Nearly half of his diplomatic career was spent dealing with the Middle East. He is fluent in Arabic and knows some French.

Amb. Sachdev is currently the President of Eco-Diplomacy & Strategies, a consultancy in Delhi. He was Founder-President of the UAE-India Business Council and a Consultant to Jamia Millia Islamia University. He has authored two well received “Business Manuals” on Nigeria (Sept 2014; second edition in Oct. 2018) and the UAE (Sept 2016). He comments on strategic, economic and cross-cultural issues in media in India, Gulf and Africa.

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