Neil Quilliam

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, UAE during a visit to discuss oil production following price rises due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Stefan Rousseau - Pool/Getty Images.

Despite overtures from world leaders, OPEC+ stuck with its s current agreement on 31 March to increase production by just over 400kbd per month until August – given the only countries which are capable of lifting output by any significant amount at present are Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and they are definitely not going to budge. News that the White House is about to authorize the release of 180 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) will only harden minds.

The pair’s reluctance to pump more to help those countries still too dependent on Russian energy has been heavily scrutinized, and largely attributed to their dissatisfaction with the Biden administration in the US for not providing adequate security guarantees.…  Seguir leyendo »

A sticker of US president Joe Biden satirically placed at a gas station pointing at the price of gasoline. Photo by Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A short and productive November meeting saw OPEC+ quickly trot out a series of eloquently crafted messages which emphasized that, in spite of rising oil prices and short-term growth demand, the group would be holding firm to its current production plans.

Each communique chimed soundly with the chief cheerleader Saudi energy minister Abdelaziz bin Salman Al Saud’s (AbS) lengthy exposition of the meeting where he made it clear OPEC+ would only increase production by 400kbd per month – as agreed in July – and resist the pressure from the US or other major consuming countries to pump more.

AbS argued that because global demand will ease off and inventories start to fill in December and Q1 of 2022, the market will find a natural balance to serve interests of producers and consumers alike.…  Seguir leyendo »

A local woman photographs a US soldier with her children while on patrol near the Turkish border in northeastern Syria. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

The Biden administration has already given indications it is willing to look away from Gulf Arab states reviving relations with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad rather than actively prevent them from doing so. This marks a slight but significant shift in US policy, as represented by the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.

With Washington showing a diminished appetite for enforcing Syria’s isolation – including through military means – some Arab countries are starting to bring Syria in from its diplomatic isolation.

In recent months, Gulf Arab states – notably, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia – have deepened their engagement with the Syrian government, though to varying degrees and in pursuit of different goals.…  Seguir leyendo »

Climbing on empty oil drums at a warehouse in Narayanganj, Bangladesh. Photo by Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

It was little surprise that Saudi Arabia and the UAE eventually reached a compromise on OPEC production and baselines, despite the high drama at the latest OPEC ministerial. What was surprising, though, was the public nature of the disagreement and the willingness of UAE officials to joust so vigorously with their Saudi counterparts in international media, leading to energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman playing much more ‘a la guerre’ than ‘a plaisance’.

OPEC has had its fair share of drama over the years. Nevertheless, the fact that the two erstwhile allies who have worked closely on finessing the cartel’s policies for decades and, since 2015, co-ordinated on a range of regional policies – Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and, until recently, Iran – would air their dirty laundry in public, gives pause for thought.…  Seguir leyendo »

Observation deck of the Dubai Frame, which is positioned so visitors can see landmarks of modern Dubai from one side, while older parts of the city are seen from the other. Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.

The recent doom and gloom between UAE and Saudi Arabia appears to be lifting as both sides soften – there is nothing more sobering than demand destruction looming on the horizon – but unless the hardwired distance between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is bridged, further OPEC+ negotiations could be derailed and a period of uncapped price volatility ushered in.

This is the second time the UAE has made clear its displeasure with the rudiments of the April 2020 production agreement – the first time was following the November OPEC meeting – and it is hard to imagine either Emiratis or Saudis backing down from their fundamental positions at the next OPEC Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) and set of ministerial meetings.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thousands of people attend an emergency rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people outside Downing Street, on 11 May 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images.

Statements by UK officials during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas did little to inspire confidence among Arab partners and their publics, most of whom expected Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to do more than reach for worn-out idioms. There is a growing expectation that as Global Britain emerges from the shadows of the EU and seeks to deepen economic ties and sign trade deals, especially with partners old and new, it will also develop a more robust foreign policy.

However, in the case of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it left many partners feeling disappointed – even disillusioned – as it offered nothing new.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein holds a joint press conference with his counterparts, Jordan's Ayman Safadi (L) and Egypt's Sameh Shoukry, at the ministry in the capital Baghdad, on 29 March 2021. Photo by SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images.

Alliances in the Middle East come and go, often shaped and determined by regional competition and international intervention. The past few years have seen the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, the reconciliation between the GCC states following a four-year rift, and the once-strong Saudi-UAE partnership, built on close ties between crown princes Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman, come under pressure.

An emerging regional alliance worth watching is that of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, which brings together the region's 'odd fellows'. Egypt has lost its place as the region's so-called centre of gravity, Jordan was sidelined during the Trump era and has since, arguably, lost its unique selling point as an interlocutor for peace to the UAE and Bahrain, while Iraq left the Arab fold long ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Paddle boarders in the Red Sea close to the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company's (EAPC) oil terminal at Eilat, a destination for Emirati crude oil under a new UAE-Israeli deal. Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images.

Although the jury remains out on whether the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) Murban oil futures contract will become the new regional benchmark, it does reveal Abu Dhabi’s clear vision of its future and the role hydrocarbons are going to continue to play in it.

Only time will tell, but setting up the Murban contract to launch on Abu Dhabi-based exchange ICE Futures is certainly part of ADNOC’S strategy to displace S&P Global Platts monthly crude price assessments and ‘hold the pen’ on the emirate’s oil future, leveraging its hydrocarbon endowment to the full.

The futures trading platform tests the market appetite for Murban, which looks promising and, if successful, helps Abu Dhabi consolidate its position as a major producer in a shrinking oil market as well as again call into question the UAE's commitment to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – unclear since December’s Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee.…  Seguir leyendo »

Leaders of the GCC countries pose for a photo during the 41st summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021. Photo by Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

US-GCC relations

Sanam Vakil

The departure of the Trump administration will be felt across the GCC as the incoming Biden administration is expected to change US policy on Iran, renew conflict management efforts in Yemen and prioritize human rights concerns. President Trump, whose first foreign trip in office was to Riyadh, was well received in the Gulf for his maximum pressure campaign against Tehran, support for Saudi Arabia’s position in the Yemen war and defence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Trump administration’s role in facilitating the normalization of ties between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel will also be warmly remembered by Gulf states.…  Seguir leyendo »

Meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 23, 2020. Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images.

The G20 summit in November was to be a moment when the world focused its attention on Saudi Arabia. As the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies came together for the first time in an Arab capital and presided over the world’s greatest challenges and opportunities, King Salman would have taken centre stage with his son and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman not far behind in the spotlight.

However this will now be a virtual summit, and that is probably a blessing in disguise for the kingdom and its leadership which has not enjoyed a good year. It shares responsibility for crashing the price of oil, which, in conjunction with COVID-19, has brought the global economy to its knees.…  Seguir leyendo »

Palestinians watch the televised press conference of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu on 28 January 2020 at a barber shop in Gaza City. Photo: Getty Images.

The view from the Gulf

Neil Quilliam

There has been no coordinated response among states of the GCC, but the messages have been universal, and surprisingly each one has welcomed US efforts to restart peace talks and praised this particular US administration for doing so. But in each case, the same set of issues and concerns has been highlighted, namely the status of Jerusalem, the situation of refugees and ultimately a simple absence of a revival contiguous Palestinian state.

While much has been made of younger Gulf generation’s apparent disconnect from the emotive issues around Palestinian statehood, the state of Jerusalem and the larger refugee issue, older leaders in the Gulf continue to pay them heed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi men relax on a fishing pier in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Getty Images.

Although the position of Saudi women within society quite rightly draws media attention, young Saudi men for the most part remain a silent mass, their thoughts and views rarely heard outside of the kingdom. But new research conducted in Saudi Arabia by Mark C Thompson, including 50 focus group discussions and interviews and surveys of over 5,000 young men from diverse backgrounds, reveals intriguing new insight into their views on subjects including gender segregation, identity, education, employment and marriage, as well as political participation and exclusion.

As 78% of the workforce, the views of Saudi men are crucial to the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to help break the kingdom’s dependency on oil and, at the same time, diversify the economy towards important growth sectors, such as retail, health, IT, communications, tourism and education.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi Arabia's state-owned company, Saudi Aramco, has its Shaybah oilfield situated among desert dunes in the Rub' Al-Khali desert. Photographer: Photo: Bloomberg

What role does energy play today in the shifting geopolitics of the Middle East particularly in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Libya?

Interestingly, energy doesn’t play much of a role in Syria because the country is not an important energy player. There is some public speculation that Syria sits on a large energy resource base, both onshore and offshore, but I think those expectations are misplaced.

It's commonplace to think of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent US-led coalition to liberate Kuwait as being predicated on ‘freeing up the oil’. Similarly, the war in Iraq in 2003 has been characterized – mischaracterized in my opinion – as a ‘grab for oil’.…  Seguir leyendo »

Daniela Tejada, wife of Matthew Hedges, speaks outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on 22 November. Photo: Getty Images.

The pardoning of a British student sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for spying has been welcomed by the UK government. But the balance of power between the countries is changing.

The imprisonment of Matthew Hedges posed a real dilemma for the UK. It had to decide whether to stand up to the UAE, a country with which it does £15 billion of trade, or cave in and risk the perception that it is now the junior partner in the relationship.

Its strong response - and the fact Hedges can now return home - is testament to the UK's diplomatic weight; this time the UAE flinched.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portrait Mohammed bin Salman appears during a show at the King Fahad stadium in Riyadh as a part of celebrations of Saudi National Day on 23 September. Photo: Getty Images.

There is no doubt that the disappearance and likely death of Jamal Khashoggi will now damage Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US and Europe, should Riyadh be found responsible. (And as yet, Saudi Arabia has done little to convince that it is not responsible.)

They are already trading barbs. Donald Trump has said that Saudi Arabia will be ‘severely punished’ if found responsible for Khashoggi’s death, and while he has since walked back some of his remarks, leading Republicans are pushing for a strong response. Meanwhile, the Saudi commentator Turki al-Dhakheel claimed in an Al-Arabiya column that ‘more than 30 potential measures’ are being discussed by the kingdom as responses to potential sanctions.…  Seguir leyendo »

An official looks through the door of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi went missing after visiting the consulate on 2 October. Photo: Getty Images.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate remains unclear, but one thing appears certain – he has been ‘disappeared’. While it will require an investigation to establish the facts, the implications of Khashoggi’s disappearance are clear.

The new Saudi leadership is now intolerant of all dissent – home or abroad. US policy has inadvertently given carte blanche to the leadership to act with impunity. The kingdom’s international partners have very little leverage over its domestic or foreign policies. And confidence among international investors is nosediving and – without a drastic change in policy – will undermine Vision 2030.

Irrespective as to whether he has been killed or transported back to Saudi Arabia, the move has laid down an indelible marker that the new Saudi leadership will brook no criticism of its transformation project Vision 2030 – levelled from within or outside the kingdom.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Getty Images.

Total’s agreement to re-enter Iran after an absence of five years is a major boon for former US president Barack Obama’s landmark nuclear deal reached in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1. The deal is significant because it signals Total’s confidence in the Iranian market in spite of growing anti-Iranian rhetoric in Washington, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which aims to further isolate Iran and actively discourage international businesses from investing in the country. As an energy deal, it is not groundbreaking, and is unlikely to unlock the floodgates and lead to an early rush of international businesses entering Iran. But it does carry with it an opportunity to embolden President Hassan Rouhani’s economic reform agenda and strengthen the hands of the moderates.…  Seguir leyendo »

5 March: US convoy on the outskirts of Manbij in Syria. Photo: Getty Images.

To many, Western policy towards Syria over the past six years – to the extent there has been coherent action – looks largely a failure. Russia and Iran (and now Turkey) have won both diplomatic and military battles in Syria and now appear in place to shape the eventual outcome in their interests – game over.

But look closer, and Western powers – specifically the US, the EU, the UK and France – still retain some leverage. If applied effectively – and that is a huge if – they could still shape the final political settlement, support an inclusive reconstruction process, tackle extremism and help alleviate the refugee crisis.…  Seguir leyendo »