Architecture and urbanism are definitely taking the centre stage in Saudi Arabia’s effort to increase its international outreach and visibility, as exemplified by the Kingdom’s decision to participate, for the first time, to the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture.
The outbreak of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis on 5th June 2017 led to dramatic polarization between United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain plus Egypt and, on the other hand, Qatar, due to Doha’s alternative foreign policy supporting Muslim Brothers’ political ideology, especially during the Arab spring revolts. On the other side of the GCC, Kuwait tries to multiply its mediator efforts and Oman has strengthened its commercial relations with Qatar to avoid its isolation.
The Gulf monarchies have been experiencing deep economic, social and generational changes; at the same time, open rivalries and subtle competitions are undermining the Arab Gulf (khaleeji) identity as a shared value. National history museums, art exhibitions, traditional festivals and military symbols are increasingly adopted by the governments as top-down tools of nation-building. What are the strategies to instil national awareness, and in which direction? How are concepts like citizenship, nationhood and belonging redefined in the post-oil era?
In an official statement on April 14, the emir of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, announced his support for the military council in charge of guiding the post-Bashir transitional period in Sudan. He also promised “to explore the prospects of accelerating aid for the brotherly people of Sudan”.
Yemen’s divided Huthi movement is sending mixed signals to the US. After President Trump vetoed Congress’ bipartisan resolution to end Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen, Mohammed Abdelsalam, the spokesman and top negotiator of the Huthi movement, stated that this proves the Americans were also “behind the [Saudi] decision to go to war” in 2015. “Surely we are interested in having a good relationship with the United States.
Since Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s de facto takeover of Saudi Arabia’s rule, the kingdom has been trying to adapt and adjust to his reformism. From the promotion of Vision 2030, which opened up to top-down socio-economic reforms to an assertive foreign policy – the push for the embargo on Qatar and the conflict in Yemen, above all – the Crown Prince has been in the spotlight both domestically and internationally. While opportunities lie ahead, so do challenges.
In NATO-Gulf monarchies relations, military education is the most effective vector of cooperation. Moreover, individual partnerships work definitely better than a multilateral format. For this reason, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), launched in 2004 as a practical cooperation framework between NATO and some Arab Gulf states (United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait) has showed all its limits so far, slightly changing its nature - or rather adapting - on course.
Since the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990, the Saudi pumped billions of dollars into the reconstruction of Lebanon, employed hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, and supported the country economically, only to watch as Hezbollah grew into a political force to be reckoned with.
On 13 June, the Saudi-led coalition started airstrikes on Hodeida, the biggest urban centre of Yemen’s Western, Red Sea coast. A city of 600.000 inhabitants, Hodeida is controlled by the Iranian-backed Huthi insurgents since 2015.
Six years after the first free elections in Egypt’s post-Arab uprisings era, the Persian Gulf media’s attention to the country’s presidential election has considerably changed. Although the Gulf countries’ political support for Egypt remains unchanged – also expressed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s two-day visit to Cairo earlier this month in which he reaffirmed the highest level of bilateral cooperation – this election appears to be less important for Cairo’s Arab allies.