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Saudi-UAE: Despite turmoil geopolitical goals remain steadfast – Al Jazeera English



The Middle East’s most meaningful alliance between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is currently being tested by economic aspirations, however, both sides continue to share geopolitical agendas.

The relationship between UAE and Saudi Arabia is based not merely on the friendship of their respective rulers, but also on a long-lasting alliance that has survived various crises over the years. But one constant theme has always remained omnipresent.

Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and the UAE share similar geopolitical and foreign policy interests, Yasmina Abouzzohour, visiting fellow at Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera.

“During the 2011 [Arab Spring] uprisings, neither favoured revolutionary movements across the region. They also perceive Iran as a threat to traditional monarchism and Sunni regimes in the region, and both have had tense relations with Turkey,” said Abouzzohour.

Both sides sometimes adopted slightly or moderately different stances on various issues, such as the war in Yemen, the Syrian war, and normalisation with Israel, she said.

In recent years, however, the partnership has gradually turned into a competition. The recent oil dispute is just a final symptom of the fracture, said Abouzzohour.

“Riyadh had decided in February of this year to only award state contracts to companies based in the kingdom. This challenged Dubai’s role as the region’s financial hub.”

‘Competing for investment’

Disagreements over economic aspirations are likely to continue to play a pivotal role in their respective agendas, said Abouzzohour.

“Given their similar economic goals, Saudi Arabia and the UAE may clash as they attempt to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons by developing similar sectors [such as tourism, financial services, and technology], thereby competing for expertise and investment.”

These developments mark a significant change, considering Saudi’s de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) acted as the Middle East’s new leadership duo.

The cause of the current rift, however, is more profound than mere economics, analysts say.

In the past two years, the liaison between MBS and MBZ has increasingly cracked. Initially, both went to war against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen in 2015, and lobbied the United States against the Iran nuclear deal.

Both also imposed an economic blockade on Qatar, which they considered too friendly to Iran, too kind to the Palestinian Hamas movement, and too close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE ceased its fight against the Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen in the summer of 2019 and concentrated only on supporting the separatists in the south. In doing so, Abu Dhabi essentially abandoned Saudi Arabia, whose greatest fear remains a Houthi state on its southern border.

“Although they collaborated closely in many areas such as Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, they were not always fully synchronised. They shared major visions, but when it came to operationalising those ideas, they differed,” Afshin Shahi, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Bradford, told Al Jazeera.

In Yemen, in particular, one witnessed how quickly their partnership turned into competition when UAE carried out air attacks against government forces in south Yemen to support their southern separatist allies, Shahi said.

‘Strongly invested’

In August 2020, the UAE normalised its relations with Israel, essentially undermining the Saudi peace offer for the Middle East conflict – recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian state.

The UAE’s embrace of the Israelis resulted from a long process that was carefully thought through and calibrated, James Worrall, associate professor in international relations and Middle East studies, told Al Jazeera.

The relationship that has emerged so openly has been extensive and far from the half-hearted “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, he said.

“This is a strategic partnership which offers both countries a great deal and has been strongly invested in. Much political capital has been gambled, and thus it is highly unlikely that the Saudis have not been consulted extensively.”

The UAE recognition of Israel and its engagement clearly brings multiple benefits for Riyadh, said Worrall.

Nonetheless, most recently the Saudi-UAE rift was further exacerbated when the kingdom decided it would exclude imports from “free zones”, or those linked to Israel, from a preferential tariff agreement with neighbouring Gulf Arab countries.

Essentially, what the Saudis have done is to alter their laws – given their lack of recognition of Israel and continuing boycott of Israeli goods – to ensure that goods produced by Israeli companies in the Emirates do not benefit from preferential tariff agreements that the kingdom has with the UAE, said Worrall.

The rationale behind it is apparent.

“It would be difficult for Riyadh’s legitimacy at home for it to see a flood of products made by Israeli-owned companies on its shelves,” he said.

‘Return to the norm’

In view of these developments, the question now is how the relationship between the two Gulf powers will unfold geopolitically in the region.

“What we see now – and indeed have been seeing for a few years in terms of differing priorities and approaches within the Yemen quagmire – is more of a return to the norm of not only Saudi-Emirati relations, but also of how Gulf states interact more generally,” said Worrall.

All GCC states seek to manage complex relationships with Riyadh and deploy multiple tools to maintain a degree of independence of action, he noted.

“Saudi Arabia is a dominant actor, but none of the five other GCC member states can afford to have Riyadh being too dominant and overbearing. This necessitates strategies of hedging, bandwagoning, and balancing,” Worrall said.

While the events of recent weeks – especially in terms of more public disunity between the UAE and Saudi Arabia than is typical in the context of OPEC+ and specific Saudi moves to challenge the dominance of the UAE, especially Dubai as a regional hub – are not insurmountable issues, it is always going to be a challenge in the Gulf because of the similarities of various strategies and vision documents for economic diversification and reform.

The core concerns of both sides – namely containing Iran, countering the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, dealing with “terrorist” threats, and cooperating to preserve dynastic rule in the region – “all remain exactly the same”, Worrall concluded.

The divergence in a range of policies between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has its roots both in the international environment – especially the arrival of the Biden administration – and in the evolving dynamics within the region, which are seen differently by the leaderships in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Gerd Nonneman, professor of international relations and Gulf studies at Georgetown University-Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

Firstly, Iran does not hold the same priority for both sides, Nonneman noted.

“While both remain distrustful of the Iranian regime, Riyadh has judged it both necessary and feasible to figure out a modus vivendi with Tehran, while for Abu Dhabi the most important threat was always the Muslim Brotherhood and those aligned with or sympathetic to it.”

Within the UAE, there has been constant pressure from Dubai against the all-out anti-Iranian policy that prevailed for some time, based on the Emirate’s significant commercial interests in trade with Iran, and the large Iranian and Iranian-origin community in Dubai, Nonneman said.

‘Forced to go along’

Then there is the ongoing uncertainty regarding Gulf neighbour Qatar.

“On Qatar, the Saudi judgement was that the boycott had been a failure and was not worth continuing in the face of US opposition. MBZ has been more resistant to adjusting his stance but was in effect forced to go along as remaining the sole holdout was pointless, especially also under US disapproval,” said Nonneman.

Last but not least, the Yemen war and the UAE’s strategic realignment also play a significant factor.

“The divergence in Yemen policy, too, long predates the current partial rift between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – with the latter having judged some time ago that the military operation in the middle and north was failing and was unwinnable. Whereas they decided they could more effectively shape the situation in the south, without a massive boots-on-the-ground presence,” Nonneman said.

While the UAE did add to the elements of friction with Saudi Arabia, it has not fundamentally changed attitudes towards the questions of Iran, Yemen or Qatar.

“Shifts in policy towards Iran have been a cause, not a symptom, of the evolving divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Saudi attempts to achieve a modus vivendi with Iran will continue, and Abu Dhabi, too, will continue to look to achieve a pragmatic arrangement with Tehran,” Nonneman said.

As to the effect of the current friction on the war in Yemen, Nonneman sees little change moving forward, either.

“The divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in that theatre will remain as it already was.”

As for Qatar, the question of reconciliation will be no different from that of the earlier divergence between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi since the beginning of 2021.

“Abu Dhabi will quite likely continue to drag its feet and continue to needle Qatar, including by media and lobbying campaigns, but will not formally go against the Al-Ula agreement,” said Nonneman.

“Now as before, it remains pointless and likely counterproductive to try and reestablish elements of the [Qatar] boycott on its own.”

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Dutch Teen Who Went to Space With Jeff Bezos Told Him He’s Never Bought Anything on Amazon – Gizmodo



New Shepard lifts off from Launch Site One in West Texas with four humans on board. (July 20, 2021)

The award for “Best Small Talk on a Flight to Space” goes to Oliver Daemen, the 18-year-old from the Netherlands who was part of Blue Origin’s inaugural crewed flight to space earlier this week. On the roughly 10-minute flight, Daemon told Amazon founder Jeff Bezos what probably sounded like blasphemy to his billionaire ears: He had never bought anything on Amazon.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Daemen recounted his first flight to space, from when he got the call asking him if he was interested to the conversations he had with his crewmates, which included Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk. Daemen, whose father is the CEO of a private equity firm in the Netherlands, became the youngest person to ever fly to space, while Funk became the oldest.

The teen also holds the distinction of surprising Bezos, whose Amazon empire has made him one of the richest men in the world.

“I told Jeff, like, I’ve actually never bought something from Amazon,” Daemen told Reuters. “And he was like, ‘oh, wow, it’s [been] a long time [since] I heard someone say that.’”

Considering that Bezos thanked “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer” for making the flight possible after he and the crew returned to Earth, Daemen’s comments may have been a little awkward. However, it’s nice (and kind of funny) to hear that someone was frank with him. Bezos no doubt has enough people telling him that Amazon is God’s gift to humanity, so it’s cool to see one of the youths set him straight.

Daemen wasn’t originally supposed to go on the flight with Bezos and crew. He was offered the opportunity after the winner of the online auction for the seat, whose identity is still unknown and who paid a whopping $28 million for it, said they couldn’t go because of “scheduling conflicts.” Daemen, who was a participant in the auction and had already secured a spot on the second flight, was then moved up on the list. His father, Joes Daemen, paid for the seat.

According to Daemen, his family didn’t pay anything near what the mysterious bidder paid for the opportunity.

“We didn’t pay even close to $28 million, but they chose me because I was the youngest and I was also a pilot and I also knew quite a lot about it already,” he said.

The teen, who will begin his studies at Utrecht University in September, said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do professionally, but would consider focusing on space travel. He also told the outlet that his fellow travelers were “super fun and all down to Earth.” Well, considering Daemen’s referring to a man that wants to stupidly move all polluting industry into space, I’m not sure I’m sold on that.

Congratulations on the award for that great small talk, though.

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Several Ontario mass vaccination clinics wind down as focus shifts to smaller sites – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



The Canadian Press

Published Friday, July 23, 2021 1:37PM EDT

Last Updated Friday, July 23, 2021 1:37PM EDT

Several mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics across Ontario are winding down as first-dose registrations wane and communities shift their focus to smaller venues.

The large clinics held in local arenas, hospitals and recreation centres across the province have been a key part of the vaccine rollout that began in the winter.

Now that first-dose vaccination coverage has hovered at around 80 per cent for adults provincewide, many health units are beginning the transition to smaller, more targeted vaccination approaches.

“Our large-scale clinics are ending because they are no longer filling up,” the Northwestern Health Unit, which covers the city of Kenora, Ont., and surrounding communities, said in a statement this week as its mass clinics wrapped up operations. “Once they are over, we will provide the vaccine in our offices and at smaller clinics in the community.”

Grey Bruce, a current hot spot for the more infectious Delta COVID-19 variant, is also shutting down its mass clinics at the end of the month to return the large sites for community use.

The health unit is advising people with shots booked for August and beyond to reschedule, and is offering smaller clinics across the region that includes several rural areas.

People living in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph region were urged this week to seek out their shots before the local health unit starts closing mass clinics the week of Aug. 6.

“I encourage people to take advantage of the thousands of available appointments at our clinics before we move to the next phase,” Rita Isley, director of community health for the region, said in a statement. “These last few weeks of our mass clinics are the easiest way to get your shot.”

The health unit said it will shift to small clinics and pop-ups “into the fall” after the last of the large clinics close on Aug. 20.

Larger cities are also following the trend, with Mississauga, Ont., aiming to close a convention centre used as a vaccination site on Monday, with another hospital clinic closing the next day.

Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the transition away from mass clinics is part of the city’s focus on bringing vaccines to the least-immunized communities, with more emphasis planned on pop-ups, drive-thru clinics and primary care sites.

“This is a good news story and it shows that our mass vaccination clinics have done their job getting the majority of our people vaccinated,” Crombie told reporters on Thursday.

“We can now look at this period as the home stretch of our initial vaccine rollout to get to that final 10 to 20 per cent of our population and ensure that they, too, are vaccinated.”

​Kingston, Ont.’s health unit announced last week that it would enter a “new phase” of its vaccination effort, with plans to shut down mass clinics beginning in August and shift to pharmacy, mobile and primary care sites.

Mass clinics in the London, Ont., will see reduced hours in the coming weeks amid dwindling demand, the health unit announced this week. It said immunizations have sped up and many people have moved up their second-dose appointments that were scheduled for the fall, meaning the large sites won’t be needed.

“As the health unit turns its focus to individuals in the community, the vaccination effort will rely on mobile and walk-in pop-up clinics, as well as providing opportunities to be vaccinated at community events,” the Middlesex-London Heath Unit said in a statement.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said earlier this month that primary care sites would become more essential to the province’s vaccination plan as mass clinics at hospitals, stadiums and other large venues wind down and resume their old uses.

A spokeswoman for Elliott said targeted vaccination strategies will play a greater role going forward as the province aims to reach vaccine hesitant communities.

“The province is working with the public health units to improve vaccination rates through mobile clinics and community-based pop-ups, dedicated clinic days for people with disabilities, holding townhall meetings in multiple languages, and providing services such as transportation, translation services, and drive-through clinics,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement on Friday.

The Grey Bruce health unit noted this week that its local COVID-19 situation is now a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” a trend documented around the world.

The health unit says 95 per cent of cases reported in the first two weeks of July were among people not fully vaccinated, and encouraged people to get their shots, noting that it’s likely that vaccinated people may be subject to fewer restrictions such as isolation rules in the event of future outbreaks.

“Vaccinating the majority of people sets us on the road to return to normal,” it said.

Ontario reported 192 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and one death from the virus. Sixty-six per cent of Ontario adults are now fully vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2021.

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Will Doug Ford’s opposition to vaccine passports survive the fall? – TVO



The Ontario COVID-19 Science Table issued a brief earlier this week laying out the arguments in favour of some kind of “vaccine certificate” system for domestic use in Ontario: a more rigorous kind of proof of vaccination than the receipts people are currently issued that could be used to exclude the unvaccinated from the highest-risk non-essential places, such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and theatres.

There is one problem — one expressly conceded in the document: the authors note that they can’t say with scientific confidence that such certificates would reduce COVID-19 transmission or increase vaccination uptake. It’s still a novel pandemic, after all.

“You also have to remember this is a new virus, and population-wide coverage of these vaccines is also new,” says co-author Karen Born, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. She acknowledges that the case for certificates — more commonly known as vaccine passports — can’t cite peer-reviewed literature to make the case yet, because it doesn’t exist. But, she says, “just because there’s no evidence to date doesn’t mean we can’t make that pragmatic case.”

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In the absence of iron-clad, gold-standard evidence, we can look to other provinces, such as Quebec and Manitoba, and to other countries — both Italy and France have announced they intend to implement a vaccine-certificate system.

But the most compelling case might be Israel, where the government relied on a form of vaccine certificate, the “Green Pass,” earlier this year to control access to some non-essential places while implementing a comprehensive vaccination of its population. The Green Pass was suspended on June 1. But on Thursday, in the face of a higher rate of new cases, the government announced it would return, terming it a policy of “soft suppression.”

(For those people who insist that we need to “learn to live with the virus”: that’s exactly what Israel says such measures are in service of: we’re allowed to choose how we live, intelligently, with a new endemic virus.)

While Israel has a higher share of its population fully vaccinated than Canada or Ontario, it’s still vulnerable to new pandemic waves. Although Ontario is currently seeing low numbers of cases and falling hospitalizations, it’s not hard to sketch out how a resurgence of COVID-19 could happen here in the next few months: the province will likely enter whatever comes after Step 3 in August, and both public schools and post-secondary education will resume in September. Many employers will start calling their workers back to offices in the fall, and all of these things will lead to increased spread of the disease.

Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health, has said he expects a new wave of infections in the fall. That’s in part why he repeatedly urges people to get their shots — to try to minimize the severity of a potential fourth wave.

True, the vaccines mean that cases are far less likely to turn into hospitalizations and deaths. But they haven’t changed one crucial thing: it takes only 300 or so people in Ontario’s intensive-care units to start delaying hospital procedures, and we’ve barely started to dig out from the procedure backlog that built up over the past 18 months. There are more than 4.5 million people currently unvaccinated in Ontario as of today; nearly 275,000 of those are over the age of the 60, according to the province’s daily data release. COVID-19 could still throw a wrench into our hospital system if spread isn’t controlled.

And what would the government do if ICU cases were to start creeping north of 200 again in the fall and show no sign of slowing? (Friday’s number is 136.) Another round of broad-spectrum lockdowns would overwhelmingly punish the large majority of people who’ve done the right thing and gotten their shots. It would also rightly enrage businesses that are just starting to get their customers back after a brutal year. Born cites gyms as an example of the kind of business that could be saved by a vaccine certificate in the event of a fourth wave. Movie theatres, already chafing under what they call “arbitrary and unreasonable” restrictions, are another example.

“This could allow for a faster reopening and also allow for increased capacity in those settings,” Born says. “We’re looking at places where certificates should be used and also where they shouldn’t — lower-risk settings and essential settings.”

It doesn’t make sense to let needed medical care be postponed once again in this pandemic because we didn’t maximize our vaccination coverage, especially given that a vaccine certificate could be implemented relatively quickly — we know that the province did the work to develop a digital pass before deciding to abandon the idea.

“It’s either, let’s do a shutdown, let’s close businesses and schools, or let’s lean into this kind of framework,” says Born. “The alternative is closures that we’re all familiar with at this point.”

Not only has the government failed to implement any kind of rigorous proof-of-vaccination policy; it also hasn’t clarified the legal rights of businesses or employers with respect to unvaccinated customers and employees, creating a fog of confusion that helps nobody (except anti-vaxxers).

Vaccine passes raise legitimate civil-rights concerns, and they should obviously be implemented carefully and thoughtfully; the science table’s brief has important advice on how to do that. When Premier Doug Ford says that it’s a constitutional right to take the vaccine or not, he’s not wrong. But the freedom not to be vaccinated should not require the rest of us — or the province’s hospital system — to be held hostage to people’s refusals. And it’s difficult to believe that a government that has compelled the speech of businesses to attack the federal Liberals and prohibited the speech of unions for its own electoral advantage is making a sincere defence of Ontarian’s Charter rights here. In any event, a vaccine certificate is arguably a less intrusive public-health measure than broader lockdowns.

That, then, is the logic behind calls for a vaccine passport: the government shouldn’t let a fourth wave delay needed medical care in our hospitals, and it shouldn’t use the blunt instrument of new lockdowns again. A vaccine certificate would give the Tories a smarter, more targeted alternative — if they’re willing to use it.

So far, Ford has made his position clear: he isn’t considering a vaccine passport. But events could very well press the issue by October, and then he and his cabinet would have a choice. Since I think they’ll end up flip-flopping on this issue out of simple necessity, it would be best if they’d do that sooner rather than later.

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