Al Arabiya TV carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are agreed that the plan to link their power grids will start next year. Even though both countries use considerable amounts of energy — with Saudi Arabia being among the world’s top consumers — the grid makes sense prospectively. Saudi Arabia is planning massive increases in power production over the coming generations with the advent of both solar and nuclear power. The Kingdom is positioning itself as the main energy source for the region in the mid-term future as it also moves forward on plans for a GCC-wide grid.
A project to link the electricity grids of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will start next year at a cost of at least $1.5 billion, officials said on Monday.
“The project will be awarded mid-2015, and take three years to complete,” Saleh al-Awaji, an undersecretary in the kingdom’s Ministry of Water and Electricity, said at an energy technology conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The link would allow the two countries, separated by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to share power during peak periods.
It will cost $1.5-2.0 billion, Awaji told reporters during the 4th Saudi Arabia Smart Grid and Green Energy conference.
With oil prices down 45% since June, the economies of several oil-producing countries are struggling. Saudi Arabia is not one of those.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government is content with current prices and that those prices serve Saudi strategic interests. Not only do low prices penalize countries like Iran and Russia, with whom Saudi Arabia has very real political differences, but it also serves to put a brake on alternative oil production, such as the shale oils that had pushed the US to first place in global oil production.
With close to a trillion dollars in sovereign funds and foreign reserves, the Kingdom can afford to play the long game.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is playing a strategic game by refusing to back a cut in OPEC oil production, lowering international oil prices, according to Gulf-based economists.
The price of oil continued to fall this week after the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast weaker demand in 2015. Brent crude fell to below 63 US dollars per barrel on Friday, its lowest price since July 2009.
Suhail Al-Darraj, a Saudi-based economist, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he expects Brent crude oil to maintain price levels of no less than 60 US dollars per barrel. “We may see prices dip below this level, but not for long. Oil prices have become a major source of concern for many countries and international companies,” he said.
Darraj said that the oil price drop is most affecting countries like Venezuela, Iran and Russia, but is actually serving Saudi Arabia’s interests. “The declining oil prices are serving the strategic interests of the Kingdom, and in my view Saudi Arabia’s oil policy is characterized by a great deal of wisdom,” Darraj said in reference to the ongoing competition between shale and crude oil.
OPEC took the decision not to reduce oil production despite an oversupply in world markets at its annual meeting in late November. Oil prices have fallen sharply since June this year as increasing North American production of shale oil has flooded the market at a time of sluggish economic growth.
Darraj confirmed that many oil companies have stopped, or slowed, oil production due to falling prices. He added that billions of dollars are being lost due to the high cost of shale oil exploration, adding that it will be increasingly difficult for shale oil producers to continue a high level of output due to the accelerating slide in oil prices.
Asharq Alawsat reports on a conference at Al-Azhar in Cairo at which leading Sunni scholars are dancing around how to denounce ISIS without using ISIS’ tactics. One of the hallmarks of ISIS philosophy — along with sheer brutality — is the way it is quick to declare certain Muslims to not be Muslims, takfirism.
So, instead of declaring ISIS to be a group of apostates, the organization has decided that “very bad Muslims” will have to do.
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the country’s leading Sunni religious institute, has issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as apostates.
Takfirism, the practice of one Muslim declaring another to be an apostate, is controversial within Islam. While this is something that is actively practiced by Islamist groups like ISIS, it is generally rejected by adherents of mainstream interpretations of Islam.
“Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins,” Al-Azhar said in a statement in response to comments made by the Mufti of Nigeria during last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Cairo.
During the conference, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb called for joint Islamic efforts to combat ISIS. “Division, strife and polarization are the main tactics extremists are using to divide the Islamic nation,” Tayeb said. He stressed that ISIS militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ in an attempt to export their false Islam.”
The Mufti of Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh Al-Hussaini later issued similar comments during the counter-terrorism conference, saying ISIS are promoting a “false” Islam.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the GCC is considering forming a unified list of terrorists and terrorist organizations, to be based on the list already drawn up by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This should prove interesting as not all countries are agreed on just who should be on the list.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Gulf states are considering adopting the terror lists issued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait’s Interior Minister Sheikh Mohamed Al-Khalid Al-Sabah said on Wednesday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kuwait’s Interior Minister said that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are coordinating with one another to investigate the Saudi and Emirati terror lists with a view to adopting them, confirming that the adoption of a joint terror list was discussed at the recent Doha summit.
Al-Sabah warned against “complacency” in dealing with Gulf security, stressing that combating terrorism is something that no single Gulf country can do alone, but something that all GCC states must work together on.
He hailed GCC efforts to promote regional security and stability, despite the regional and international challenges facing the Gulf, stressing that the GCC states must remain steadfast in the face of attempts to divide them.
The UAE announced a list of illegal terrorist organizations in November, formally designating 80 groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen’s Houthis, as “terrorist groups.” Riyadh had earlier issued its own formal terror list, designating the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and Yemen’s Houthis as terrorist groups, in March. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, have also been formally designated as terrorist groups by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.
Writing at Al-Hayat, and here translated by Al Arabiya TV, Jamal Khashoggi asks that Saudi Minister of Petroleum be more transparent about Saudi Arabia’s decision to not reduce oil production in the face of a worldwide glut and low prices. A result of the OPEC decision to not cut production led to a sharp drop in the Saudi stock market as investors, acting out of fear of the uncertain, decided to pull their money out.
As a result of the essential silence from the Minister, Khashoggi notes, various conspiracy theories have sprouted up. Are the Saudis seeking to hurt Russia and Iran, two political opponents who critically rely on oil sales? Is this an attempt to undercut the burgeoning shale oil industry in the US? Just what’s going on? Perhaps it’s wise to not telegraph every move to the world, but Saudis themselves have interest in the matter. And fears for the future.
Questions that Saudi Arabia’s oil minister may not answer
Why doesn’t Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi address Saudi citizens and explain to them the kingdom’s decision at the recent OPEC meeting to leave the Saudi current output ceiling unchanged despite huge global oversupply? This oversupply has decreased oil prices across the world and caused a similar decrease in the Saudi stock market – expressing the worry of the local economy which knows very well that everything in the country is linked to oil and its prices.
Why doesn’t Naimi talk and reveal what he’s got? His speech to the Saudi people is a speech to the entire world. If he wants to tell the world something, he would’ve done so in Vienna where dozens of journalists and oil experts gathered. However, the minister settled with brief statements. Will he reassure the worried Saudi market if he does speak? Let’s assume he says: “Be patient. We will win in the end. The massive governmental expenditure which the rich among you depend on before the poor, some of which is spent on several businesses you’re involved with, will not be affected. The reserves which you want as a safe fund for your sons and grandchildren will only be slightly affected because this phase necessitates that.” If Naimi says that, will the market be convinced and return to rising? Will this decrease the worry of businessmen?
At a Brussels meeting of foreign ministers of the coalition against ISIS, Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al-Faisal warned that ISIS cannot be defeated without the use of ground troops. He did not say, however, whose troops would have to be involved or under what aegis or authority they would fight in Syria and Iraq. This is a rather large detail.
It would be interesting if the Arab League could pull together a joint army, authorizing it to combat ISIS. It’s even conceivably possible, though unlikely. Waiting for armed forces from outside the region, though, is a matter of “Let’s you and him fight.”
Brussels and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cannot be waged by aerial bombing alone during a speech to representatives of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition on Wednesday.
Speaking to diplomats from more than 60 countries and international organizations at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, the Saudi Foreign Minister said: “We are all well aware that countering terrorism will take a long time and requires continuing effort.”
“Out of the Kingdom’s keenness on the continuation of the cohesion of this coalition and the success of its efforts . . .We believe that this requires the presence of combat troops on the ground,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting was the largest meeting of anti-ISIS coalition foreign ministers since the inception of the alliance. Representatives from more than 60 countries met to discuss the latest developments in the fight against ISIS, and released a statement to continue their efforts to clamp down on the group’s presence in Iraq and Syria.
The Saudi Foreign Minister called for increased efforts to “strengthen the forces of moderation in Syria,” singling out the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate opposition forces in particular.
“This would unite the efforts of these forces to be used to purge the Syrian territory of all terrorist organizations, which occupy one third of Syria,” Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies held sway in yesterday’s meeting of OPEC: there will be no drop in oil production in order to force prices higher. Saudi Gazette carries this Reuter’s report:
VIENNA (Reuters) — Gulf oil producers on Thursday won the case for keeping OPEC output unchanged, overriding calls from poorer members of the exporters’ group for action to halt a slide in crude prices.
Benchmark Brent crude oil fell $3 to its lowest since September 2010, at under $75 a barrel, on expectations that huge global oversupply will build up in coming months. OPEC also decided to meet next on June 5, 2015.
“It was a great decision,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said as he emerged smiling after around five hours of talks.
Asked whether OPEC had decided not to cut production and to roll over existing output policies, he replied: “That is right”.
As OPEC meets in Vienna today, Saudi media are reporting that there will be no decrease in oil production and that the oil market will stabilize itself. With OPEC now controling less than 40% of international oil production, it no longer has the power to unilaterally set prices. The stabilization, though, will come at a price significantly lower than the peak prices seen a while ago and perhaps at just half of what the market bore earlier this year. Oil is currently selling for less than US $80/bbl.
As a result, Arab News reports, Saudi economists are recommending that budgets be planned around an oil price of $40-$50/bbl. That price, a third of peak prices of $145/bbl seen in 2008, will be difficult for some nations to endure. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, will manage it, at least in the short- to medium-term due to extensive sovereign wealth funds that can be drawn upon to make up budget shortfalls.
Saudi budget based on $45 oil price ‘ideal’
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
Saudi economists expect oil prices to decline further in the coming years if producing countries inside and outside the OPEC fail to reach an agreement to stop the downward trend.
They have also advised the government to peg the oil price between $45 and $50 while preparing the national budget for 2015.
“The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries alone cannot determine market prices now because it controls only 40 percent of the market and there are several players with conflicting interests,” Ehsan Buhulaiga, a prominent economist, told Arab News.
He emphasized that the budget would not be affected as long as the price stays above $85 per barrel, adding that the country’s huge reserves would offset the budget.
“The lack of solidarity and vision has weakened the OPEC,” he observed.
OPEC ministers are expected to reach a consensus during their meeting in Vienna on Thursday. Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi believes the market would stabilize itself.
Asharq Alawsat reports on the planned establishment of a GCC-wide police force, designed to share information across borders. The group will focus on drug trafficking, money laundering, computer and financial crimes, and general cross-border criminality.
As long as the group focuses on mutually and clearly defined crimes, this seems like a natural step to be taking. If it starts getting involved in “crimes” that are really just a matter of political opposition, though, it could get ugly.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) interior ministers have issued guidance on establishing a joint Gulf police force, set to be based in Abu Dhabi, to boost security cooperation among member states. The joint GCC police force has been dubbed a “Gulf Interpol” and will seek to promote GCC efforts to combat cross-border criminal activity in the region.
Under the chairmanship of Kuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, GCC interior ministers held their 33rd general meeting in Kuwait City on Wednesday to discuss regional security issues, including the implementation of a joint police force.
In his inaugural speech at the conference, the Kuwaiti Interior Minister said: “We need to lay down a clear-cut strategy for combating all crimes, particularly drug trafficking and money laundering through a concerted effort.”
“The security services and civil society in each country have to join forces in the fight against such crimes as narcotic addiction, money laundering, cyber-crime and, credit card crimes. No country can address this challenge of organized crime alone,” he added.
Arab News runs a story on a report from Vision of Humanity that says 82% of the victim of terrorism are to be found in Muslim countries. The perpetrators are primarily Muslim.
Most of the 18,000 people killed were in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Somalia. Deaths in the rest of the world account for only 16.5% of the total.
A staggering 82 percent of terror-related deaths occurred in five Muslim countries, namely Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in 2013, according to a report published by the Vision of Humanity Foundation.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of terrorist attacks in 2013, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI).
Almost 18,000 people were killed that year, a 61-percent increase from the previous year, the foundation said.
The report pointed out that four organizations — Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS) — were behind most of the terrorist attacks that year.
“About 90 percent of attacks took place in countries with gross human rights violations,” said the report.
The Gulf Cooperation Council has agreed on a minimum set of contract terms for domestic servants across the six countries, Arab News reports. In addition to setting the hours of work and overtime compensation, the agreement notes that employees are to hold their own passports and will be permitted to live outside their place of work.
Minimum wages were not addressed in the agreement.
GCC labor ministers have agreed on minimum terms in the contracts of domestics to improve the widely criticized working conditions of over 2.4 million foreign maids, an official said.
The move comes as these ministers are to meet with their Asian counterparts in Kuwait City this week to discuss the conditions of foreign labor in the region.
The new contract entitles domestics to a weekly day off, annual leave and the right to live outside their employer’s house, the director general of Kuwait’s Public Manpower Authority, Jamal Al-Dossari, told AFP.
It also limits the working day to eight hours.
Asharq Alawsat reports on the statement by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior that identified ISIS as the perpetrator of the murderous attack on a Shi’ite gathering in Al-Ahsa that killed seven. Direct orders for the attack were given by ISIS leadership, the Ministry claims.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has announced that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ordered the attack on a Shi’ite shrine in the small town of Dalwah in the country’s Al-Ahsa governorate earlier this month, which resulted in the deaths of seven Saudi citizens.
Three masked gunmen attacked worshipers at a Shi’ite Husseiniya (meeting house) in the east of the country earlier this month. Riyadh launched a nationwide counterterrorist operation following the attack to track down those responsible, arresting a total of 77 people in successive raids across the country.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Monday that the attack on Dalwah was directly ordered by ISIS, and that the terrorist cell’s leader—as well as three other members of the group—have direct links to the terrorist group that is spreading throughout Iraq and Syria.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said that the unnamed head of the terrorist cell had received specific orders from abroad including the target and timing of the attack.
“ISIS is working to destroy everything that it can to incite fitna and chaos in society and destroy the stability of the Kingdom by targeting innocent citizens, as well as religious figures, government officials and government and security infrastructure,” he said.
“Fitna,” an Arabic term meaning “sedition” or “civil strife,” is often associated with particular religious connotations or conflicts between different religious groups or sects. The attack on Al-Ahsa targeted Saudi Shi’ites, with many observers warning this could set off sectarian violence between Saudi citizens. However, the attack was roundly condemned by Saudi Sunni and Shi’ite religious leaders, who have called for steadfastness and unity in the face of such attacks.
Mshari Al-Zaydi comments on the attack and how it has resulted in a strengthening of national sentiment rather than providing a divisive wedge aimed to split Sunnis from Shi’as within the country. Given the large number of the attackers who had already been arrested for terroristic activities, he suggests that the government may wish to re-evaluate its current approach to dealing with terrorist. Recidivism rates for any rehabilitation program tend to be high, but in the case of terrorism, the costs can be inordinately high.
ISIS and Al-Ahsa
The long-awaited statement from the Saudi Interior Ministry on the attack on the village of Dalwah in the country’s Al-Ahsa province has finally been issued, shedding more light on this horrific crime.
Before we go into this, let me just say that this dangerous crime targeting innocent people in Dalwah sought to incite sectarian conflict in Saudi Arabia. However, it actually ended up having the opposite effect. In the aftermath of the incident we saw popular and official alignment under the banner of national solidarity and the protection of civil peace.
Some well-known figures who have made a habit of sectarian incitement tried via social media to muddy the waters and put forward a false picture of what happened, speculating that this was not a political or terrorist crime, but that it contained personal dimensions. These so-called “preachers” and media figures are like the intellectual writers who appeared during the cultural Sahwa (Islamic Awakening) period in the late 1980s, who thought that what they were doing would make things better, but ultimately had the opposite effect.
It was always clear that the terrorist attack on the village of Dalwah in Al-Ahsa had all the hallmarks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is something that I said openly at the time, when others would preface talk about this crime by saying, “if it turns out to be a terrorist attack in the first place.” This is nonsense; for if it wasn’t ISIS, then who do they think was responsible? The Japanese Red Army? Basque Separatists?