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Yusuf Dhia-Allah

Although inevitable, nothing scares people more than death. Almost everyone wants to live forever even though they know that is impossible. The fear of death is particularly strong among people that are used to a life of luxury and opulence. They simply cannot give up on the pleasures of the dunya, fearing that there will be reckoning on the other side.

Take the case of the Bani Saud. At least 150 members of the clan—and perhaps many more—have been infected by the coronavirus, according to reports from the medieval kingdom. Some people would say, about time! The highest-ranking member is Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abd al-Aziz, the Governor of Riyadh. He is in the intensive care unit of King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, according to The New York Times, which cited hospital communications, doctors in the country and sources familiar with the family. He is in his seventies.

Early last month as news of the royals’ infection broke out, doctors at an elite hospital that treats royals were instructed to prepare 500 more beds for an expected influx of patients. “Directives are to be ready for VIPs from around the country,” the operators of the elite facility, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, wrote in a “high alert” sent out electronically on April 7 to senior doctors. A copy was later obtained by the

“We don’t know how many cases we will get but high alert,” said the message, which instructed “all chronic patients to be moved out ASAP” and only “top urgent cases” will be accepted, according to the [i]Times[/i]. The racism in this directive is clearly evident. The Bani Saud clan must get priority over other citizens. These uncouth Bedouins demand special treatment as if they own the kingdom. It takes gall.

Other clan members have taken drastic steps to try and prevent getting infected. There is no guarantee they are not already infected. The virus has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days before its effects are known. The globe-trotting Saudi royals are believed to have caught the pathogen while traveling to Europe. This is how AIDS was brought into the kingdom 20 years ago. Members of the royal family who regularly frequent brothels in Europe, became HIV-infected and returned home with AIDS.

The aged and ailing King Salman, who is believed to be 86, and crown prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) have both gone into hiding. The king has been moved to a remote island in the Red Sea for ‘protection’! Suffering from dementia and multiple other ailments, it is doubtful whether he has much time left on earth. Bearing in mind that the majority of people that have died of COVID-19 in Italy, Spain and France were in their eighties, King Salman is in the appropriate age group for transfer to the other side. Did he move to the remote island for the awaited rendezvous with the Angel of Death?

There is a story related to the time of Prophet Sulaiman (as) that may just apply to King Salman. A courtier in the Prophet’s court was terrified that another man was staring at him intently. He requested the Prophet-King who had power over Jinns, to move him to a remote island where nobody lived. Prophet Sulaiman fulfilled his wish and then turned to the man that was staring at him to inquire the reason for doing so. “I am the Angel of Death,” said the ‘man’. “Allah ordered me to take that man’s[i] ruh[/i] at the remote island yet I found him sitting here. I was wondering how I would fulfill Allah’s command but he himself asked to be sent there.” Has Salman just moved to a similar remote island? Whether the coronavirus kills him, or he dies of old age or the myriad other ailments he is afflicted with, we are likely to find out fairly soon, [i]insha’Allah[/i]. 

As for MbS, he has also gone into[i] purdah[/i] in a palace in Jeddah. This must be very hard for him since, like his master in the White House, MbS is a publicity hog. He likes to be in front of every camera and microphone and wants to be seen shaking hands with people. COVID-19 has demolished all these publicity gimmicks. Would MbS be able to escape encounter with COVID-19? Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah has warned that the country’s coronavirus battle is only just beginning, predicting “a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000” infections. 

The country has been put under total lockdown with most cities under 24-hour curfew. All flights in and out of the country are banned. The two sacred mosques—Masjid al Haram and Masjid al Nabawi—are also closed as are all other mosques in the kingdom. People are barred from venturing out except for absolutely essential services such as food and medicines. Ramadan is a favourite month for Muslims to perform Umrah—the lesser pilgrimage. Makkah is packed with pilgrims, especially in the last ten days of Ramadan. Not this year; it has the deserted look of a ghost town. All hotels are shut down, as are restaurants and other places where pilgrims would usually flock. The regime will not only lose billions of dollars in pilgrimage revenues but also in lost business. From Hajj alone the regime earns about $33 billion annually. It appears increasingly unlikely that Muslims would be able to perform Hajj this year.

Given the sharp decline in oil prices, largely the result of regime’s own faulty policies, as well as shutdown of global trade because of the pandemic, the regime is heading for a financial crash. This will add to regime woes since it would no longer have the money to buy people’s loyalty or silence. It is certain that the regime would be forced to resort to more brutal tactics to browbeat people into submission.

Oppression may not work under the present circumstances. If people cannot get food and begin to see their loved ones dying before their eyes, they will lose the fear of death. MbS’ erratic policies have already antagonized a lot of people. The crisis created by the pandemic may just prove the straw that broke the Bani Saud camel’s back.


With a dramatic fall in the price of oil and the global economy slowing down, Gulf countries find themselves in a crunch.

Plunging oil prices and the deepening fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is a double blow to Gulf governments as they seek to protect their energy-dependent economies. In 2014, the last time the price of oil saw a drastic collapse, Gulf countries comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE slashed subsidies, introduced new taxes and undertook policies to diversify their oil-dependent economies.

With much of the global economy now in tatters and most economies pumping in money to stimulate economic activity, Gulf countries have little room to engage in painful reforms. The largesse that Gulf citizens have become accustomed to may see a curtailment which could result in political instability for the absolute monarchies. A Bloomberg financial analyst has warned that an economic recovery amongst the six Gulf countries could look “L shaped” for years to come amidst an oncoming global economic slowdown.  Coronavirus cases are rising in the Gulf countries, with Qatar leading in daily infection rates. (TRTWorld)

Saudi Arabia
As the largest economy in the Gulf and the world's biggest producer of oil, Saudi Arabia, has seen its finances stretched in recent years as the country’s young and inexperienced Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salaman (MBS) has taken over the reins of power. The Saudi war on Yemen, launched in 2015, has seen the country bogged down in an unwinnable war even as the humanitarian crisis in the country goes from bad to worse.  A recent unilateral ceasefire by the Saudi government in its war against the Houthis, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, may ultimately incentivise Riyadh to enter into negotiations and end its costly war.

The Saudi economy in recent years has also been battered by a cold conflict with Iran, which briefly turned hot when 50 percent of the country’s oil supply was knocked out by drone strikes with some pointing the finger at Iran. A blockade against Qatar, the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi, internal crackdowns on the Saudi elite and civil society has frightened foreign investors and tarnished the country’s image. The UN’s World Investment Report for 2019 noted that while Foreign Direct Investment to Saudi Arabia rose from $1.4 billion in 2017 to $3.2 billion in 2018, it is still significantly lower than the 2008 peak of $39 billion.

 The price of oil is far below what many Gulf countries need in order to balance their budgets. (TRTWorld)   “Political factors and lower oil prices were largely responsible for lower than usual FDI flows to Saudi Arabia,” the report said.  In 2019, the MBS government announced the largest budget in Saudi history at $295 billion in a bid to push through reforms and investment programmes. That was largely based on assumptions about the price of oil that no longer hold.
MBS’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan which aimed to modernise the country's economy has also been derided as a “white elephant” and now as the world and Saudi Arabia grapple with the coronavirus, it looks set to be a mirage.

A recent announcement to triple the value-added tax (VAT) from five to 15 percent are initial instalments in what may eventually amount to painful austerity measures for the country.
Initially introduced two years ago in a bid to reduce reliance on oil revenues, the VAT may now also hurt consumer spending. The country's tourism and religious pilgrimage industry will also likely suffer this year. Hajj and Umrah, religious rituals undertaken by Muslims bring in more than $12 billion to the kingdom every year contributing 20 percent to the non-oil GDP of the country, and around 7 percent of the total GDP.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report in 2019 painted a stark picture of the financial deterioration facing the Kingdom. It said that the net financial assets of the Kingdom had declined to just 0.1 percent of gross domestic product from 50 percent over the previous four years through 2018. The Kingdom, it noted, will likely be a net debtor for the foreseeable future, even if oil prices rise to over $80 per barrel.  Over the same four years the net financial assets held by the six Gulf monarchies saw a fall of $500 billion according to a study by the IMF earlier this year.  The Gulf region is still heavily dependent on the price of oil and gas. (TRTWorld) 

United Arab Emirates
Although the UAE is the most diversified economy in the Gulf with the non-oil sector accounting for more than 71 percent of GDP, it is still heavily exposed to fluctuations in the oil market. Dubai is particularly vulnerable and faces a repeat of the 2009 crash which saw the neighbouring Emirate of Abu Dhabi step in to bail it out, a UK based consultancy firm Capital Economics wrote in a report last month.

“Efforts to contain the coronavirus will cause Dubai’s economy to contract sharply,” said the authors of the report adding that “debts have risen to more than 80% of the Emirate’s GDP”. “We think that Abu Dhabi would, ultimately, step in with another bailout. But a risk of a repeat of the events of 2009, when support was slow to arrive, is high. That would make the financial market and economic fallout much worse,” they concluded. Dubai faces a triple threat of a decline in tourism, a continued lockdown aimed at tackling the spread of the virus, low oil prices, an oversupply in the country's real estate market and the risk of foreign residents abandoning the city.

The UAE’s flagship airline, Emirates, has said that the international airline industry is 
unlikely to recover for the next 18 months with the airliner likely to need extended state support. According  to the rating agency Moody’s in the UAE, “the negative growth and fiscal implications are most acute in Dubai, while it faces the greater risk of its government-related entities requiring financial support as a result of the deterioration in economic conditions”.

Unlike Japan, which saw the summer Olympics cancelled, Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, may still have the chance to conduct the games as normal, depending on how the pandemic evolves. More immediately the country has seen an explosion of coronavirus cases with more than 1,000 reported infections per day for the last five days. Authorities there have attributed the spike in case to greater testing capabilities.

With malls closed and much of life coming to a standstill, the state-owned national airline Qatar Airways has announced significant staff layoff as air travel comes to a standstill. In an early belt-tightening measure, the Qatari government in April postponed more than $8 billion in unawared contracts. The gas and oil-rich country have seen demand in Liquified Natural Gas from its main customers in Asia and Europe drop significantly as both regions grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.  While travel and tourism make up a growing percentage of GDP in Gulf, the current pandemic will also impact those industries. (TRTWorld)

Almost a month in and the Kuwaiti government has shown no sign that it will relax curfew measures that have seen people confined to their homes for more than 16 hours a day.
The government has announced a series of measures to ease the financial burden on the oil-rich country reeling from the collapse in the price of energy. The sectors most impacted include aviation, hospitality and the real estate sector as people stay indoors unable to travel and put on hold spending. However, in part, because the government has been running budget deficits for several years it only has around $45 billion in reserves. Declining reserves and a fall in revenues has placed the country on a negative financial outlook, the rating agency Fitch warned.

Bahrain and Oman[/url] [url=]Ratings agencies have warned that the minnows of the Gulf economies, Bahrain and Oman, will need “support from the rest of the GCC” to help them withstand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Budget deficits for this year are expected to be in the double digits for most of the Gulf countries at between 15-25 percent of GDP. Only Qatar is expected to post an 8 percent of GDP budget deficit. Bahrain and Oman both announced 30 percent of GDP economic stimulus packages, and they will both face a recession in the non-oil economy. Alongside the economic stimulus package, Bahrain has announced 30 percent spending cuts with Oman following suit with a 10 percent cut.

After the 2014 oil price crash, Gulf countries introduced indirect taxes for the first time marking a first time attempt at fiscal consolidation. The current pandemic may well see financially strapped countries slashing generous welfare provisions and maybe even direct taxes, the cost of doing this may go beyond the economic balance sheet and may even have political implications. 


The coronavirus pandemic coupled with a dramatic fall in oil prices is taking its toll on the leadership of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a new analysis shows.

The analysis from the US-based think tank The Soufan Center indicates that the implications of the current circumstances are "dire" for stability in Saudi Arabia as a recession appears certain there.

However, the young crown, who emerged as the likely heir to the Saudi throne in 2017 with pledges of economic and social reforms, seems to be suffering most from the crises. Son of the ailing King Salman, Mohammed bin Salman has had a close relationship with US President Donald Trump and benefited from the ties, leveraging his position to replace rivals within the extended royal family.

"He's been able to outmaneuver people in the Kingdom. That's one thing when you're flush with cash," says Colin Clarke, a senior researcher at Soufan and the author of the analysis. The situation has, however, changed recently after figures released by Saudi financial officials last week indicated a $9 billion deficit in the first quarter of the year as it responded to the pandemic, and Moody's downgraded its credit rating to negative.

Saudi Arabia mulling tight measures to curb coronavirus impact on economy

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan has also said in an interview with Al-Arabiya government spending would need to be "cut deeply," according to Bloomberg. "The kingdom hasn't witnessed a crisis of this severity over the past decades," the finance minister said the 

current status quo means that the government might have to reconsider the generous social welfare programs and significant subsidies for loyal tribal leaders who have sustained the ruling family ever since it was established decades ago.

The tribal communities have been enjoying financial support and government legitimacy provided by the dynasty as part of a longstanding agreement in line with its own tribal identity and as a way to retain control practically over the sprawling and sparsely populated parts of the country.

However, the agreement presently appears to be in danger with the government and the crown prince, as the chief official responsible for its implementation, having less money to contribute.

"The erosion of the social contract between the rulers and the ruled will lead to serious problems, especially in a tribal society," Clarke wrote in his analysis. "That paradigm is now being called into question by the actions of the crown prince. The implications are dire – an unstable Saudi Arabia will have reverberations beyond the country and the region itself."

The global oil crisis is also ravaging the Saudi economy due to its almost exclusive reliance on oil with the country deriving 87 percent of its budget revenues from the petroleum sector which accounts for over 40 percent of its gross domestic product.

According to the International Monetary Fund, oil must sell at $76 a barrel in order for Saudi Arabia to be able to balance its budget this year, but the benchmark Brent crude price remained just under $30 per barrel on Wednesday morning.

Trump warned Saudis to cut oil production or lose US military support: Reuters
US President Donald Trump had warned Saudi Arabia earlier in April that he would end American military support for the kingdom if Riyadh did not cut oil production.

"The economic crisis has not threatened MBS' place in the line of succession. As long as his father is alive, his position is safe," says Gregory Gause, head of the International Affairs Department at Texas A&M University's Bush School of Government and Public Service. "The question will be, when his father dies, will there be a coalition in the family that tries to block his ascension to the kingship?"

Meanwhile, there are other factors affecting the future of the Saudi crown prince. Elder relatives in the family are unhappy with his behavior, Gause says, adding but it is unclear whether that discontent has caused them to plot his ouster.  "And MBS is quite willing to do what he needs to do to prevent that from happening," he says.

The crown’s support of a war on Yemen, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years, has drawn international condemnation. Riyadh and its allies have been widely criticized for the high civilian death toll resulted from their bombing campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to bring the country’s former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crush Ansarullah.

Nearly 300 air strikes conducted by Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in seven days: Army
The Yemeni army says the Saudi-led coalition has carried out nearly 300 air strikes across the country over the past week.

Inside the country, a corruption investigation, which targeted members of the royal family in 2017, as well as the crown’s involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post, has caused his credibility to further diminish on the world stage.

"He's not the sophisticated operator that he portrays himself to be," Clarke says. "He's less like a businessman or politician and more like a gangster."

Meanwhile, as part of the crown prince’s "Vision 2030" signature plan for domestic reform is the construction of the city of Neom on Saudi's northern Red Sea coast. The project valued at $500 billion was designed to be somewhat the most tangible showcase of his ambitions. In order to make way for construction of the city, the Saudi authorities have resorted to forcible eviction of tribes, which have been living in the area for more than 800 years. The move, however, has been harshly criticized.

Last month, Saudi activist Abdul Rahim Ahmad Mahmoud al-Hwaiti, a local resident, refused to vacate his home, but Saudi security forces reportedly killed him and falsely portrayed him as a terrorist.

Saudi regime forces kill tribal activist after resisting deportation over NEOM megacity project
Saudi regime forces reportedly kill a tribal activist after he resisted demolition of his house for the sake of controversial NEOM megacity project.

"Proving that MBS is both brutal and predictable, extra-judicial killings have once again cast a negative light on the Crown Prince's modus operandi, which equates to murdering anyone who stands in his way," Clarke wrote in his analysis. Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, says, "The Vision 2030 plans have certainly been affected by the crisis, and if oil prices remain low for a long time, many of the Vision projects will have to be postponed or shelved."

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GOVERNANCE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD - by moeenyaseen - 05-06-2007, 11:11 AM
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