Monthly briefing: 13 key developments in the region

24 May 2022
Regional refugee numbers hit 10-year low; Turkish president visits Saudi Arabia; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed elected UAE president; Government offers new oil contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan; US reviews Tunisia support package

By MEED staff (Colin Foreman, Wil Crisp, Dominic Dudley, Jennifer Aguinaldo, Neha Bhatia and Indrajit Sen)


Turkish president visits Saudi Arabia
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed elected as UAE president
Kuwait government resignation accepted
Kurdistan government denies seizing oil wells
Pro-Hezbollah bloc loses majority in Lebanon
Tunisia stumbles forward under autocratic cloud



Regional refugee numbers hit lowest level in 10 years

The number of new refugees in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region reached a 10-year low despite growth in global internal displacements in 2021.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council said in a report in May that 38 million new internal displacements were reported in 2021, with an unprecedented number of people affected by violence in Afghanistan and Myanmar.

The number of new internal displacements in the Mena region declined last year as conflicts de-escalated in Syria, Libya and Iraq, but the figure was still concerningly high in 2021, the report said.



Oil prices climb as Opec+ misses production target

Oil prices grew in May after Opec+ reported modest output growth in April, with Brent rising from $109 a barrel to $114.24 a barrel on 16 May.

Collective production by Opec members grew by 153,000 barrels a day (b/d) to 28.65 million b/d in April. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the UAE saw the highest production rises, but output in Libya plunged amid blockades due to protests.

The wider Opec+ group agreed in early May that it would leave its production plan unchanged. The group intends to boost output in June by 432,000 b/d.

Benchmark Brent crude was trading at $113.77 on 23 May.



Turkish president visits Saudi Arabia as relationship thaws

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in April.

“We are striving to increase all kinds of political, military and economic relations between us and to start a new era,” Erdogan said.

The visit indicates a normalisation of Saudi-Turkish ties after relations soured amid the 2011 Arab revolts and further deteriorated when Ankara supported Qatar during the Gulf diplomatic dispute.

Ties weakened following journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Read more

President Erdogan met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah 
Credit: Presidency of the Republic of Turkey


Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan elected president

The Federal Supreme Council unanimously elected Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as president of the UAE, making him the third individual to hold the post in the country’s history.

The vote was taken during a meeting chaired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, on 14 May at Al-Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi. The members of the Federal Supreme Council are the rulers of the UAE’s seven emirates.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed succeeds Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who passed away on 13 May. Sheikh Khalifa succeeded his father, the UAE’s first president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, and during 18 years as UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi presided over a major restructuring of both the federal government and the government of Abu Dhabi. Read more

Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (left) with newly elected UAE president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Image: Wam


Nuclear deal in limbo despite western talks

Iran’s return to the 2015 nuclear agreement continues to be uncertain despite talks between US and French officials to restore the deal.

Progress has stalled as Tehran demands the US stop designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation. Washington is reluctant to remove the group, which is part of the Iranian military, from its blacklist.

The talks remain ongoing. In May, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian discussed efforts to revive the deal and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also said that negotiations “have been unblocked and that means there is the prospect of reaching a final agreement”.

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Government resignation disrupts oil and gas sector

The resignation of Kuwait’s government has frozen the progress of an ongoing restructuring of national oil company Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), which in March announced a new board of directors and named Sheikh Nawaf Saud al-Sabah as CEO.

It was anticipated that during April, a final series of promotions and appointments would be made in the last phase of KPC’s restructuring – including for CEO of the state-owned upstream operator Kuwait Oil Company – but these will now be on hold until after a new government is formed.

In May, Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah accepted the resignation of the government that was submitted by Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah the previous month. Read more


Government offers new oil contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan

Baghdad has asked oil and gas companies operating in Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan to sign new contracts with state-owned marketer Somo instead of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the latest effort to control revenues from the semi-autonomous region.

Oil Minister Ihsan Ismael said in May the ministry would start implementing a February federal court ruling that deems the KRG’s oil and gas sector legal framework unconstitutional. The KRG has rejected the federal court ruling.

State-owned North Oil said in May that KRG forces had taken control of some wells in Kirkuk, but the KRG denied the allegation. Read more


Hezbollah and allies lose parliamentary majority

The Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies lost their majority in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on 15 May. The bloc’s candidates won 62 of 128 seats, three fewer than needed for a majority.

Hezbollah retained its seats, but President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement lost support and rival Christian party Lebanese Forces made gains.

An outright winner was not declared, and Lebanon’s complex power-sharing parliamentary structure means significant change is not assured.

The polls were the first to be held since national protests broke out in 2019 against government corruption. Read more


US reviews support amid protests demanding democracy

Washington is considering reducing its aid to Tunisia after the government’s “deviation from democracy”. Samantha Power
from the US Agency for International Development said that Tunisia will “receive less money in the 2023 budget”.

President Kais Saied has held near-complete power of Tunisian polity since he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority in July 2021. He has promised a referendum in July to consider constitutional reforms and pledged to hold elections in December 2022.

Thousands of Tunisians protested in May against Saied, who recently issued a decree granting himself authority to appoint the members of Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections. Read more

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