Saudi Arabia. On January 2, 47 people were executed in twelve locations around Saudi Arabia, triggering protests both in the country and abroad. Particularly sharp criticism came from Iran’s arch rival, when one of the executed was a prominent Shi’ite Muslim imam, Nimr al-Nimr, who was convicted of rioting in connection with protests in 2011. Protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Iran. As a result, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran.
According to countryaah, the current population of Saudi Arabia is 34,813,882. The conflict with Iran also continued over the congestion accident in Mecca in 2015 when 464 Iranians perished in connection with the annual pilgrimage, hajj. Disappointment over the Saudi stance resulted in no Iranians participating in this year’s shark. In September, Iran’s supreme leader accused Saudi authorities of assassinating pilgrims and called the royal house “vicious”. Saudi religious leader Muhammad Abdul-Aziz Al ash-Sheikh said that the Iranian leaders “are not Muslims”.
The two arch rivals also supported opposite parties in Yemen and Syria. In Yemen, the Saudi-led alliance of countries continued to fight the Huthirbels who fought against government-loyal forces. Saudi Arabia and its allies were accused of indiscriminate bombings against the civilian population, and both the UN and human rights organizations warned that war crimes might be committed. Particularly sharp was the criticism when around 150 people lost their lives and over 500 were injured since a funeral home in Sana met in October. It was the bloodiest incident since the bombing started in March 2015.
The war in Yemen was also behind a temporary conflict with the UN. It emerged when the United Nations placed the Saudi-led coalition on an annual list of groups and countries at war exposing children to violence, as they were said to have caused nearly 500 children deaths in Yemen in 2015. After just a few days, the decision was changed. UN chief Ban Ki Moon later said that the UN was under pressure with threats of canceled contributions to UN operations, which Saudi Arabia denied.
According to thereligionfaqs, the government presented a far-reaching program of economic reforms that was intended to enable Saudi Arabia to succeed without oil as early as 2020. A series of concrete measures were presented in June: a threefold increase in the state’s revenue from other than oil, the creation of 450,000 new non-governmental jobs, a reduction in the share of public wages in the state budget from 45 to 40%, a continued reduction in subsidies on water and electricity, an increase in the proportion of women in the labor market from 23 to 28% and an increase in the number of foreign visitors during the annual pilgrimage from 1.5 million to 2.5 million.
Imprisonment for driving license activist
Activist Lujain al-Hathlul was sentenced by a terrorist court to five years and eight months in prison, including charges of trying to jeopardize national security. She was arrested in 2018 after participating in a campaign for women’s right to drive a car. As she has already been imprisoned for several years, she is believed to be able to be released within a few months, but relatives say that the verdict will be appealed (see 26 October 2020).
Another year with a deficit, a larger deficit
Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit is expected to rise to $ 79 billion during the pandemic year 2020, the country’s finance ministry said. There has been a deficit every year since the oil price fell in 2014, which has led to the state raising VAT, borrowing money, reducing its reserves and trying to save (see 11 May 2020). The forecast for 2020 before the pandemic was a deficit of 50 billion in the Treasury. Oil accounts for more than two-thirds of the Saudi state’s revenue, and the price of oil needs to be around $ 80 a barrel to balance the economy. (When the forecast is made, the price is about 50 dollars per barrel.) According to the Ministry of Finance, the Saudi economy is expected to shrink by 3.7 percent in 2020, but the IMFexpects higher numbers: minus 5.4 percent. For 2021, the Ministry of Finance believes in 3.2 percent growth.
Media: Netanyahu on Saudi trip
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to reports in Israel. No meeting is officially confirmed, but usually well-informed media outline details of a trip with a private plane that has been used in the past by Netanyahu. A diplomatic recognition from Saudi Arabia would be a greater success for Israel than an agreement reached with other Arab countries by 2020. For Saudi Arabia’s new megacity Neom, which is part of the future Vision 2030 project, cooperation with Israel could be crucial. Both countries also have reason to monitor what foreign policy the United States will pursue when Donald Trump, who has acted in both Israeli and Saudi interests, not least against Iran, will soon have to leave the presidency.
Leaders discuss interest rates and pandemic, Trump plays golf
During a weekend of digital diplomacy (distance meetings due to the corona pandemic), the world leaders in the G20 co-operation agree that efforts must be made to ensure that debt-laden poor countries also receive the vaccines that are underway against the sars-cov-2 virus. Until the end of June 2021, an initiative called the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) will be extended, it is said in the final communication: poor countries will avoid interest payments on their loans with the support of DSSI (see 15 April 2020). So far, 46 countries are said to have been able to prioritize efforts against pandemics thanks to DSSI over paying interest. UN representatives hope that the interest exemption will be extended to 2021. Saudi Arabia will host the G20 summit for the first time, which is also being talked about because US President Donald Trump is leaving the meeting to play golf.
Border crossing opens after 30 years
The Arar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which has been closed for 30 years, is opening. The border station in the desert, on the Saudi side, was closed when Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, leading to war in 1991 and the Saudis severing diplomatic ties with Baghdad. Improved relations and more trade between the two countries are not welcomed by all: Proiranist groups in Iraq oppose Saudi influence and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia is concerned that Iran is acting actively in Iraq, which has had Shia-led governments since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Kick-off in the first women’s league
Saudi Arabia gets its first women’s football team. The launch was supposed to take place in March, but it was postponed due to the corona pandemic. 24 teams from different cities will settle for the championship. The same week, the first international golf tournament for women is played on Saudi soil.
Peacemakers through hidden channels
Sources with insight claim that Saudi Arabia offers the Huthi movement a buffer zone along the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, from where the movement shells Saudi targets. The Saudis would also be ready to sign a ceasefire agreement proposed by the UN, writes Reuters. In connection with an agreement, a transitional government for Yemen would also be discussed. US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to slow down arms sales to Saudi Arabia to increase pressure on the Riyadh government to end the war. The Shia Muslim Huthi control northern Yemen and areas with large populations, especially the capital Sanaa. Saudi Arabia has so far failed in its main goals of the five-year war: to push back the Shiite guerrillas and to reinstate the Yemeni government.
New rules will give guest workers greater freedom
Saudi Arabia is now doing the same as several of the countries in the region: parts of the traditional kafala system, which limits the lives of millions of migrant workers, must be abolished. Privately employed guest workers shall have the right to change jobs and leave the country without the employer’s consent. Their employment contract must also be documented digitally. Human rights organizations and international trade unions have long criticized the system and described it as a form of slavery. The new rules will take effect on March 14, 2021. The change does not affect domestic employees, who are among the most vulnerable in the labor market, but also the regulations are reviewed, says a representative of the Saudi Ministry of HR Affairs and Social Development for Bloomberg News.