Kuwaiti citizens have begun to vote in their seventh legislative election in just over a decade, as a result of ongoing political crises that have hampered parliamentary proceedings and hindered reform initiatives.
Polling commenced at 8am (05:00 GMT) on Tuesday and will carry on until 8pm (17:00 GMT). The official Kuwait News Agency confirmed that the results are set to be announced on Wednesday. Over 793,000 eligible voters are anticipated to contribute to the shaping of the 50-seat legislature. Notably, Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state to have an elected parliament with the power to hold the government accountable.
A total of 207 candidates are vying for a four-year term as lawmakers, marking the smallest number in a general election since 1996. The roster includes members of the opposition and 13 women.
Kuwait’s emir, Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, called the election last month after yet another dissolution of parliament amid a persisting political deadlock.
Frequent conflicts between different branches of the government have obstructed lawmakers from passing crucial economic reforms. Recurrent budget deficits, low foreign investment, and disputes over a contentious bill regarding government takeover of Kuwaiti citizens’ consumer and personal loans have further fuelled a sense of despondency.
The consistent discord between elected lawmakers and an appointed cabinet has led to a deterioration of social services, including healthcare and education. This lack of stability has also deterred investors from Kuwait’s petroleum industry, which holds seven percent of the world’s crude reserves.
In spite of widespread disillusionment with the political elite, human rights activist Hadeel Buqrais highlighted the importance of participating in the election. Although Kuwait’s cabinet members are appointed by the ruling Al-Sabah family, which maintains a firm control over political affairs, lawmakers are elected by the people.
In an interesting turn of events, the constitutional court in March nullified the results of last year’s elections, where the opposition had made considerable strides. The court ruled that the previous parliament elected in 2020 should be reinstated instead.
Since the implementation of a parliamentary system in Kuwait in 1962, the legislature has been dissolved approximately a dozen times.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Jaber Abdulkhaleg
In a significant development towards mending a seven-year-old diplomatic rift, Iran has announced its decision to reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia this week.
In a brief statement issued on Monday, Nasser Kanani, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, confirmed that Iran’s embassy in Riyadh would reopen on Tuesday, followed by the reopening of its consulate in Jeddah and its representative office with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation a day later.
According to Kanani, the embassy and consulate have already begun operations to facilitate Hajj pilgrimages. The official reopening will take place in the presence of foreign ministry officials from both nations.
This move follows a China-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, signed in Beijing on March 10th, which stipulated a two-month deadline for the embassies’ reopening.
Although Iranian authorities noted that the embassies had started conducting some practical work, they required additional time for an official reopening, given that the buildings had remained closed for years.
As of yet, there’s no official confirmation regarding when the Saudi embassy in Tehran or the kingdom’s consulate in Mashhad will officially reopen or who will be appointed as its ambassador.
Iranian state-linked media reported last month that Tehran had chosen Alireza Enayati, a former envoy to Kuwait and a foreign ministry deputy for regional affairs, as its envoy to Riyadh.
In 2016, Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Tehran after its representative offices were stormed during protests against the execution of a Shia religious leader by the Sunni-majority kingdom.
Recent months have seen these two regional powerhouses steadily easing tensions, a step they claim will help enhance security across the region.
Post the agreement in March, other countries in the region have also begun following Saudi Arabia’s lead towards normalising relations with Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad. This follows his ostracisation post his brutal repression of protests in 2011, which sparked a decade-long civil war. Saudi Arabia has also been increasingly engaging with the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran have supported opposing sides in the country’s civil war since 2015.
Image Credit: Fayez Nureldine / AFP
Lebanon’s political landscape, characterised by an array of political parties and alliances, can often appear as a labyrinth to the uninitiated observer. This complexity is not merely a matter of diversity but an embodiment of Lebanon’s rich and multifaceted cultural, religious, and historical layers.
In the turbulent world of Lebanese politics, the Future Movement, led by Saad al-Hariri, a prominent Sunni figure and incumbent Prime Minister since 2016, carves out a distinctive place. Al-Hariri found himself thrust into the political arena following the assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005. Following the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, Hariri was tasked with forming a government in October, but unable to form a government, he resigned as prime minister-delegate in July 2021 marking the suspension of his political career in January 2022.
As a key player in Lebanon’s political field, Hezbollah, a creation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, boasts significant influence. Its power has only magnified since 2012, owing to its active involvement in the Syrian war, where it fights in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) offers another intriguing dimension to the Lebanese political scene. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian politician and former army commander, founded the FPM. Interestingly, Aoun was also at the helm of one of two contending governments during the 1975-90 civil war climax.
In a testament to Lebanon’s convoluted political dynamics, Aoun became president in 2016, while Hariri assumed the prime ministerial role. Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, currently leads the FPM, which also happens to be an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun was elected president in 2016 until October 2022 as Parliament failed to agree on his successor leaving Lebanon with a highly polarised political environment.
The Shiite Amal Movement, previously a civil war rival of Hezbollah, is the largest Shia party in Parliament currently boasting 14 representatives compared to Hezbollah’s 13. Led by Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Parliament since 1992, the Amal Movement also has close ties to Assad.
The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), under the leadership of Walid Jumblatt, represents the Lebanese Druze minority. Inheriting his position from his assassinated father, Kamal, Jumblatt was a prominent figure during the civil war. Currently, he is gradually transferring his authority to his son, Taymour.
The Lebanese Forces (LF), led by Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea, evolved from a powerful civil war militia. Geagea, the only Lebanese militia leader to have served prison time for civil war atrocities, remains a formidable Christian adversary of Hezbollah.
The Kataeb Party, or Phalange Party, helmed by Maronite Christian politician Sami Gemayel, adds another layer to the intricate web of Lebanese politics. Sami Gemayel assumed leadership following the assassination of his brother, Pierre, in 2006, during a spate of murders targeting opponents of Syrian influence in Lebanon.
Lastly, the Marada party, under Maronite Christian politician Suleiman Franjieh, a staunch ally of Hezbollah and a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, completes the diverse Lebanese political spectrum.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
Turkey’s newly appointed Finance Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, announced that significant shifts in economic policy are urgently needed to control the country’s spiralling inflation. In his first press conference following his appointment, Şimşek warned on Sunday that Turkey must “return to rational ground” regarding its economic strategies.
“Price stability will be our main target,” stated Şimşek. He underscored the urgency of reining in inflation to single digits over the medium term, describing it as “of vital importance for our country”.
Over the past two years, Turkey has been grappling with soaring consumer prices. In October, inflation hit an official 24-year peak of 85.5 percent. However, independent analysts maintain that the actual figures exceed these official statistics significantly. The escalating cost of basic commodities became a hot-button issue in the recent presidential run-off election.
Following his unprecedented third-term victory, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan designated Şimşek as Treasury and Finance Minister as part of a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle. The appointment of Şimşek, a former economist at Merrill Lynch who played a key role in Turkey’s recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, signals a potential shift towards more traditional economic policies.
Erdoğan has been staunchly resistant to increasing interest rates to counteract inflation in the past, deeming such a measure un-Islamic.
“Şimşek will be treading a very fine line,” commented Aura Sabadus, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Analysis.
“While Şimşek’s appointment is a positive development for the markets, it’s worth remembering that Erdoğan has previously dismissed two deputy central bank governors who opposed his unconventional economic views,” Sabadus added.
However, this clash in economic perspectives could presage further complications, according to Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a lecturer at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
“Şimşek claims Turkey has no choice but to return to rational economic policies, which prompts the question – why were the previous policies irrational?” Akkoyunlu queried. Akkoyunlu suggested that Erdoğan’s previous policy of generous spending, including measures like providing households with free gas and augmenting public sector salaries, may be succeeded by efforts towards fiscal balancing. “With the election concluded, the ‘campaign economy’ is now a thing of the past. It’s likely Şimşek will pivot towards austerity measures,” he added.
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On Sunday, Lebanon’s parliamentary opposition officially endorsed former finance minister, Jihad Azour, as their candidate for the nation’s presidency. This announcement came hot on the heels of Michel Moawad’s withdrawal from the race, significantly reshaping the presidential contest.
Legislator Mark Daou announced Mr Azour’s candidacy on behalf of 32 opposition-aligned MPs, following weeks of negotiations to find an alternative candidate to Suleiman Frangieh, who enjoys the backing of the pro-Hezbollah bloc.
Describing Mr Azour, Mr Daou stated, “He is the candidate capable of protecting Lebanon from collapse and domination”. Azour’s nomination arrives subsequent to his endorsement by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday.
The FPM, which currently maintains a strained alliance with Iran-backed Hezbollah, has seen its relations cool in recent months due to Hezbollah’s unyielding support of Mr Frangieh’s presidential bid.
Upon the announcement of Mr Azour’s nomination, the opposition bloc immediately called for an electoral session in parliament.
Notably, the previously favoured candidate for the parliamentary opposition, Mr Moawad, endorsed Mr Azour after withdrawing from the race, stating the issue has “always been the project, not the person”.
Mr Moawad’s withdrawal came on the back of several weeks of talks between the opposition, spearheaded by the Lebanese Forces, aimed at finding a robust alternative to Mr Frangieh. It had become clear that Mr Moawad struggled to secure sufficient votes for the presidency, with blank ballots frequently outnumbering the votes cast in his favour across eleven different electoral sessions.
The country has been embroiled in a presidential vacuum since the departure of former President Michel Aoun from office in October. Since then, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has convened 11 sessions to pick a successor, but MPs have so far failed to reach a consensus.
Jihad Azour, 57, comes with an impressive track record. He is a former finance minister and currently heads the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Widely seen as a technocrat, Azour could be a beacon of hope to usher in economic stability as Lebanon navigates the worst financial crisis in its history.
Having previously served as Lebanon’s Finance Minister from 2005 to 2008, Azour coordinated key reforms, including modernising the country’s tax and customs systems. In addition to his public service, Azour’s private sector experience is noteworthy. He has held senior positions at McKinsey and Booz & Co., as a Vice-President and Senior Executive Advisor, and was a Managing Partner at investment firm Inventis Partners.
Educated at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Mr Azour holds a PhD in International Finance and a post-graduate degree in International Economics and Finance. His research at Harvard on emerging economies and their integration into the global economy and a wide range of publications and teachings on economic and financial issues, underscore his credentials as a leading expert in the field.
Late last month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met in Beirut to discuss the 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip. While the conflict was the topic of conversation, the discussion also focused on counterbalancing Egypt’s growing role in the region, with the aim of boosting Iran’s regional influence. The North African country played an important mediating role during the recent conflict, helping to broker a ceasefire, and its regional power appears to be growing. Given this, Iran perceives Egypt as a major threat to its geopolitical agenda.
The recent 11-day conflict is the latest in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine. At least 254 people were killed along with immense infrastructure damage in both Israel and the Gaza Strip. While Egypt played a critical role in negotiating the ceasefire, the country has been in this situation before. In 2014, it helped broker a truce after weeks of war between Israel and Hamas. Over the past year, numerous Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, have normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, sparking backlash from the Palestinian territories. This placed Egypt in a unique position to broker peace between the two warring parties.
During the recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh, however, the two leaders sought to undermine Egypt’s role in the current ceasefire and counterbalance its broadening influence. This is because Egypt’s geopolitical agenda is not aligned with Tehran, as Iran is the primary backer of Hamas and Hezbollah, something Egypt is firmly against. Hamas is a militant group based in the Gaza Strip, receiving backings from Qatar and Iran. Tehran supplies Hamas with weapons and funding and intends to exert control over the conflict’s mediation efforts. Similarly, Iran also backs Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon. Hezbollah has established significant political and military power in the country, and it has promoted Iranian ideals in the region, including anti-Western sentiment. Both Hamas and Hezbollah act as proxies for Iran in the Middle East.
According to individuals familiar with the June dialogue, the two leaders discussed how they could align Iran and Hamas’ regional agendas and continue to promote Iranian influence in the Middle East in the wake of normalization efforts with Israel. Haniyeh particularly expressed an interest in obfuscating Egypt’s role in establishing a ceasefire between the Palestinian Islamist movement and Israel. In doing this, Iran would be able to demonstrate it retains control over Hamas, and it would be able to counterbalance Egypt and Israel’s expanding influence in the region.
The recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh are a strong reflection of Iran’s desire to continue expanding its prowess in the Middle East and undermining the presence of Egypt.
Flash floods triggered by destructive monsoon rains across much of Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people and injured and displaced thousands more since June, officials have said.
The updated death toll came a day after the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, asked for international help in battling deadly flood damage. More than 33 million people have been displaced.
The government has declared an emergency to deal with monsoon flooding, which began in June and continues to cause havoc in Pakistan.
The National Disaster Management Authority said on Sunday that 119 people had died in the previous 24 hours as heavy rains continued to lash parts of the country. That brought the death toll since mid-June to 1,033 with at least 1,456 injured.
The authority’s report the previous day said 45 people were killed in flood-related incidents from Friday to Saturday.
Many parts of Pakistan have become inaccessible, and rescuers are struggling to evacuate thousands of marooned people from flood-affected areas. Balochistan and Sindh provinces are believed to be among the worst-affected areas.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussein
Barn’s, the popular Saudi Arabian coffee chain, has announced its plans to expand globally and aims to have 1,000 stores worldwide by 2030. The company, which was founded in 1992 by the Al Amjaad Group, currently operates over 430 stores in Saudi Arabia and is the country’s second-largest chain behind US-based Dunkin’.
In its expansion efforts, Barn’s will focus on drive-thru stores and smaller format sites, with its initial international expansion expected to target fellow Middle Eastern and North African markets. CEO of the Al Amjaad Group, Mohamed Al-Zein, also revealed that Barn’s will launch an initial public offering (IPO) this year, allowing the public to become “investors in the company’s success.”
According to the World Coffee Portal research, the Middle Eastern branded coffee shop market comprises over 8,870 outlets and is expected to reach 11,840 stores by 2027. Meanwhile, Project Café Middle East 2023 identified Saudi Arabia as the largest branded coffee shop market in the region, with a growth of 18.5% in the 12 months ending November 2022, reaching 3,556 outlets. Currently accounting for 40% of all stores in the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi Arabian branded coffee shop market is projected to surpass 5,350 outlets by 2027.
It is not surprising that Barn’s plans to expand globally considering that their coffee is loved by many in Saudi Arabia. A recent study found that Saudi Arabia is classified among the top 10 coffee-consuming countries in the world. The consumption of coffee by Saudis is estimated at about one billion riyals annually. Saudi coffee is known globally due to the high-quality beans grown in the region. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest coffee producers in the world, producing some of the finest arabica beans. These beans are known for their rich, smooth flavor and full-bodied aroma, making them the perfect ingredient for delicious and aromatic coffee.
How Saudi coffee is made
Saudi Arabian coffee is made from coffee beans that can be roasted either lightly or heavily. The brewing methods may vary, but the typical way to make it is to boil the coffee and serve it without filtering, which makes it black. Sugar is not a common addition to coffee, but spices such as saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves may be added depending on the location in the country. The coffee is traditionally served using a pot called a dallah, which is used to pour small amounts of coffee at a time into a cup (known as a finjal). Unless instructed otherwise, your host or waiter will continue to pour small amounts of coffee into your cup. To balance the bitter taste of the coffee, it is often served with sweet treats such as dates, nuts, or candied fruit.
As the calendar flips to May 25th, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan erupts into a vibrant celebration of their national pride and heritage. The streets teem with joyous citizens, resplendent in their nation’s colours, commemorating the day Jordan gained its independence in 1946. Yet, amidst the national merriment and jubilation, many hidden facets of this monumental day remain largely unexplored. In this article, we journey beyond the surface-level celebrations, unearthing five riveting facts about Jordan’s Independence Day that will leave you astounded.
On May 25, 1946, Jordan was no longer a British mandate. However, did you know that it was also the day King Abdullah I was proclaimed the first King of Jordan? The Independence Day symbolises not only liberation from colonial rule but also a pivotal power transfer to a sovereign monarchy, forging the path for Jordan’s modern-day nationhood.
While the Jordanian flag flies high on Independence Day, there’s more to its colours than meets the eye. Each colour represents an important aspect of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire – black for the Abbasid Caliphate, white for the Umayyad Caliphate, green for the Fatimid Caliphate, and red for the Hashemite dynasty. As the flag flutters, it tells an intriguing tale of historical defiance and unity.
An anthem named ‘Salt of the Earth’ is traditionally sung on Independence Day. This unique anthem, unlike the national anthem, pays homage to the Jordanian spirit, recounting the rich tapestry of their struggle for independence and celebrating the inherent resilience of the Jordanian people. A heart-stirring rendition of the country’s unique journey, it indeed encapsulates the essence of Jordan’s Independence Day.
The Royal Cavalry’s 21-gun salute, a stirring spectacle that marks Independence Day, is a tribute to the monarchy’s role in leading Jordan towards freedom. This symbolic salute honours the monarchy’s lineage and their continued contribution towards the progress of Jordan as a modern, thriving nation.
Finally, let’s talk about Sir Alec Kirkbride, the last British High Commissioner in Transjordan. While his name might not ring a bell, his decision to recommend Jordan’s independence to the British Government played a significant role in the country’s path to self-rule. Although often overlooked in history’s vast narrative, his influence on Jordan’s independence story remains indisputable.
As Jordan’s Independence Day dawns and the jubilant celebrations ensue, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder these fascinating snippets of history. After all, in the intriguing narratives of the past, we often find the profoundest reasons to celebrate the present. So, the next time you find yourself amidst Jordan’s Independence Day celebrations, remember—you’re not merely witnessing a national holiday, but a riveting historical saga unfolding right before your eyes.
Image Credit: Hassan Bushnaq/Wikimedia Commons