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Qatar-Gulf crisis spreads to Africa

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The Qatar-Gulf crisis is now affecting Africa after Saudi Arabia called on a number of countries, including Somalia, to join its boycott of Qatar. However, not every country is prepared to obey orders from Riyadh.

Somalia has maintained good relations with Qatar despite Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain continuing to demand that the Mogadishu government break off relations with the Gulf emirate. Still, Somalia won’t give in to pressure.

Instead, Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has called on all countries involved to engage in a dialogue. Much to the annoyance of Qatar’s neighbors, he is even allowing Qatari planes to pass through Somali airspace.

In doing so, Somalia is weakening the boycott imposed by the other four countries, which closed their borders to Qatar in June, followed by a breaking off of diplomatic relations and a blockade. They have accused the Qatari government of supporting terrorist organizations and demand that they sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and withdraw Turkish troops from the emirate. However the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has insisted on maintaining his country’s sovereignty.

Somalia aligns with Qatar

Somalia’s neutrality is being tested. The country has so far had a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, its biggest trade partner in the Gulf region. In return, Somalia’s president has been supporting Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered the government in Mogadishu an additional 68 million euros ($81 million) to participate in the boycott of Qatar.

Nonetheless, the Somali president sided with Qatar. One possible reason is that Qatar is rumored to have financed his election campaign. “Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed would not have become president otherwise,” Somali political expert Muhyadin Ahmed Roble told DW. “The elections were decided by the amount of money each candidate offered to parliament.” Somalia’s political elite is closer to Qatar, he says. It was the president’s chief of staff who initiated the contact with Qatar, and who has influenced the president to remain neutral in the conflict.

Border conflict reignited

Tensions also remain heightened because the United Arab Emirates is exerting more influence in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland. Both regions have declared their independence; however, the government in Mogadishu still considers them part of Somalia. The United Arab Emirates is building ports there and wants to establish a military base.

The governments of both regions maintain a strong interest in Saudi Arabia and view it as a future financial supporter. “The president doesn’t like the power games going on there, but he made the mistake of not consulting the regional governments,” says Muhyadin Ahmed Roble. “Their economies are stronger; Somalia is still recovering after 20 years of civil war.”

The situation in the Horn of Africa has been aggravated following the flare-up of an old border conflict in June. For seven years, the contested border between Eritrea and Djibouti was secured by peacekeepers from Qatar. When the Gulf crisis began, Qatar withdrew its troops – approximately 450 soldiers – from the Eritrean border, ending its role as mediator between the two countries. Eritrea immediately occupied the unmanned border zone northeast of Djibouti. “Eritrea doesn’t want to back down. That could lead to even greater tension between the three countries,” warns Muhyadin Ahmed Roble.

Tensions rise in West Africa

All countries involved in the Qatar conflict have taken different sides. “Eritrea and Djibouti have supported the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates; only Somalia and Ethiopia remain neutral,” says Muhyadin Ahmed Roble. He adds that, in the regional power game, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are in a much stronger position than Qatar, as Qatar only has good relations with Somalia.

But West Africa is also affected by the Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia has called on the countries in the Sahel zone to make their position clear. Chad has sided with Saudi Arabia, informing the Qatari ambassador that he and his employees had to leave the country immediately. The government also recalled its diplomats from Qatar. “Chad fears instability, which is a real threat,” says Abdoulaye Sounaye, a research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. “We know for certain that jihadist movements in Libya are being supported by Qatar. Chad fears the Chadian rebels who are active in Libya.”

Senegal, on the other hand, maintains contact with Qatar due to a longstanding relationship. “Senegal is a special case. The country has excellent economic relations with Qatar and profits considerably from Qatari investment,” says Sounaye, adding that Senegal was better positioned than other countries, and could act according to its own interests. However, other Sahel countries have more to lose if they choose to cut their ties with Saudi Arabia. They’ve been cooperating with the Gulf kingdom for decades – but not with Qatar.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia scores Qatari praise for security in Horn of Africa region

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Qatar has lauded efforts of Ethiopia in maintaining peace in the Horn of Africa region. The applause from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was during a meeting with Ethiopian premier Hailemarian Desalegn.

The state-affiliated FBC reports that the two leaders spoke on areas of strengthening security, investments and diplomatic ties. The Emir is said to have lauded Ethiopia as a strategic partner and one key to peace in the Horn of Africa region.

Desalegn is in Doha on an official visit reciprocating a similar one earlier this year by the Emir to Addis Ababa.

Another Ethiopian state outlet, ENA, reported about diplomatic agreements signed by both countries in the area of visa waivers.

“Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman signed the agreement providing for waiver of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports.

“Finance and Economic Cooperation Minister Dr. Abraham Tekeste and Qatari Economy and Trade Minister Ahmed Bin Jassim signed the protection of investment agreement,” ENA reported.

On the issue of the Gulf crisis, Ethiopia reiterated its stance with the Kuwaiti move to resolve the dispute through dialogue. Unlike Djibouti and Eritrea who took sides in the crisis, Ethiopia and Somalia maintained a neutral stance and backed calls for dialogue.

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Middle East

Saudi ‘freezes bank accounts’ of Mohammed bin Nayef

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Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s ex-crown prince who was ousted as next in line to the throne in June, has reportedly become the latest royal family member to be targeted in the kingdom’s expanding anti-corruption crackdown.

According to Reuters news agency and the Wall Street Journal, bank accounts linked to Mohammed bin Nayef and to some of his immediate relatives were frozen by Saudi authorities.

Both reports on Wednesday cited sources “familiar with the matter”. The Reuters report was also carried by Saudi state-owned media.

The freezing of Mohammed bin Nayef’s accounts came as Saudi authorities launched a new arrest campaign as part of the widening purge that began on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Dozens of royals, government officials and influential entrepreneurs have already been detained, facing, a number of allegations, including money laundering and bribery.
Among those held are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.

Meanwhile, the number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is more than 1,700 and increasing, according to the reports.

High-profile detentions

The steps were the latest in a series of policies widely seen as an effort by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its political and business elite.

On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held. The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

Mohammed bin Salman replaced his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as the kingdom’s crown prince in June.

Mohammed bin Nayef made his first confirmed public appearance since his ousting at the funeral on Tuesday for Prince Mansour bin Muqrin Al Saud, deputy governor of Asir province, according to Saudi media.

Mansour bin Muqrin died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. No cause has been given for the crash.

‘Rights concerns’

On Wednesday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statementthe “mass arrests” carried out by Saudi Arabia raises human rights concerns.

“The middle-of-the-night simultaneous establishment of a new corruption body and mass arrests over corruption raise concerns that Saudi authorities detained people en masse and without outlining the basis of the detentions,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said.

“While Saudi media are framing these measures as Mohammad bin Salman’s move against corruption, the mass arrests suggest this may be more about internal power politics,” she added.

The rights group noted that arbitrary detention is in contravention of international human rights law, and demanded those arrested be informed of the “specific grounds for their arrest” and ” be able to fairly contest their detention before an independent and impartial judge”.

“Saudi authorities have not disclosed the specific reasons for the detention of the dozens of other people since mid-September. But the detentions fit a pattern of human rights violations against peaceful advocates and dissidents, including harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, travel bans, detention, and prosecution,” its statement added.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia purge widens with ‘arrest, no-fly list’

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Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge has widened after one of the country’s top businessmen was reportedly detained, accounts were frozen and a no-fly list was drawn up.

On Monday, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, a board member of Saudi Arabia’s biggest travel company, was reportedly added to the list of detainees, which already included some of the country’s most influential officials and entrepreneurs.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.

The dramatic steps were the latest in a series of measures by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its previous leaders.

On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.
In a statement via the Saudi Center for International Communication, Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen, president of the anti-corruption commission, said: “The evidence of transgressions and financial mismanagement uncovered recently points to widespread corruption in a number of cases.

“The responsibility of the new anti-corruption committee is to ensure that investigations into those cases are completed, and that the full force of the law is applied,” Mehaisen said.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said that the purge was only “phase one” and that detainees had been questioned.

“Yesterday [Saturday] does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,” Mojeb said, adding that investigations were done discreetly “in order to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice”.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held, according to Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior official.

The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

‘No-fly list’

On Monday, stock in Al Tayyar Travel was down 10 percent in the opening minutes at Saudi Arabia’s stock index after media reported the detention of Tayyar.

Meanwhile, Saudi banks reportedly started freezing bank accounts of the suspects.

“The committee has the authority to reveal the bank details of the accused, freeze their assets and funds, and take other appropriate measures,” anti-corruption commission president, Mehaisen, said.

“However, it will ensure that no wrongdoer is able to escape punishment, regardless of their position and status, while at the same time doing everything to protect the innocent. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated clearly, no one is above the law, and no one who is proven to have indulged in corruption will escape, not even a prince or a minister.”

Pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a no-fly list has been issued and that security forces in several Saudi airports were ordered to bar private jets owners from taking off without a permit.

“Security members were seen in the lounges of private jets to monitor the situation and to make sure that no plane leaves the kingdom without a permit,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources, adding that security personnel were given a list of specific names of individuals who should be prevented from leaving.

The shake-up of the Saudi government comes just months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the kingdom’s crown prince.

Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for pushing through a number of changes both at home and abroad since he became first in line to the Saudi crown.

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