Dubai said Sunday it expects to cut its budget to $15.5 billion in 2021 after its economy was impacted by a plunge in tourism and other sectors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The emirate, one of the seven that make up the United Arab Emirates, had posted a record $18.1 billion budget for 2020.
“The newly-announced budget takes into account the exceptional economic conditions of the fiscal year 2020 and the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global economy,” said a statement by the Dubai Media Office.
Dubai foresees a deficit for the fifth year in a row, of $1.3 billion in 2021. In 2019, it had forecast a $700 million deficit for this year.
The emirate, which depends heavily on tourism and retail services, closed its border for several months due to the pandemic, resulting in a 10.8 percent GDP plunge in the first half of the year.
According to government estimates published earlier this week, the economy will likely contract 6.2 percent this year but is expected to see four percent growth in 2021.
Qatar’s foreign minister said on Friday that there had been some progress to resolve the Gulf crisis which has pitted a regional group of nations against his country.
Saudi led its allies — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt — to cut ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of backing radical Islamist movements and Iran, charges Doha denies.
They subsequently forced out Qataris residing in their countries, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft, and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.
“We have achieved certain progress at a certain point of time more than a year ago, and then things have slowed,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome.
“Right now, there are some movements that we hope will put an end (to) this crisis,” he said without giving details.
“We believe that Gulf unity is very important for the security of the region. This needless crisis needs to end based on mutual respect.”
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is reported to have raised the Gulf crisis and pushed for progress towards ending the spat during a visit to Qatar Wednesday.
Few details have been made public about Kushner’s trip, which could have been his last chance to press diplomatic issues in the region that has been a focal point for the outgoing Trump administration.
Saudi Arabia’s closure of its airspace has forced Qatar Airways aircraft to fly over Iran, Riyadh’s arch-rival and long-time adversary of Washington, paying significant overflight fees to Tehran in the process.
The New York Times has reported that Qatar pays $100 million annually to fly over the Islamic republic, citing diplomatic sources.
US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia via an “air bridge” was a priority for the outgoing Trump administration.
Qatar has repeatedly said it is open to talks without preconditions, though has not signalled publicly it would compromise on the 13 demands of the boycotting countries.
Past mediation efforts led by Kuwait have yielded no results.
The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it will grant all doctors and infectious disease experts living in the country a 10-year visa, who are helping to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreigners in the UAE, like most Gulf countries, are generally only given limited residence visas tied to their current employment, and long-term residency is difficult to obtain.
But to attract wealthy business people and highly skilled workers, the UAE last year launched the “Golden” 10-year visa programme, which is now being expanded.
Those eligible include holders of doctorate degrees, medical doctors, and computer, electronics, programming, electrical and biotechnology engineers, tweeted Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
“We are keen to embrace talent that drives future development and this is only the beginning,” said Sheikh Mohammed, who is also the ruler of Dubai, which has the most diversified economy in the Gulf.
Students from accredited universities who are getting top grades could also qualify, he said, along with those holding specialised degrees in artificial intelligence, big data and epidemiology.
The scheme last year drew in some 6,800 investors, in a windfall worth $27 billion for the economy.
Foreigners account for 90 per cent of the population of some 10 million in the oil-rich UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy.
The country has so far recorded more than 150,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 530 deaths.
A months-long lockdown and the impact on tourism and business has done serious damage to the economy, which was already slumping in recent years due to low oil prices.
The “Golden Visa” was the first such scheme in the Gulf, which keeps tight control on residency.
Similar programmes have been launched in other countries that seek to diversify their economies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Riyadh said in June 2019 that it will offer permanent residency for 800,000 riyals ($213,000) and a one-year renewable residency costing 100,000 riyals ($27,000), allowing expats to do business and buy property without a Saudi sponsor.
Meanwhile, Doha has recently flung open its property market to foreigners, with a scheme giving those purchasing homes or stores the right to longer-term or permanent residency permits.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has confirmed that it would begin the issuance of visas to Nigerians from Thursday, October 8, 2020.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, announced this on Tuesday.
“UAE confirmed that they will begin issuance of Visas from the 8th of October, 2020. Travelers to have a return ticket, hotel booking, negative PCR result & Health insurance (similar to Schengen requirement). Health insurance can be paid through travel agents/airline,” the Minister tweeted.
UAE confirmed that they will begin issuance of Visas from 8th of October, 2020. Travelers to have a return ticket, hotel booking, negative PCR result & a Health insurance (similar to Schengen requirement). Health insurance can be paid through travel agents/airline. 🇳🇬🇳🇬🇳🇬🇳🇬
Sirika had earlier on September 30 announced that the UAE had written to state that they agree to issue visas to Nigerians, a development that made the Federal Government lift the ban it had earlier placed on Emirates Airlines.
“UAE has written to state that they agree to issue visas to Nigerians, consequently decision has been reached to allow Emirates to fly into Nigeria,” the minister had tweeted.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and their rivals Fatah in the occupied West Bank agreed Thursday to hold the first Palestinian elections since 2006, united by their opposition to Arab-Israeli normalisation deals.
Polls will be scheduled within six months under a deal reached between Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh, officials from both sides told AFP.
“We have agreed to first hold legislative elections, then presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO),” said Jibril Rajub, a senior Fatah official.
The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide and the following year the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in a near-civil war between the two factions.
Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas official, said the deal was reached during meetings held in Turkey.
“This time we reached a real consensus,” he said, speaking to AFP by phone from Istanbul.
“Divisions have damaged our national cause and we are working to end that,” he added.
The intra-Palestinian reconciliation attempts took on greater urgency after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel, becoming only the third and fourth Arab nations to do so.
Egypt and Jordan respectively signed peace deals with the Jewish state in 1979 and 1994.
– ‘Long overdue’ –
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the announcement to convene new elections, saying it was a “long overdue” move to “revitalise and unify” Palestinian ranks.
“The promising developments emerging from talks between Fatah and Hamas are welcome news for the Palestinian people,” Ashrawi said in a statement.
“Ending the ongoing rift in the political system is a pressing priority that is long overdue.”
Ashrawi called on Palestinian factions “to include women and youth in advanced positions in their electoral tickets”.
She also urged the international community to “ensure that Israel does not hamper or obstruct” the vote.
The 2006 Palestinians polls resulted in a brief unity government, but it soon collapsed and in 2007 bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions.
Hamas has since ruled Gaza, while Fatah has run the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.
Including PLO elections in the agreement paves the way for Hamas to join the organisation, which unites various Palestinian factions including Fatah.
The PLO signed the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, which have long since floundered.
Fatah has not said whether Abbas will seek re-election in the proposed polls.
The 84-year-old has been in office since the 2005 presidential election, when he won 62 percent of the vote.
According to a rare poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Research carried out earlier this year, Hamas’s Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.
The Fatah leader has repeatedly pledged elections over the past decade, but hurdles remain in spite of the Hamas deal.
Enabling Palestinian residents of occupied east Jerusalem to vote will prove particularly challenging, as Israel controls the city and prevents Palestinian officials from working there.
The accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain — both inked at the White House on September 15 — broke with decades of Arab consensus that ties with the Jewish state should not be established until it has signed a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
Turkey and Iran, both Muslim non-Arab nations, have been the most vociferous countries in opposing normalisation.
Ankara has “an ambition to lead” the Palestinian cause, pointing to “the hypocrisy of both Arab states and the West for not emphasising” the cause enough, according to Gallia Lindenstrauss of Israel’s National Institute for Security Research.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will be responsible for any “consequences” resulting from their normalisation of relations with Tehran’s arch-foe Israel.
The remarks came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed agreements establishing full diplomatic ties at a ceremony at the White House.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Israel was “committing more crimes in Palestine every day”.
“Some of the region’s countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers neither understand religion nor (their) debt… to the nation of Palestine, to their brothers speaking their language,” he said in televised remarks.
“How could you reach out your hands to Israel? And then you want to give them bases in the region? All the severe consequences that would arise from this are on you.”
US President Donald Trump said similar Washington-brokered deals were close between Israel and several Arab countries, including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said.
An aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that some Gulf states had become “puppets” of the US and Israel in the “vain hope” of getting their support.
“They have pinned their hopes on nothing and built a house on water, and they will pay for this cowardly act,” foreign affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The remarks were made during a meeting of the council of the “International Society for the Islamic Awakening”, Tasnim said.
Iran had previously warned Bahrain that its deal made it a partner to Israel’s “crimes” and accused the UAE of betraying the Muslim world.
In 2016, Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Iran and the UAE downgraded relations amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republic.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has faced long-running unrest among its large Shiite community that it has consistently blamed on Iran.
The National Bank of Dubai, the largest banking group in the emirate, signed a memorandum of understanding Monday with Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, on the eve of the UAE-Israel normalisation accord signing.
“It is a great honour to be the first bank to sign such an agreement that will contribute to the establishment of the relationship between the two countries,” Bank Hapoalim’s CEO, Dov Kotler, said in a statement issued by NBD.
It said the MoU was “part of a broader engagement between the UAE and Israel to further peace, dialogue and stability and establish cooperation to promote sustainable development”.
An Israeli business and banking delegation arrived in Dubai last Tuesday on the first such visit since the August 13 announcement of a normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member.
On Tuesday in Washington, both the UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain are to sign normalisation accords with Israel.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the kingdom, state media reported Wednesday, days after allowing an Israeli aircraft to pass over en route to Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has accepted an Emirati request to allow “crossing the kingdom’s airspace for flights heading to the UAE and departing from it to all countries”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a source from the civil aviation authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile announced that Monday’s historic first commercial flight of an Israeli aircraft direct to the United Arab Emirates across Saudi Arabia would not be the last.
“Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back,” Netanyahu said, without giving any timeline.
The announcements come after a US-Israeli delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.
But the kingdom has cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a sign of its cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia allowed Monday’s historic flight to cross its airspace, halving what would otherwise have been a long detour around the Arabian peninsula.
However, Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy and home to Islam’s holiest sites, faces more sensitive political calculations than the UAE.
Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it would also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic world.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967 and an equitable solution for Palestinian refugees, in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of relations.
But a shared animosity towards Iran, along with Saudi attempts to attract foreign investment to fund Prince Mohammed’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, appear to be pushing the kingdom closer to Israel than ever.
A US-Israeli delegation including White House advisor Jared Kushner took off Monday on a historic first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
The word “peace” was written in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the cockpit of the plane of Israel’s national carrier El Al that took off around 11:20 am (0820 GMT) and was expected to land in the Emirates in the afternoon.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key architect of his Middle East policy, said before boarding.
“The future does not have to be predetermined by the past. This is a very hopeful time.”
The flight number El Al 971 is a reference to the UAE’s international dialling code, and the return flight, set to leave Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, is El Al 972, matching Israel’s dialling code.
The Israel-UAE agreement to normalise ties was announced by Trump on August 13, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab nation to establish relations with Israel.
Unlike Egypt, which made peace with its former battlefield enemy in 1979, and Jordan, which followed in 1994, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.
The unprecedented flight also passed through Saudi airspace, according to data from the specialist website FlightRadar24, and marked the most concrete sign yet that Israel’s thaw with major Arab powers is taking hold.
Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was also on the flight to the UAE, said “our goal is to achieve a joint working plan to advance relations in a very broad range of areas.
“This morning, the traditional blessing ‘go in peace’ receives special meaning for us,” he was quoted as saying in an English-language government statement.
– ‘Sparks fly’ –
The talks in Abu Dhabi aim to boost cooperation between the two regional economic powerhouses in areas including aviation, tourism, trade, health, energy and security.
An Israeli government statement said there would be “working meetings of joint teams on a range of issues ahead of the signing of cooperation agreements in the civil and economic spheres”.
The visit will also include a trilateral meeting between Kushner, Ben-Shabbat and UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, it said.
Israel’s health ministry had late Sunday updated its list of “green countries” with low coronavirus infection rates to include the UAE and eight other countries.
The change meant the Israeli officials and journalists travelling to Abu Dhabi would be exempted from a 14-day quarantine upon return.
Since the agreement between the UAE and Israel was unveiled, there have been phone calls between their ministers, and on Saturday the Emirates in a new milestone repealed a 1972 law boycotting Israel.
“It will be permissible to enter, exchange or possess Israeli goods and products of all kinds in the UAE and trade in them,” read a decree issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside Kushner in Jerusalem on Sunday, praised “the swift pace of normalisation” between his country and the UAE.
Noting the UAE’s Saturday move, Netanyahu said it “opens the door” for “unbridled trade, tourism, investments, exchanges between the Middle East’s two most advanced economies”.
“You will see how the sparks fly on this. It’s already happening,” he said, predicting that “today’s breakthroughs will become tomorrow’s norms. “It will pave the way for other countries to normalise their ties with Israel.”
“There are many more unpublicised meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalise relations with the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said without naming any countries.
As part of the normalisation agreement, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank, although Netanyahu quickly insisted the plans remained on the table in the long run.
The Palestinians dubbed the UAE’s agreement with Israel a “stab in the back” as it opens parts of the Arab world to the Jewish state while their own conflict remains unresolved.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by most Arab states, says it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians establishing an independent Palestinian state.
Israel’s prime minister and the US top diplomat voiced hope Monday the Jewish state would soon build ties with more Arab countries, following its landmark normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who started a Mideast tour in Jerusalem, both praised the US-brokered deal as a milestone toward bringing stability to the turbulent region.
“I’m very hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this,” said Pompeo, who was also set to visit Sudan, Bahrain and the UAE on a five-day regional tour.
Netanyahu hailed the Israel-UAE agreement as “a boon to peace and regional stability” which “heralds a new era where we could have other nations join”.
“I hope we’ll have good news in the future, maybe in the near future,” he said.
Netanyahu called Israel’s agreement with the Emirates, the first of its kind in a quarter century with an Arab state, an “alliance of the moderates against the radicals”.
Washington and its close ally hope Israel will be able to normalise ties with other regional countries traditionally hostile to it, in part to forge a stronger regional alliance against their common arch foe Iran.
Pompeo again stressed US President Donald Trump’s goal that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon” and urged the international community to maintain an arms embargo on the Islamic republic.
– ‘Legacy of hostility’ –
Israel had previously only signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which unlike the UAE share borders with Israel and had technically been at war with the Jewish state.
The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom said Sunday that direct talks with the UAE on the wording of the deal were close to starting and that “a full agreement could be reached within a month”.
Under the US-brokered agreement announced on August 13, Israel pledged to suspend its previous plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, without saying for how long.
The Palestinians have slammed the UAE’s move as a “stab in the back” while their own conflict with the Jewish state remains unresolved.
The Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, Monday charged that the Israel-UAE deal helps “maintain crimes and violations” against the Palestinians.
It urged regional and world leaders to “break their silence to bring an end” to the Gaza blockade.
In the latest upsurge of violence, Israel has bombed the coastal strip almost daily since August 6, while balloons carrying fire bombs and, less frequently, rocket fire have hit Israel from Gaza.
– Bahrain, Oman, Sudan? –
The Israel-Emirati pact has sparked speculation on which regional country might be next, with frequent mentions made of Bahrain and Sudan.
Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years had supported hardline Islamist forces but which is turning its back on the era of strongman Omar al-Bashir who was ousted last year.
The State Department said Pompeo would meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during his tour, to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”.
Pompeo will also meet Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa before talks with UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, it said.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by the majority of Arab states, has said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israel and the UAE say they want to promote trade, especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the UAE, establish direct air links and boost tourism.
Netanyahu has denied reports that the UAE deal hinges on the sale of US F-35 stealth fighter-jets to the Emirates, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel’s strategic edge in the region.
“This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal,” he said Monday.
Pompeo said the US was determined to help UAE defend itself against Iran and would do it “in a way that preserves our commitments to Israel”.
“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to (Israel’s) qualitative military edge. We will continue to honour that,” he said.
“But we have a 20-plus year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well, where we have provided them with technical assistance and military assistance.”
Washington, Pompeo said, would “continue to review that process to continue to make sure that we’re delivering them the equipment that they need to secure and defend their own people.”