Saudi crown prince’s Bahrain visit puts a time-tested relationship in the limelight

Saudi crown prince’s Bahrain visit puts a time-tested relationship in the limelight
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Bahrain’s ruler King Hamad on the fourth leg of his tour of Gulf countries aimed at bolstering relations. (Saudi Press Agency)
Short Url
Updated 13 December 2021

Saudi crown prince’s Bahrain visit puts a time-tested relationship in the limelight

Saudi crown prince’s Bahrain visit puts a time-tested relationship in the limelight
  • Saudi Arabia imported Bahraini goods worth $140m in Oct. 2021, making it the island kingdom’s biggest export customer
  • Reopening of King Fahd Causeway and launch of COVID-19 ‘health passports’ have aided trade and tourism recovery

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bahrain, his latest stop on a tour of the Gulf states, is expected to cement ties between the two kingdoms, with both witnessing strong reciprocal trade and a burgeoning tourism sector.

Ahead of the visit, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a written message to Bahrain’s King Hamad regarding bilateral relations, and ways to support and enhance ties between the two kingdoms, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The message was delivered by Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, during a meeting with his Bahraini counterpart, Dr. Abdullatif Al-Zayani, in the capital, Manama.




Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Bahrain’s ruler King review historical and fraternal relations between the two countries and ways of enhancing cooperation. (Saudi Press Agency)

During the meeting, Prince Faisal conveyed King Salman’s greetings to King Hamad, and his wishes for continued progress and prosperity for the kingdom and the Bahraini people.

Saudi Arabia, the largest GCC market, is just 40 minutes from Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway, and has long ranked first among countries receiving Bahraini exports, importing goods worth $140 million in October 2021 alone.

The UAE was second that month, with $98 million, and the US third, with $87 million, according to the foreign trade report from Bahrain’s Information and eGovernment Authority.

The King Fahd Causeway is among the most significant construction achievements in the region. Since its opening in 1986, it has helped to strengthen relations between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Around 390 million users have traveled along the causeway since it opened.

The two kingdoms have long enjoyed fruitful economic ties. Tourism and trade links between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia grew 43 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2020. And the reopening of the causeway in March 2021, following its lengthy closure at the height of the global pandemic, has given the two economies a significant boost.

Forecasts suggest the reopening of the causeway has contributed $2.9 billion to Bahrain’s economy this year, based on average tourism spending in 2019, according to the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Bahrain attracted nearly 11 million visitors, including 9 million tourists, in 2019. Saudis accounted for 88 percent of Bahrain’s visitors, with most traveling via the causeway. 

Although trade between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia has continued throughout the pandemic, tourism has been severely affected. To aid the post-pandemic recovery, the two kingdoms closed ranks in the fight against COVID-19.

In November, the Information and eGovernment Authority and the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a “health passport,” which ensures that citizens and residents traveling between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia meet criteria set by both countries to combat the virus.

The pandemic response is not the only example of the two countries working together. They routinely coordinate their actions under the umbrella of the GCC in accordance with the bloc’s common visions and strategic goals, with a view to achieving integration between member states in different fields.

A similar cooperative spirit informs their roles at the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the UN and various international bodies.

After a period of turbulence, Bahrain’s economy has vastly improved in recent months thanks to a package of fiscal reforms aimed at improving non-oil revenues, and cutting state spending and support from its regional allies. In November, S&P Global Ratings revised Bahrain’s outlook to “stable” from “negative.”




Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad, left, with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his delegation during a meeting in the capital on Dec. 9, 2021. (Bahrain News Agency via AFP)

Bahrain’s public debt climbed to 133 percent of gross domestic product last year from 102 percent in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund. S&P forecasts Bahrain’s budget deficit, which was 16.8 percent of GDP last year, to average 5 percent between 2021 and 2024, excluding the impact of a possible hike in value-added tax.

Rated below investment grade in 2018 owing to a credit crunch, Bahrain received a combined package of $10 billion from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

That money was linked to a set of fiscal reforms, but after the COVID-19 crisis strained its finances, Bahrain in September postponed plans to balance its budget by two years and announced plans to increase a value-added tax.

“The Bahraini government recently announced additional fiscal reforms to strengthen non-oil revenue and rationalize expenditure. These measures, along with the more supportive oil price environment, should improve the sovereign’s fiscal position,” S&P said in a statement.

The agency said it expects the government to benefit from additional financial support from its Gulf allies, if needed.

In numbers

• Saudis make up 88 percent of Bahrain’s visitors

• Bahrain attracted 9m tourists in 2019

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE recently reiterated their support for Bahrain’s plans to balance its budget, a move expected to help the country in the debt capital markets despite delays in plans to fix its heavily indebted finances.

This does not mean Bahrain has lowered its ambitions. In November, it announced plans to invest $30 billion in over 20 new projects, with the construction of five new offshore cities, according to Bahrain News Agency.

The strategic project plan will see infrastructure development, including a new causeway connecting Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. Bahrain will also establish a 109 km metro system, the 22.5 km Northern Road. The strategy is designed to create jobs and boost economic growth in Bahrain.

Bahrain also aims to increase oil refining capacity from 267,000 to 380,000 barrels per day through its Bapco Modernization Program, the largest industrial project in the kingdom’s history.


Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
Updated 25 min 13 sec ago

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
  • James Fitton and Volker Waldmann have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport
  • According to customs officers, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics; Waldmann had two pieces, but denied they were his

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Sunday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German man accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defense lawyer called for more investigations.
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist, have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport as they wound up their holiday.
According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but denied they were his.
The two men did not know each other before they traveled to Iraq on an organized tour, and both say they had no intention of breaking the law.
The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow time for further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defense lawyer, Furat Kuba.
During initial investigations, “certain important aspects were not examined,” Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee that said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any more details: what site do these pieces come from? What era, what civilization do they date back to?” Kuba asked, adding there were also outstanding questions relating to the site where the fragments were collected.
“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there signs indicating that these are ancient pieces that it is forbidden to collect?“
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been present at the site to give evidence in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.
Their trial comes with the war-ravaged country, whose tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, timidly opening to visitors.
Iraq has also been trying to recover antiquities that were looted over a period of decades from the country whose civilization dates back thousands of years.
The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of “intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity.”
Fitton, at the start of the trial, when asked why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, cited his “hobby,” saying he was interested in “geology and ancient history and archaeology,” and was not aware that taking the fragments was illegal.
Waldmann has denied the pieces allegedly found in his luggage were his, but they belonged to Fitton.


Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran
Updated 9 sec ago

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

DUBAI: Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Sunday that members of an Israeli intelligence service network had been discovered and arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Under the guidance of the Zionist regime's intelligence service, the network attempted to steal and destroy personal and public property, kidnapping and obtaining fabricated confessions through a network of thugs,” the IRGC public relations service said in a statement. 


Iran Revolutionary Guards member assassinated in Tehran: State media

Iran Revolutionary Guards member assassinated in Tehran: State media
Updated 35 min 43 sec ago

Iran Revolutionary Guards member assassinated in Tehran: State media

Iran Revolutionary Guards member assassinated in Tehran: State media
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, identified Khodai as a colonel
  • According to IRNA, Khodai was killed by five bullets as he returned home at around 4:00 p.m. (1130 GMT)

TEHRAN: Gunmen shot dead a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Sunday in the east of the capital Tehran, state news agency IRNA reported.
“Sayyad Khodai... was assassinated during a gun attack carried out by two motorcylists in Tehran’s Mohahedin-e Eslam Street,” IRNA said.
The agency described him as a “defender of the sanctuary” — a term used to describe anyone who works on behalf of the Islamic republic in Syria or Iraq.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, identified Khodai as a colonel.
In a statement posted on their website, the Guards also denounced a “terrorist act” they claimed was carried out by “elements linked to global arrogance” — a reference to the United States and its allies.
The Guards said they launched an investigation to identify the “aggressor or aggressors.”
According to IRNA, Khodai was killed by five bullets as he returned home at around 4:00 p.m. (1130 GMT).
The agency published pictures showing a man slumped over in the driver’s seat of a car, with blood around the collar of his blue shirt and on his right upper arm.
He is strapped in with his seat belt and the front window on the passenger side has been shot out.


Israeli court sentences Palestinian jailbreakers to 5 years

Israeli court sentences Palestinian jailbreakers to 5 years
Updated 22 May 2022

Israeli court sentences Palestinian jailbreakers to 5 years

Israeli court sentences Palestinian jailbreakers to 5 years
  • The jailbreak sparked a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the occupied West Bank in search for the men

TEL AVIV: An Israeli court on Sunday sentenced six Palestinian inmates to five years in prison for tunneling out of their cell last year and escaping from a high-security facility in the biggest prison break of its kind in decades.
The jailbreak sparked a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the occupied West Bank in search for the men, who were members of Palestinian militant groups. They were recaptured days later.
The bold escape dominated newscasts, sparked heavy criticism of Israel’s prison service and prompted the government to launch an inquiry. According to various reports, the men dug a tunnel through the floor of their shared cell undetected over several months and managed to slip past a sleeping prison guard after emerging through a hole outside the facility.
The judge ruled that the sentence took into account the fact that the prison break paralyzed the nation for days, the costs it took to recapture the inmates and the harm to public security caused by having prisoners under life sentence and convicted of serious crimes escape.
The five-year sentence will be added to the prison terms the prisoners were already serving. Five other inmates charged with assisting the men were sentenced to an additional four years.
Israel considers all six of the escapees to be terrorists. Five of them are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences. The sixth, Zakaria Zubeidi, is a member of the secular Fatah group of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Zubeidi was a militant leader during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s and well known in Israel both for his militant activity and his love for giving media interviews.
Palestinians consider prisoners held by Israel to be heroes of their national cause and many on social media celebrated the escape and held demonstrations in support of the prisoners.


Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures
Updated 22 May 2022

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures

Oman ends all COVID-19 protective measures
  • All measures that had been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in all venues and for all activities have been lifted

Oman announced on Sunday the lifting of all measures that had been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in all venues and for all activities, state TV reported, citing a statement from the government committee dealing with the pandemic.
There have been 389,943 infections and 4,260 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the sultanate since the pandemic began, according to Reuters data.