Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Arabian Peninsula

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Arabian Peninsula

Article excerpt

GCC Approves Tobacco Tariff

Health ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including newly admitted member state Yemen, met Jan. 8 to discuss a number of health-related issues, particularly an alarming increase in the number of smokers in the region. The Jan. 7 Arab News reported that the GCC already has taken some steps to curb the effect of smoking on its population, such as prohibiting smoking in public places and banning tobacco advertising in the local media. Still, according to the Jan. 9 Saudi Gazette, 30 to 50 percent of Saudi medical professionals are smokers. The Arab News reported the same day that 39 of every 100,000 Saudis suffer from cancer caused by smoking. While numbers in other GCC countries are lower, an overall increase in the number of smokers and smoking-related diseases led the ministers to consider an increase in the customs tariff on tobacco. After some debate, the 52nd conference of GCC health ministers ended with a list of 25 recommendations, including a 150 percent increase in the tobacco tariff. Members states were urged to adopt these recommendations, which included the formation by each state of a national committee for the effective implementation of health strategy to control a number of problems, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Kuwait, Qatar Sign $2 Billion

Gas Deal

According to the Jan. 31 Saudi Gazette, Qatar and Kuwait have signed a gas deal worth an estimated $2 billion. The deal, which was announced on Jan. 30 and will take effect in 2005, involves the daily transfer via submarine pipeline of anywhere between 800 million and 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas from Qatar to Kuwait. That's enough to fill the Goodyear blimp about 4,000 times, or to power a 9,000-megawatt electricity generation network that Kuwait plans to build over the next few years. Kuwait, which sits on one of the world's largest reserves of crude oil, has no non-oil-related gas reserves of any significance. Qatar, on the other hand, is the smallest producer in OPEC and controls the third largest reserve of natural gas in the world.

Kuwaiti Women Rally for Vote

In what has become an annual event, Kuwaiti women marched to voting stations on Jan. 17 to demand their political rights, specifically the right to vote. According to that day's Times of India, the women were demanding rights as granted in a 1999 royal decree, which was later rejected by parliament. Maasuma Abdullah, coordinator of the Women's Cultural and Social Society, remained hopeful in spite of yet another official rejection: "It's only a matter of time before we get our rights," she said. "We will continue to work quietly and seriously." Parliament, it seems, can be sure to expect similar protests next year.

Abused Saudis to Sue U.S.

Some Saudi citizens are accusing the United States of denying them their rights following the events of Sept. 11. According to the Jan. 17 Saudi Gazette, an American Embassy official in Riyadh insists that "Saudi students in the U.S. are being well treated. There is no discrimination whatsoever, except in a few cases." Those "few cases" tell a very different story, however: according to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, 173 Saudis were arrested in the United States. The majority were released almost immediately, but some 50 still are behind bars. …

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