In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)
The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree to dissolve the parliament on Oct. 16. The decision was made due to "mounting security challenges as well as volatile regional developments." As of late, tension has been rising between the government and parliament, as parliament members sought to question government leaders regarding a decision to increase petrol prices and other alleged financial and administrative violations. Kuwait has been under increasing pressure as global oil prices have dropped, forcing the country to cut back on numerous subsidies, causing civil unrest. In addition, Kuwait has faced threats of attack by ISIS.
Kuwait's Supreme Court on March 7 upheld the four-year prison sentence against an activist found guilty of insulting judges on Twitter. Ahmad Fadhel was convicted for writing comments considered offensive to a number of judges in Kuwait. Three top judges sued Fadhel for defamation, and a lower court issued the four-year sentence in October 2014. The appeals court upheld the sentence last February, and now the ruling by the Supreme Court is final.
The last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, has been repatriated to his home country, the US Department of Defense announced Jan. 8. The Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined in September that "continued law of war detention of Al-Kandari does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Al-Kandari was captured by unnamed Afghans and arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002 after being accused of serving as Osama bin Laden's "advisor and confidant." Kuwaiti authorities said the release showed progress in bilateral relations with the US. The release of all 12 Kuwaiti detainees followed strong efforts by Kuwait and high-profile Washington lawyers to secure their freedom. Al-Kandari is the third detainee to be resettled this week; 104 detainees remain at the detention center.
Seemingly coordinated attacks left over 140 dead across four countries June 26, in what social media users are dubbing "Bloody Friday." In France, an assailant drove his van into a factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon, causing an explosion that killed 37 and wounded a similar number. His boss, the owner of a delivery firm, was found beheaded alongside flags containing Islamic inscriptions in Arabic. (BBC News) At least 39, mostly foreigners, were killed and nearly as many injured as a lone gunman opened fire on a beach in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse before being gunned down himself. (BBC News) In Somalia, dozens of soldiers were killed as al-Shabaab overran an African Union base in the village of Lego, northwest of Mogadishu, (The Guardian) And an explosion tore through a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait City after Friday prayers, killing at least eight and wounding several others. (Al Jazeera) The attacks come amid the holy month of Ramadan, and days before the anniversary of the declaration of a "caliphate" by ISIS.
Kuwait's Supreme Court on May 18 upheld the two-year prison sentence against activist Musallam al-Barrack for insulting Kuwait's ruler. Al-Barrack, a former lawmaker, was originally sentenced to five years in prison, but that sentence was later shortened on appeal to two years. The case against al-Barrack began after he gave a speech in October 2012 in which he urged Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah not to "drag the country into a dark abyss" while charging that Kuwait risked becoming an autocratic state under new electoral laws. In March 2013 a protest in Kuwait City consisting of hundreds of al-Barrack's supporters turned violent as it marched toward the parliament building. Police used batons against the protesters and arrested at least a dozen. Al-Barrack was also arrested in 2014 after he revealed documents showing large sums of illegal financial transfers made to senior officials, including judges. After his arrest, more violent protests ensued. Al-Barrack's lawyer stated that his client will surrender to authorities once court paperwork is complete.
Kuwait's Supreme Court on July 12 upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Hamad al-Naqi, a 24-year-old member of Kuwait's Shiite minority, was also found guilty of spreading false news that undermined Kuwait's image abroad. The Supreme Court's decision is final and can only be commuted by the Kuwaiti Emir. An appeals court affirmed al-Naqi's sentence in October. The result drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which condemned the decision as a "violat[ion of] international standards on freedom of expression." He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2012, and was originally sentenced in June 2012. Al-Naqi has maintained his innocence, arguing that his Twitter account was hacked.