QATARIS REACH OUT TO RUSSIANS
SAUDI-LED DIPLOMATIC SPAT INTENSIFIES
Amid a severe diplomatic crisis with some of its Arab neighbours, Qatar’s foreign minister will visit Moscow for talks with Sergei Lavrov today.
Last Wednesday, CNN reported that Russia was behind an alleged hack on the Qatar News Agency’s website. Qatar claims hackers posted fake articles that showed the country’s leader praising Iran, which inflamed tensions days before Saudi Arabia and its partners cut ties with Doha. Qatar hasn’t commented on this report and Russia denies involvement.
Regardless, the alleged comments are just a small part of a much deeper rift, which stems from Qatar’s support for regional Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its relatively warm ties with Iran—with which it shares the world’s largest natural gas deposit.
Donald Trump’s anti-Iran stance, which was on display at last month’s Riyadh summit, appears to have emboldened Saudi Arabia to take action against its smaller neighbour in a bid to bring it into line with the GCC’s staunchly anti-Iran policy (Oman is an exception).
While Turkey—which also backs many of the same Islamist groups that Qatar does—has provided diplomatic and military support, Iran itself is an important part of the equation and has offered to help bust the blockade.
However, the optics of Qatari diplomats flying into Tehran days after the Saudi-led bloc cut ties would only inflame the current spat—something Qatar wants to avoid. Instead, it appears the country’s foreign minister has (correctly) identified Russia as an influential Iranian ally that has Tehran’s ear.
SECURING AMERICA’S IDENTITY
SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM REINFORCED
From today onwards, US citizens will be required to undergo a stronger authentication process to access their social security accounts.
In place of a national ID card system, which doesn’t exist in the United States, citizens rely on their social security numbers to identify themselves to authorities and businesses—from pensions to back accounts to getting a job. However, the social security system was never designed to perform the various, complex identification purposes that it’s used for today when it was implemented in 1935.
Not only do social security numbers lack essential safety features such as biometrics or a picture, the numbers themselves are composed in such a way that they can be easily guessed and stolen by identity thieves. In 2016 alone, more than 15 million Americans fell victim to identity theft, netting criminals a staggering $16 billion.
While the new security features to be brought in today are still very basic—merely requiring users to enter a code received by text message or email—it will help reinforce this vulnerable aspect of America’s information infrastructure.
INJECTING HEALTH INTO PUBLIC FINANCES
SAUDI ARABIA INTRODUCES SIN TAXES
New ‘sin’ taxes on tobacco and sugary drinks will come into effect in Saudi Arabia today.
While these types of levies are becoming increasingly common (Mexico, France and Hungary all have sugary drink taxes), their implementation in Saudi Arabia is notable given the Kingdom’s distinct lack of individual taxes. Residents of Saudi Arabia pay very few consumption taxes and no income tax at all.
While a boon for citizens and expats, this lack of public money gathering deprives the government of a key source of income—an increasing problem amid drastically declining oil revenues and widening deficits, which neared $80 billion last year. The taxes are expected to generate at least $2 billion in revenue annually.