King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, who had ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, died on Friday at the age of ninety, passing the crown (NYT) to his half-brother Salman and sparking speculation over the succession’s impact on Saudi oil policy, relations with the United States, and internal reforms. King Salman, seventy-nine, takes power at a time when U.S.-Saudi relations have been strained (WSJ) by U.S. outreach to Iran, support for the Arab Spring, and criticism of Saudi Arabia’s stifling of internal dissent. In a televised address on Friday, King Salman pledged continuity and acknowledged (FT) the crises unfolding on the country’s borders in both Iraq and Yemen. He also immediately decreed (Bloomberg) that current oil minister Ali al-Naimi would continue in his post, signaling stability in Saudi oil policy amid the ongoing fall in world prices.
"The king’s death comes at a delicate time for the oil-rich kingdom, which is struggling with the impact of plunging oil prices domestically, the rise of the Islamic State, and an Iran’s whose influence is growing across the Mideast as its proxies take on increasingly powerful roles in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria," argues Yochi Dreazen in Foreign Policy.
"The biggest risk associated with Riyadh’s oil strategy is domestic. An $89 billion revenue loss in 2015, assuming the price of oil hovers at $55 a barrel, will not lead to a social revolution. But sharp cuts in welfare spending and salaries for government workers, which account for 50 percent of budget spending, could have unpredictable consequences," write Bilal Y. Saab and Robert A. Manning in Foreign Affairs.
"The people of Saudi Arabia are probably better off for having had Abdullah as king than would have been their lot with most other rulers. He recognized the need for the country's society to modernize and moved in that direction about as much as he could within the severe limits posed by tradition, the religious establishment, and the necessity for consensus," argues Paul Pillar in the National Interest.
Ousted Thai PM Banned From Politics
Thailand's military-appointed legislature voted Friday to impeach (Bloomberg) former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over alleged negligence and corruption in a national rice subsidy scheme, banning her from politics for the next five years. The vote followed the attorney general's announcement that Yingluck will face criminal charges (Bangkok Post).
CHINA: China is blocking virtual private network services (AP) that evade online censorship of websites like Google and Facebook, according to technology companies and experts. Beijing censors thousands of sites that it believes share politically sensitive information.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistani PM Cancels Davos Trip Amid National Fuel Crisis
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif canceled his trip (WSJ) the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday due to a fuel crisis brewing at home. Gasoline shortages have triggered public anger and increased political pressure on the government. Government officials and oil companies blamed the shortages on supply-chain mismanagement and miscalculation of demand following the drop in global oil prices.
NEPAL: Opposition parties stormed the parliament on Friday as rival parties failed (Al Jazeera) to meet a deadline to draft a national constitution. Nepal has faced a political crisis since 2008, when its 239-year monarchy was abolished.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
Yemeni President Quits
Embattled President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and his government resigned (Al Arabiya) on Thursday, leaving the country leaderless as the country's political crisis deepens. Houthi rebels and government forces clashed in the capital this week.
DRC Amends Census Law
Lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo dropped a clause (Reuters) requiring acensus before 2016 presidential elections on Friday after days of violent protests across the country. Opposition leaders said that the census would have delayed the elections and extended President Joseph Kabila's term.
NIGERIA: National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki urged (BBC) the electoral commission to delay national elections slated for next month to allow more time for the distribution of voter cards. There has been a recent uptick in violence carried out by alleged Boko Haram militants ahead of the election.
CFR's John Campbell discusses the anxiety surrounding Nigeria's upcoming national elections in this blog post.
Euro Drops to Eleven-Year Low
The euro fell Friday to an eleven-year low (FT) against the dollar, to $1.13, following the European Central Bank's announcement of a quantitative easing plan that will inject $1.28 trillion into the eurozone through 2016.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde discusses the global economy and the IMF’s role in 2015 in this CFR Meeting.
GREECE: A new poll showed that anti-austerity party Syriza extended (Guardian) its lead to six points ahead of Greece's Sunday snap elections. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has vowed to renegotiate the country's bailout terms.
First Round of U.S.-Cuba Talks Conclude
Historic talks between representatives from the United States and Cuba concluded on Thursday, with both sides calling the talks positive and productive (WaPo), but also acknowledging areas of discord.
This CFR Backgrounder chronicles the U.S.-Cuba relationship and explores its ongoing challenges.
ARGENTINA: President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said that she was convinced that the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman was not a suicide (LAHT), but rather part of an anti-government plot. Nisman, the lead investigator of a 1994 attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center, was found dead on Monday, hours before he was due to testify on allegations of the government's conspiracy to cover up Iranian involvement in the attack.