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Saudi Arabia: an inconvenient truth

So, according to a New Labour foreign office minister, Britain and Saudi Arabia’s feudal absolute monarchy should work more closely together on the basis of “shared values”. Kim Howells declined to elaborate whether these might include routine torture, imprisonment without trial, amputations, beheadings, stoning, endemic corruption, discrimination against women and gay people as well as support for those who attack Shia Muslims on the basis that they are not “true believers”. Amnesty International says that at least 124 people have been executed in Saudi so far this year, the majority by beheading.

You can be sure that none of these issues will be raised at Buckingham Palace today when the Saudi entourage dine with the Queen or tomorrow when King Abdullah meets Gordon Brown, the man who declared at his party conference that human rights were “universal”. If he wasn’t such a hypocrite, Brown might have added: “There are, of course, exceptions. Our allies like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt have special problems in this regard.” But, let’s face it, Brown is like any other Western leader when it comes to turning a blind eye to human rights abuses when it is politically (or economically) inconvenient.

The inconvenience in this case revolves around oil and weapons. Britain’s relationship with the feudal tyranny is a simple one. You sell us the oil and we will give you as many fighter planes and weapons as you want. And if, along the way, companies like BAE have to pay serious bribes to members of the royal family to win a £40bn contract, we will make sure the British police don’t investigate on grounds of “national security”. Only last month Britain and Saudi Arabia announced a deal for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to the desert kingdom for £4.4bn. Whitehall officials said the potential total value of the contract would be much higher. As always, the contract details are secret.

So the “shared values” Howells talks about are simply a variation on the theme of blood for oil – except in this case it is Saudi blood that is spilled when people try and gain some democratic rights. Apart from John McDonnell – who denounced Howells’ statement – there is a noticeable silence from government benches, which is a further indication of the political degeneration of New Labour into a party of big business that will do anything in the name of trade and commerce. It was left to the Liberal Democrats' acting leader Vince Cable to denounce the state visit, while Chris Huhne, a leadership candidate, said: "The accolade of a full state visit is quite wrong. We are feting the reactionary leader of a society that discriminates against women, tortures prisoners, conducts public executions, amputates limbs as a punishment, and bans freedom of expression, assembly and religion. Saudi Arabia's human rights record is atrocious."

But a Foreign Office spokesman said: "Saudi Arabia is one of the UK's most important international partners. King Abdullah's visit will further deepen and broaden that relationship." The message is clear: the greasing of palms will continue. So will the beheadings and the torture. In Downing Street, the hypocrite will continue to prattle on about human rights. Meanwhile, the cries of the victims of the despotic Saudi regime will be drowned out by the sound of British-made fighter planes soaring overhead.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communcations editor
30 October 2007

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