30 Oct. 2007

Abdullah Goes To London

The state visit to Britain by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is turning into a PR nightmare. If it is possible to vomit words onto paper, then Robert Fisk surely comes close:
The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy. Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we "share values" with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?
The one obvious story that Fisk does not mention is Osama Bin Laden, who embraced terrorism as a direct result of his contempt of this cosy Saudi-US-UK relationships. This is an area where dialogue with Al Quaeda is clearly possible, if we are prepared to embrace the idea. It is our governments and our business leaders - not we, the people - who have a vested interest in perpetuating this obscene arms, oil and cash merry-go-round.

This is from The Guardian's leader:
Morality clearly lies with the protesters expected to gather in London today, whose criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record is well placed. The Foreign Office itself does not question it, listing concern at "aspects of the judicial system; corporal and capital punishment; torture; discrimination against women and non-Muslims; and restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, assembly and worship". This week, it says, is not the time to discuss such issues...

The government is sticking to a policy sustained since the 1980s: "Do nothing to upset the Saudi royal family." It must go down as one of Britain's most dubious but most long-lived goals. It has not done much to help the people of Saudi Arabia and nor has it prevented the spread of terrorism: Osama bin Laden is Saudi; so were 15 of the suicide bombers on September 11 2001. Realpolitik is supposed to produce benefits. As Britain's royal and political elite pay homage to the ruler of an intolerant, brutal and theocratic regime, it is worth asking exactly what those benefits are.
UK public opinion has turned decisively against the Saudis (and the Labor government) since a series of damning revelations about cosy deals involving BAE Systems:
Last month the company completed a deal to sell 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia for £4.43bn. That followed the attorney general's notorious decision to call off a fraud investigation into BAE's previous al-Yamamah contract, declaring that "it has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest". This summer the Guardian reported, too, that BAE Systems had paid hundreds of millions of pounds to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, now King Abdullah's security adviser.
Meanwhile, here in Oz, we barely raise an eyebrow when Defence Minister Brendan Nelson awards no-bid contracts for even more useless military hardware.