We should stop pandering to the barbaric Saudis
Published by The Times (24th June, 2019)
Saudi Arabia is very rich and buys lots of British weapons. Yet it is still baffling that our government remains so loyal to a kingdom that is the antithesis of our supposed democratic values, as it represses women, crushes freedom, exports extremism and bludgeons enemies. So I applaud last week’s ruling by the Court of Appeal that suspends arms sales to this repulsive regime.
The decision centred on claims that ministers violated humanitarian law by signing off arms deals without properly assessing risks to civilians in Yemen. This highlighted the hypocrisy of British links to atrocities in this blighted nation. First we send bombs and support troops to stoke a humanitarian catastrophe, then we dispatch big dollops of aid to salve the wounds of tragedy.
Such are the contortions of our foreign policy. Yet look beyond Yemen for further evidence of the carnage inflamed by our ally, as its princes seek to protect their gilded throne by stifling democracy across the region. They helped crush Bahrain’s insurgency, backed the restoration of Egypt’s dictatorship and now they are supporting terror in Sudan.
In April there was a flicker of hope in this vast African country after three decades of despotism under Omar al-Bashir. This elderly rogue was deposed following four months of demonstrations fuelled by rising bread prices and rampant poverty. Then earlier this month the military re-asserted itself by slaughtering, raping and beating peaceful protesters, sparking fears of civil war.
The key figure in this backlash is Mohamed Hamdan. Better known as Hemedti, this warlord commanded the Janjaweed, the militia accused of genocide as it burnt villages in Darfur at the start of this century. Now these thugs, rebranded as Rapid Support Forces, are terrorising Khartoum with money and arms supplied by the Saudis and United Arab Emirates. So where did these weapons originate?
Hemedti flew to Riyadh for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman last month, shortly before unleashing attacks on pro-democracy activists. “For years Hemedti killed and burnt in Darfur,” said Alaa Salah, the student clad in white whose image leading chants attracted global attention. “Now Darfur has come to Khartoum.”
It is not just Yemen where the Saudis unleash horror. The brazen killing of a dissident journalist in Istanbul gave another glimpse into how this feudal regime operates. One senior US military figure even suggested to me recently that the West might be better off backing Iran in this duo’s struggle for Middle East supremacy. Certainly we should stop the flow of arms and distance ourself from these barbaric bigots.