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Why does this country put up with Saudi Arabia?

The UK is happy to turn a blind eye to the Kingdom's many wrongs, as long as the cash is still rolling in.

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Image Credit: RA.AZ

Within the past year, one of the most politically inspiring moments for me was when Senators Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, as well as Representative Ro Khana among others, were able to rally the legislative chambers of Congress against continued arms sales between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It’s this sort of consensus-building, bi-partisan effort that genuinely excites me. Needless to say, I was dejected when such resolutions were vetoed by the president. The Arab kingdom has been part of my political attention for a few years now, especially with the one-sided slaughter of the war in Yemen which has virtually always been outside of the public periphery since its inception.

Even the UK, whose Court of Appeal ruled arms sales with the Saudis as unlawful, has failed to suspend such agreements, with Trade Secretary Liz Truss confessing that since the ruling in June, the court order had been breached at least three times since when reported in September. With this established indifference to Yemeni liquidation, whereby the government is ready to supply and assist the massacre but refuses to take on responsibility and with an election in less than a month, I feel it’s necessary to evaluate and change our geopolitical relations with Saudi Arabia.

Upon first glance, the fact that the UK has been closely tied to the kingdom since the outset going back to the First World War, one might assume that there’s an understanding, quid pro quo type of relationship. In reality, however, this is far from the case. Instead, both the UK and US bend over like a pair of palm trees, whose people are supposedly swayed by the guff of numerous unfounded claims and contradicting what should be an ethically minded foreign policy. The relationship is very much Saudi-led with the Home Office withholding a report in 2017 that would reveal the Arab kingdom’s role in actively financing terrorism. In the American example following 9/11, the findings of Saudi officials linked in the last 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 were redacted by the orders of George Bush in 2003. In March 2016 this issue was revived when the Saudi government threatened to sell some $750 billion worth of assets, potentially destabilising the US dollar, if legislation was passed allowing for the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government. The past year has also seen the scandalous murder of journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, to which both Atlantic countries did nothing of any significance in response.

In turn, the economic relationship between the UK and Saudis is also inconsequential, with the goods and services sold to the latter making up just 1 per cent of UK exports and 0.004 per cent of total revenue in 2016. Moreover, a very small portion of UK crude oil and petroleum comes from the region, too. The Americans have been independent of such resources for decades, suggesting that something else is going on here that justifies serving the Saudis in aiding their quest for regional dominance. Supposedly, national security is the real beneficiary from the relationship with it featuring joint military action and counter-terrorism in the Middle East. Yet, with the Saudi government financially supporting and supplying weapons to numerous insurgencies, one imagines that these efforts are somewhat contradictory.

Perhaps the acts of Saudi bribery among British MPs and ministers or even the American executive through his hotels and businesses are more persuasive. This is seen in the lavish spending on some 44 cross-party MPs since 2010. The office of the president in the US has always aligned itself with Gulf money but what's perhaps unique to Trump is just how much he and his family profits from it, too. The Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, for instance, was in financial decline for years until it grew by 13 per cent in the first quarter of 2018. Jimmy Carter had to sell his peanut farm back in the 1970s due to a fear of a potential conflict of interest. These standards have suspiciously slipped.

Following the Brexit referendum in 2016, the government has promised a more “Global Britain” whereby economic interests are further diversified and globalised and an emphasis on an international, rules and value-based order. This ties into the Saudi 2030 Vision plan where the nation will undergo significant economic reform. However, as Armida L. M. van Rij describes from King's College London “the tacit support for Saudi Arabia’s actions is entirely antithetical to this stated aim.” The country’s credibility is further marred by this hypocrisy. With the election in the forefront of minds, I make no excuses for Corbyn’s presence among terrorists and insurgencies in the past decades.

However, I implore you to remember which government is actively supporting a war and an induced famine on the people of Yemen this December on the scale of genocide. It’s only that Saudi Arabia is a state actor that gives this relationship any guise of legitimacy; it deserves to be severed, not least on behalf of the Yemeni people.

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