Politics

Friend or Foe? Saudi Prince visits UK

By Marie-Claire Alfonso

On the 7th of March, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia touched down in the UK for a three-day visit. During his visit the Prince met the Queen, the Prime Minister and other dignitaries. This is his first visit to the UK since he became Crown Prince in June 2017.

The Crown Prince was met with large protests from the people of Britain and open arms by Theresa May. Activists protested the Saudi Prince for being complicit in war crimes in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians and, at one point, sealed off complete access to the country. Sealing off the borders and ports prevented aid access to the poverty-stricken nation, exacerbating the Cholera crisis that has so far affected 31,421 Yemenis.

This coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France. Since the military intervention started in 2015, the UN has reported that more than 9,000 people, half of whom are civilians, have been killed. Saudi-led airstrikes are the leading cause of overall civilian casualties.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said that the Saudi Crown Prince, was “the architect of the Saudi airstrikes and blockade in Yemen, funding jihadi groups in the Syrian civil war, ordering his guards to beat up the Prime Minister of Lebanon and in the eight months since he became Crown Prince doubling the number of executions”.

The UK announced a £100m humanitarian aid agreement with Riyadh coinciding with the visit which was dubbed by UK politicians as a “national disgrace”.

Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary, stated “Over 22 million Yemeni lives depend on permanent, full access for aid, food and fuel in Yemen. Instead, she has won no concessions and simply handed on a plate to Saudi Arabia a new humanitarian partnership and an endorsement from DfID [the Department for International Development], the world’s best aid agency.

“It will whitewash Saudi Arabia’s reputation and role in the war, and it is a national disgrace,” Osamor said.

Around the same time Saudi Arabia and Britain signed a huge new arms deal, despite repeated calls for the UK to halt arms sales. British firm BAE Systems will sell 48 Typhoon fighter jets to the Saudis and a preliminary deal has been signed, according to reports, for the Kingdom to buy from the UK, as part of a multi-billion-pound deal.

Since the start of the war in Yemen, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth £4.6bn, including the sale of Tornado aircraft, tanks, armoured vehicles, grenades, missiles and bombs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly denounced the arms deals and last week accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “colluding” in war crimes by selling weapons to Riyadh.

“Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but British arms sales have sharply increased and British military advisers are directing the war,” Corbyn told May during Prime Minister’s Questions at the House of Commons.

Amnesty International also slammed the agreement, saying: “Selling more fighter planes to a country leading a military coalition that is already laying waste to homes, hospitals and schools in Yemen, is just adding fuel to a humanitarian fire.”

The Crown Prince has been credited for creating progressive reforms in Saudi Arabia. Since coming to power women can drive, join the army and visit the cinema. The Prince has also worked to take on corruption within the royal family and the Saudi government, and has pushed for the economy to move away from its reliance on oil; developing a broader, more market-oriented economy.

Thornberry commented on the deals made between the UK and Saudi Arabia during the Prince’s visit stating ““We are supposed to ignore all that just because he is to allow Saudi women to drive, just as they can everywhere else in the world. The British government pretends to care about human rights and war crimes but when it comes to Saudi Arabia in Yemen there is nothing but a shameful silence.””

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