The UK gave a royal welcome to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as Saudi Arabia wages a bloody war in Yemen. Analyst Ali al-Ahmed says the British government is making the humanitarian catastrophe even worse
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman took his first official trip to the United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 7th. The authoritarian crown prince dined with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. He also met with conservative prime minister Theresa May, who lavished the Saudi prince with praise. May reaffirmed Britain’s decades of support for the Gulf dictatorship, which is governed by an extremist Islamist ideology known as Wahhabism.
A Saudi company paid to plaster propaganda on billboards across London. Vans drove around the city with messages welcoming the crown prince. Prince Mohammed’s visit was met by large protests, however. It was not all rosy. Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of the opposition in the UK, condemned Prime Minister May for welcoming the Saudi prince as his country wages a brutally destructive war on Yemen.
JEREMY CORBYN: …Speaker, the prime minister is due to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the ruler of Saudi Arabia. Despite much talk of reform, there’s been a sharp increase in the arrest and detention of dissidents, torture of prisoners is common, human rights defenders routinely sentenced to lengthy prison terms, unfair trials and executions are widespread as Amnesty International confirms. As she makes her arms sales pitch, will she also call on the crown prince to halt the shocking abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia?
BEN NORTON: And that wasn’t all. Hundreds of anti-war activists gathered outside Downing Street to condemn British support from the Saudi regime as it relentlessly bombed civilian areas in Yemen and while it imposes a crippling blockade on the impoverished country, which is the poorest in the region.
Since the start of the US and the UK backed war in Yemen, which was in March 2015, the British government has approved more than $6 billion of weapons to the Saudi regime. Meanwhile, a new report has found that the British government has actually increased its use of additional secretive arms sales by 75%, even as the United Nations has repeatedly said Saudi Arabia is using these UK weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen.
To discuss Mohammed bin Salman’s visit, we’re joined by Ali al-Ahmed. Ali is the founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, which is an independent think tank in Washington, D.C.. He’s also an investigative journalist who has published numerous reports on human rights in Saudi Arabia. Thanks so much for joining us on The Real News, Ali.
ALI AL-AHMED: Thank you for having me.
BEN NORTON: It’s always a pleasure to have you here. So, let’s start from the beginning here. The United Kingdom claims to be a country that supports democracy and human rights throughout the world. So, why is it welcoming the de facto leader of an extremist, absolute monarchy, which his governed by an extremist ideology and that beheads peaceful dissidents?
ALI AL-AHMED: The United Kingdom government has a major problem. It’s a culture problem, their culture. Let us remember that the UK government was the strongest defender of the apartheid regime in South Africa. So, this is nothing new to the UK government, its xenophobic and cultural supremacy views of the other nations, be they black or Arabs or Muslim or brown people in general. So, for the UK government and Theresa May to host and praise one of the enemies of women’s rights in the world, Mohammed bin Salman, on International Women Day, that is telling of what is the moral code and the moral standard that the UK government and its official embody.
This is not only the government, but generally the UK state because I didn’t see a single British women’s rights organization, for example, coming out on this day, especially this day, International Women’s Day, to speak at least even in soft terms about the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and criticizing their government for hosting an oppressor of women, let alone the crimes that he has been committing in Yemen.
In fact, just few minutes ago, the British government announced that they are joining Saudi efforts to strangle Yemen even further by enforcing or strengthening the siege on Yemen and on the food. Of course, they will spin it that they are trying to block arms and make sure food gets there, but the reality is, just as we saw in the past three years, they are starving the Yemeni people and causing the death of at least 80,000 children in the process. The UK is part and parcel to the killing and the war crimes in Yemen.
BEN NORTON: Well, to be a little fair, of course there were large protests inside the UK when Mohammed bin Salman visited. But you’re right, the government largely universally supported this visit. Of course, it was the Labour Party, an opposition, that voiced opposition to it. But Theresa May’s government largely just entirely backed it.
And this is also interesting because at the same time, a recent study by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which is a monitoring group, found that only 6% of people in the UK, just 6%, support selling further arms to the Saudi regime. This poll also found that 37% of people in the UK, so about two-fifths, opposed Mohammed bin Salman’s visit and only 20%, one-fifth, of people in the UK supported his visit.
So, this raises a question. We’ve seen massive protests. We’ve seen these polls that show that arm sales and MBS’ visit are extremely unpopular. So, why do they keep continuing? Why is the British government so intent on continuing to build this alliance with Saudi Arabia?
ALI AL-AHMED: This goes to show that the UK government does not represent the British people, and they have been lying to the British people about their policies. The UK government is really just exercising its own cultural and moral standards and also making money in the process by giving a lot of arms to a killing machine that has brought death and destruction to Yemen without any hesitation, without any remorse. In fact, they have been celebrating such and shamelessly celebrating the sales of these arms.
One thing, however, the UK and other governments have not really come forward with the extent of their own. Before the war on Yemen was waged by the Saudis, the UK forces and UK officers were part of the planning with the Saudis and the Americans to wage that war. And they knowingly supported it. So, this is nothing, and the world should know this, and the British people should know that their government has been lying to them for the past three years about their role in this war and the war crimes against the Yemeni people.
BEN NORTON: Well, and you mentioned of course arm sales. And money talks, very clearly. But we’ve also seen not just the discussion of further arm sales but the discussion of Saudi investment in the UK. We saw the Saudi embassy was, in fact, welcoming Brexit and encouraging this as a moment in which the Saudi and the British economies can even further merge. And they saw this as a potential for massive Saudi investment in the British economy as it moves away from the EU. How do you think that plays into this meeting?
ALI AL-AHMED: Well, there’s not a lot of money that the Saudis have they can invest in the UK because the coffers have dried. But we saw the British government yesterday celebrating, the Foreign Office celebrating the fact that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf sisters are buying more weapons from the UK than China and India combined, and this is what they celebrate. Earlier, we spoke about UK democracy and constitution and so on, but they celebrate selling arms to nations which is killing its neighbors. They are not celebrating the sale of food or candy, they are celebrating the sales of arms and bombs and explosives.
This is very shameful, and I think the British people should, I think, be held responsible, scrutinized because they put these people in government and they can take them out by voting them out. Bring in the Labour Party, Mr. Corbyn and others, who actually can reflect the ideas that the British government have lectured us about human rights and democracy and rule of law. The UK government and other Western government really have no standing. Any government that supports the Saudi war on Yemen have no standing whatsoever when it comes to human rights and democracy and rule of law and children’s rights and so on because when you kill children and starve a nation, really, you are just a criminal who cannot stand and lecture us about anything, stability or human rights and so on.
BEN NORTON: Well, thanks so much, Ali. We’re actually going to cut off part one here and we’ll start part two of the interview. In the second half of this interview, we’re going to discuss just what’s been going on inside Saudi Arabia. We’ve constantly heard that the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is supposedly a reformer. Many media outlets and governments have been saying this. So, we’ll be joined again by Ali to discuss why this is a misleading narrative.
Thank you so much for joining us on The Real News. I’m Ben Norton.