Cameron in Saudi Arabia – November 2012

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'We have a history of supporting human rights around the world,' David Cameron, 5 November 2012, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi

While British newspapers and TV news channels showed smiling images of the Obama family and told us about the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister David Cameron has been on an apparently low-key trip to sell weapons of mass murder to kings and princes in the Persian Gulf. Cameron visited Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, to secure lucrative deals for BAE Systems to provide £6bn in war machinery, 'to help Britain compete and thrive in the global race.' In the next year Britain will sell around 100 Typhoon jets to the region, worth £126mn each. Saudi Arabia bought 72 in the last year and is keen to acquire more. British exports to the region are worth £17bn pounds a year, as much as to China and India combined.

Political unrest has now spread to the vast desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the most significant leg of Cameron's trip. In recent weeks in neighbouring Kuwait, as thousands demonstrated against corruption, police fired stun grenades and teargas and have banned gatherings of more than 20 people. During protests in Bahrain from July to September 2011, Britain sold £1mn worth of military equipment to the Bahraini monarchy and Saudi Arabian forces drove British military trucks to try and put down the revolt. Other allies of imperialism, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan - which borders Syria - now face opposition from their populations to autocratic rule. British and US troops are now in Jordan.

Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest oil exporter, shipping out 8.3mn barrels a day. It keeps millions of barrels per day in reserve to check changes in the market or prevent price spikes at times of crisis or war. This has made a crucial difference to the supply to imperialist countries at times such as both Gulf Wars, instability in Nigeria and during the 2002-03 ‘oil strike’ out by the anti-Chavez opposition in Venezuela. Saudi Arabia is the third biggest oil exporter to the US (after Canada and Mexico) and has only recently been overtaken as Britain's biggest non-EU supplier by Libya.

Britain is the world’s second largest arms exporter and Saudi Arabia is its biggest client. The massive Al Yamamah deal struck in 1986 was the biggest export agreement in British history, supplying over £17bn in ongoing arms sales. 20 years later, amid claims of corruption, the British Labour government forced the Serious Fraud Office to close down a long-term inquiry into the deal.

The warmongering and profiteering continue to go hand in hand. Middle Eastern countries bought $111bn of weapons in 2010, with Saudi Arabia buying the most. Saudi Arabia is an attack dog for US and British imperialism:

  • In the 1980s it helped to put down the Soviet-supported democratic revolution in Afghanistan and acted as a middle man for US interests. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes writes that the Saudis gave up to '$4bn in official aid to the [Mujahadeen] between 1980 and 1990, which did not include unofficial aid from Islamic charities, foundations, the private funds of Princes and mosque collections.'
  • It supported the Iraqi invasion of Iran and during the Iran-Iraq war, provided $1bn a month to Saddam Hussein's forces between September 1980 and spring 1982.
  • It agreed to the stationing of US, British and 'allied' troops on Saudi soil during the first Gulf War. Thousands of Saudi troops participated in the war on Iraq.
  • Saudi bases were again used by coalition troops during and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 250-300 air force planes flew from Saudi Arabia, including AWACS, C-130s, refuelling tankers and F-16 fighter jets at the height of the onslaught.
  • It supported the imperialist attack on Libya in 2011. Money and weapons were channelled from Qatar and Saudi Arabia to groups opposed to the Gaddafi government.

Cameron now says Syria is the ‘top priority’ of his government’s foreign policy,' with the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, joining in the chorus about 'human rights.' As US and British special forces gather in Jordan and discuss covert plans for a 'no fly zone', their ally Saudi Arabia supplies arms directly to the reactionary Syrian National Council. Cameron says Britain's arms deals are 'legitimate' and 'proper', and that Saudi Arabia needs to 'defend itself,' with the implication is that Iran is the 'danger.' But what is really at stake is capitalism itself. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the coup in Libya, and the covert war on Syria are fought for Wall Street and the City of London.

Britain and the US don't care about human rights. They want to maintain oil stability and sustain military exports. Following nightly protests in Saudi Arabia in 2011, the US promised $330mn in night vision and thermal-imaging equipment. According to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, the kingdom currently holds more than 30,000 political prisoners. 'Criminals' are ritually beaten, tortured and executed – Saudi Arabia is an imperialist-backed police state. The Saudi government claims 10% unemployment but some estimates are as high as 25%. The economic crisis is now affecting the middle classes; plans to recruit 14,000 doctors and nurses have been cut to 4,000. 60% of the population live below the poverty line. The conditions which gave rise to resistance movements in Egypt and Tunisia now exist in Saudi Arabia.

Louis Brehony