David Cameron wants to keep selling weapons to repressive regimes, writes Judith Orr
David Cameron is touring the Gulf to sell fighter jets and arms to his dictator friends.
The Foreign Office has said it wants Britain to be the Gulf’s “commercial partner of choice”.
Cameron is trying to limit press coverage of his trip. He wants to avoid questions about why Britain sells arms to repressive regimes.
He is also desperate to reassure Gulf leaders that he wants their business. Some are threatening to withdraw from lucrative contracts because of criticism of their human rights record.
The Saudi ambassador to Britain has said his country was “insulted” by a parliamentary committee investigation into Britain’s role in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
After revolutions brought down two Western allies in Tunisia and Egypt last year, the Western powers have portrayed themselves as supporters of the popular uprisings.
Cameron told students at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi on the first day of his latest tour, “I am a supporter of the Arab Spring”.
But the West’s hypocrisy is exposed when it comes to their support for their closest Gulf allies. As many as 15,000 Nato troops are based in Kuwait alone.
One Downing Street adviser claimed that, “Pushing commercial interests and promoting human rights go hand in hand.”
But Amnesty International said that in 2009 the Saudi air force used “UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers in attacks in Yemen which killed hundreds—possibly thousands—of civilians”.
And of course the arms companies scrabbling for business won’t ask many questions about the brutal repression of democracy protesters across the region.
The revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt have inspired courageous protests against these regimes. Last year Saudi troops entered Bahrain in an attempt to crush a popular revolt against the Bahraini regime. However the opposition regrouped and demonstrations continue.
Last week the Bahraini regime banned all protests. It continues to jail and torture trade union and other members of the opposition movement. Unbowed protesters rained homemade firebombs on at least three police stations on Sunday of last week.
Thousands marched in Kuwait on the same day—despite police attacks with tear gas and stun grenades. Public gatherings of more than 20 people are banned in the country.
Cameron’s first stop was in the United Arab Emirates. The European parliament condemned it last week for “assaults, repression and intimidation” of opposition activists. Many have been imprisoned for months without trial.