Jeremy Corbyn is right about one thing – Saudi Arabia is not our friend

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Even Jeremy Corbyn occasionally gets something right.

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s ally. So goes the conventional wisdom. We buy their oil, sell them arms and support their war against Shia Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Indeed, in the first half of the 20th century, Britain played a key role in facilitating and maintaining the House of Saud’s control over what became known as ‘Saudi Arabia’. Deep down our politicians and civil servants must know that the Saudi regime is hellish – a societal system not dissimilar from that portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale – but they turn a blind eye. From January to October 2015 the UK sold Saudi Arabia £872m worth of arms. It’s easy to ignore the obvious when that sort of money is on the table.

And yet it’s time to start paying attention. Not only is Saudi Arabia one of the most politically and intellectually oppressive states on the planet, the essential reverse of a liberal-democratic (Western) society, it’s also acting as though it was a hostile power in its dealings within the United Kingdom.

Saudi troops on parade. 

The relationship between Islamic fundamentalism and Saudi Arabia goes back to the country’s creation. The House of Saud formed two key alliances in their struggle to take control of the Arabian Peninsula. One, as already mentioned, was with the British. The other was with the Wahhabi movement, followers of an ultra orthodox and authoritarian interpretation of Islam. The pact between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi continues to this day. It’s the reason why many public places in the country have to be segregated to avoid potentially improper mingling between the sexes. And it means the country’s attitude towards terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is at best varied.

The Saudi regime will fight against Islamic extremists when they threaten their own survival. The country fought a largely successful campaign against an extremist insurgency in the early to mid-2000’s, though it continues to face a threat from both ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But when they don’t directly threaten its survival the Saudi state is sympathetic towards, and provides support to, a range of fundamentalist groups. This is done for both pragmatic reasons, to increase Saudi soft power, and out of genuine ideological conviction. Across the world the Saudi’s have spent vast fortunes promoting literalist and aggressive forms of Islam, often to the detriment of more moderate local interpretations of the faith. Around $4 billion in 2015 alone according to the Henry Jackson Society think tank. Often these interpretations are sympathetic to violence; always they advocate a form of Islamic supremacism which makes cordial relations with other faiths extremely difficult.

The Saudi’s support for Wahabi fundamentalism, an ideology which is inexorably hostile to the core values of liberal-democratic-capitalist (or Western) civilisation, extends well into the UK. By pumping anti-Western ideology into Britain Saudi Arabia is acting more like a hostile power than a friend, with a direct parallel between its behaviour and that of the USSR during the Cold War. The root between Wahabi ideology, with its total rejection of Western values and sympathy towards violence, and terrorism is clear. It’s why Sir William Patey, Britain’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, recently accused the country of funding  something ‘which may down the road lead to individuals being radicalised and becoming fodder for terrorism’ across the UK.

The Henry Jackson Society thinks there are 110 mosques in the UK promoting hard-line Wahabism – an increase from 68 in 2007. David Cameron did authorise an investigation into the foreign funding of UK extremist groups, and a report has been produced. However the Government is refusing to let the public see this report because, by all accounts, it focused the attention rather too our Saudi ‘ally’. And that would make things most embarrassing when they come to buy up London hotels.

One politician who has been consistently critical of the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Back in March 2011 he wrote that ‘Britain is up to its neck in supporting the Saudi monarchy with all the denial of human rights and aggression that the regime has shown toward its opponents’. During the recent election campaign he vowed to end UK arms sales to the Saudis. On this, if little else, Corbyn should be listened to. Admittedly Corbyn’s stance may be linked to his friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia’s chief regional adversary Iran, whose state propaganda channel paid Corbyn £20,000 for his work, but that doesn’t remove his arguments validity.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking on Saudi human rights abuses during a Parliamentary event in July 2015. 

In short Saudi Arabia is not behaving like a friend to the United Kingdom. She is funding and promoting a poisonous ideology, one which can start people on a road which ends in terrorism, on a dramatic scale. And not only in the UK, but across pretty much the entire world. This, combined with a domestic political system so oppressive it looks like something from a dystopian science fiction novel, means the country cannot be considered an ally or reliable partner. The sooner our leaders accept this, and stop looking the other way in return for vast Saudi arms spending, the better.


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