Monday, 23 December 2013

Inside the Kingdom

Prime Minister David Cameron with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

 The United Kingdom is at present allies with one of the most repressive, tyrannous regime in the Middle East. As a nation we do not lift a finger to aid the oppressed majority who routinely face harassment, torture and even execution at the hands of the state apparatus. Indeed, our government appears to feel it the duty of our nation to give millions in aid to this tyranny rather that condemn the rank abuses which occur. This tyranny is, of course, Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an apartheid state. Within the Kingdom women are very much second class citizens. Women are forbidden from travelling, conducting official business or undergoing certain medical procedures without the consent of their male guardian (usually the husband or father). Despite the Saudi team at the 2012 Olympics women are still severely restricted in their conduct in sports, clothing (the dress code is strictly enforced) and labour. State officials appear to be caught in a state of inertia over the issue of endemic domestic abuse and law enforcement are unwilling to investigate or prosecute any case which may come to light.

The Kingdom could be condemned merely on gender equality, but the treatment of religious, sexual and political minorities is as abhorrent. All religions bar Islam are banned in the Kingdom and the Saudi government systematically discriminates against the minority Islamic denominations, especially the Shia and Ismailis. Homosexuality is illegal and homosexuals are regularly harassed, beaten, arrested, tortured and killed. Human rights groups are banned from the Kingdom and political freedom, the right to assemble and freedom of speech are almost non-existent. Economic rights are also severely curtailed for many groups: apart from the repressive labour laws for women the nine million or so migrant workers are also subjugated to abuses. The Kafala or sponsorship visa regulations mean that employers have absolute control over the economic conditions of migrant workers: the condition of the 1.5 million domestic workers is especially desperate with many living in slave-like conditions with long work hours and restrictions on movement.

The human rights situation is appalling. Saudi Arabia is a tyrannical state, in which life for those not born into the family of Saud life is dismal, oppressive and defined by poor economic, social and political conditions. Even for those who are native born heterosexual males with little political motivation life can still be horrendous as the justice system reflects the policies of the repressive government-Saudi judges can and do sentence children to death (eight in 2012) and torture and harassment is common when dealing with the Saudi police.

What, then, is to be done? Personally I feel that it is unacceptable for the UK to continue to not only remain silent on the abuses of the Saudi state but to explicitly back Saudi Arabia with military aid and diplomatic cover. The UK does this merely because of a mistaken belief in the FCO that the Saudis are our friends: while the Saudis remain implacably opposed to Iran and Assad, the FCO cannot be unaware that the Saud family personally promotes Wahabism, an ideology which inspired, among others, the 9/11 hijackers. The Saudis may be the enemy of our enemies but, despite the old adage, this does not make them our friends.

However, even if the FCO and the security services have secret information which shows that we have no greater friend that Saudi Arabia (something I doubt), we should still disown this tyrannous regime. Their human rights record means that they must count as one of the most vile and sinister regimes in existence, and by supporting the Saudis Britain has become complicate in one of the most systematic and ingrained violations of a people by their own government since the fall of apartheid South Africa. As a nation we must first halt all aid to this despotic regime and desist from counting them among our allies. We should also initiate a boycott of their political, cultural and sporting events and call on the rest of Europe to fallow us in this regard. The Government should also seek to encourage businesses to boycott Saudi Arabia while lobbying the international community to take action and immediately granting asylum to those being oppressed by the system in place. Only then can the United Kingdom ensure a clean conscious in regards to our Saudi policy. We must demonstrate to the oppressed of Saudi Arabia that they are not forgotten and they do not stand alone.                     

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