Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to the Wessex Scene as a whole.
Watching the British alliance with Saudi Arabia from a distance, as one watches a rare bird or foreign ships sailing into a harbour, is a truly unique experience. On the surface, it seems such an unlikely alliance to have, especially considering its relative strength and longevity. We have practically nothing in common – a parliamentary democracy with an autocratic monarchy, a dreary island in Western Europe with a sprawling, arid expanse in the Middle East – on the surface, that is.
However, Jeremy Hunt said of the alliance that it is a friendship based on ‘shared values’. The key tenant of these values was very eloquently put by ex-Foreign Secretary and current embarrassment Boris Johnson:
Britain has been selling missiles to Saudi Arabia for several years at this stage, missiles that have mercilessly targeted Yemenis of every age and affiliation. When questioned, the government of the day is always unable to explain why a liberal Western democracy is so intent on propping up an oppressive foreign autocracy. Look past the buzzword-laden response and you will find the real reason. Saudi Arabia is the destination of 50% of the UK’s arms exports, and cutting that tie would be financially unviable. The government will make you and I pay any price deemed necessary in the war on terror, taking away our civil liberties, our freedoms, and our privacy, but giving up the blood-stained payday from a regime that funds ISIS is a bridge too far.
With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?”
Our government, though more than happy to send envoys on lavish diplomatic visits and accept their money by the million, is in a state of perpetual discomfort about the relationship. In the lead-up to the 2017 General Election, Home Secretary Amber Rudd had an election rival silenced for mentioning Saudi crimes in an open debate. David Cameron was made to squirm by Jon Snow when he confronted her over the government’s decision to permit Saudi Arabia to the UN Human Rights Council. It seems, deep down, they know how morally bankrupt the whole thing really is. It speaks to endemic problems with our democracy as a whole – ensuring the books are balanced always takes precedence over making positive changes.The death of Jamal Khashoggi is merely the latest act of brutality by Saudi Arabia to be largely ignored by the nations who depend on its exports and its virtually-unlimited oil money. As the confusion wears on about what exactly happened to him in the consulate, we’re left wondering what values we could possibly share with a regime of this kind.
The fact of the matter is that the very vast majority don’t share any values with Saudi Arabia. It is an alliance between governments that exists purely for convenience. It is built on mutual and unconditional material gain. The government is not concerned with what Saudi Arabia does with our exports. Human rights abuses that occur every day in the country are not important. It is as though any amount of publicity is insufficient, any amount of uproar dwarfed by the possible windfall. Khashoggi’s death may well be in vain because as long as Saudi Arabia is open for business, the British Government will be their favourite customer.