Friday, January 13, 2012

David Cameron's Saudi Arabia visit sits oddly with his support of democracy

The repressive kingdom is branding itself as a bulwark against the Arab spring – hardly the ideal customer for British contracts

David Hearst, Friday 13 January 2012

"...Saudi Arabia might seem an ideal customer to a British prime minister keen to win contracts. If Barack Obama can sell the kingdom nearly $30bn of F-15 fighter jets, Britain can surely flog its armoured personnel carriers, sniper rifles, small arms ammunition and weapon sights....

However, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are fast learning to play another role in the region. The kingdom is branding itself as a bulwark not just against the Revolutionary Guards in Iran and despots in Syria, but against the Arab spring itself......

Internally, the most authoritarian regime in the Arab world has much to fear from demonstrations – which are illegal. Sporadic protests are not confined to the oil-rich eastern province where the minority Shia community live. The king's response has been to blend small reformist steps, such as the decision in September to allow women to vote and run in municipal elections (but not yet to drive), with larger but less visible acts of repression.....

Another measure is a proposed counter-terrorism law. Last year, Amnesty International published a leaked copy of a draft law that would allow peaceful dissent to be prosecuted as a terrorist crime.

Rothna Begum, Amnesty's campaigner on Saudi Arabia said: "The definition would allow it to criminalise dissent. The embassy wrote to us in September to say that several articles of draft had been amended and some deleted, but we don't know which these were and what stage this legislation has reached. The version we have seen allows the detention without trial of suspects to be extended indefinitely."...."

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