Leading article: Not a regime that Britain should be honouring

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The Independent Online

Today, the Saudi Arabian monarch King Abdullah will begin a state visit to Britain. No honour will be withheld and no expense will be spared in making the king feel as welcome as possible. It is difficult to know where to begin when it comes to expressing the inappropriateness of this visit.

Since its foundation in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been one of the world's most flagrant abusers of human rights. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, scores of Saudis are executed and tortured by the regime every year. It even imprisoned and tortured three Britons living in the country five years ago, though our own Government has repeatedly tried to sweep the affair under the carpet.

Despite token efforts to appease foreign pressure to reform, Saudi Arabia remains a stonewall autocracy with no freedom of association and a shackled media. The religious police are constantly on hand to make sure that all are "modestly" dressed, which for women means being covered from head to toe. Allegations of corruption swirl around the ruling elite. Many ministries are reserved for members of the sprawling Saud family. Prominent royals have been accused of taking huge kickbacks from foreign public acquisition deals.

Saudi Arabia is also one of the main global drivers of the terrorist threat that confronts the West. The regime promotes the most intolerant strain of Islamic theology. It has founded and funded religious schools around the world from Indonesia, to Pakistan, to London, that have encouraged a toxic hatred for "non-believers" among their young students. The Saudi heritage of Osama bin Laden and many of the September 11 hijackers has been well documented.

So why is Britain continuing to deal with such a regime, let alone honouring it with a state visit? Britain has a commercial interest in maintaining cordial relations with the country. Manufacturing jobs at the defence manufacturer, BAe, would be under threat if Britain was to offend the Saudi regime. It has been alleged that a Saudi threat to cancel a lucrative Eurofighter deal put pressure on the Serious Fraud Office to drop its investigation into corruption in a previous arms deal. And of course the bigger picture is that Saudi controls 40 per cent of the word's proven oil reserves, the fossil fuel on which the world's economy presently runs. This is the reason the regime continues to enjoy the friendship and protection of Washington.

But the West's kowtowing to the regime is not only immoral, it is short-sighted. Not only are the vast sums in petro-dollars it pays the regime being re-exported as religious extremism, there is also a question mark over how long this monarchy can last. The Saud family did a deal with powerful clerics long ago to spread their poison abroad but keep a tight lid on dissent at home. But now social control is breaking down within the country itself. The bombings for which the three Britons were scapegoated in 2002 appear to have been the first stirrings of an internal Islamist threat from within the kingdom. There have been a number of attacks since then. Then there is the threat posed by economic mismanagement. The regime has utterly failed to diversify out of its reliance on oil. And there is a vast pool of unemployed Saudi men thanks to the policy of importing millions of south Asian labourers.

Domestic discontent is rife. And history teaches us that dissent cannot be suppressed forever. The apparent inability of the Saudi regime to tolerate even minimal reform indicates that the final reckoning, when it comes, could be bloody. Britain is not only honouring a corrupt and oppressive regime this week. It could be honouring a doomed one.

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