Daniel Kawczynski, the pro-Saudi Tory MP, once declared: “I have been battling against extraordinary ignorance and prejudice against Saudi Arabia for many years, and that includes ignorance and prejudice from British MPs.”
The latest manifestation of that “ignorance and prejudice” – in his view – is the decision by the Justice Secretary Michael Gove, supported by David Cameron, to back out of a £5.9m deal to provide training advice for the Saudi prison service, in the wake of the outcry over the sentence of 360 lashes passed on 74-year-old Briton, Karl Andree.
Mr Kawczynski was so outraged that he barracked fellow Tory MPs as they debated Mr Gove’s decision, slapping his forehead and crying “No!” when one Tory, Stewart Jackson, praised the Justice Secretary for speaking “for the whole House”.
Last month he made waves when he went on Newsnight after it broadcasted a report alleging that Saudi Arabia was complicit in war crimes in neighbouring Yemen.
During a fractious interview, Mr Kawczynski accused the BBC of “appalling bias” and of being “anti-Saudi”. Afterwards, he threatened to sue Newsnight’s editor, Ian Katz, for suggesting that it might be relevant that he had had a trip to Saudi Arabia in February 2014, the £5,292 cost of which was paid by the Saudi embassy in London.
First elected as MP for Shrewsbury in 2005, Mr Kawczynski originally stood out as one of the tallest MPs in parliamentary history – he is six foot eight – and the only British MP to have been born under communism. He came to England with his Polish mother when he was six. Surprisingly perhaps, in view of Poland’s history, his has been a rare voice opposing sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, on the grounds that they harm trade without having the required political impact.
It is the importance of trade that seems to fire his enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia, which he visited numerous times, at their expense, during the years when he chaired the all-party parliamentary group on Saudi Arabia. On his third such trip, in 2011, he met then Defence Minister, Prince Salman, who is now King, and told him how “proud” he was of the military co-operation between their countries. Around that time, he also told a Saudi-British Relations website that he was writing “the most pro-Saudi book ever written by a British politician”. Mr Kawczynski was then on a strange mission to promote what he believed the solution to Libya’s future. He proposed that the monarchy, overthrown in 1969, should be restored, and that his friend Mohammed el-Senussi should be king.
Another wealthy Arab living in exile in London whom Mr Kawczynski knew and liked was Ribal al-Assad, a cousin of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. A rift in the Assad family had made Ribal an angry critic of the regime and, in Mr Kawczynski’s opinion, a democrat. In 2010, Mr Kawczynski took part in a conference in Lebanon funded by a foundation run by Ribal Assad. The next year, he was to host an Eid ceremony in the Commons, also paid for by Ribal Assad – but pulled out at the last minute when Foreign Secretary William Hague made his disapproval known.
Mr Kawczynski’s marriage ended in divorce in 2011. Two years later, he bravely announced that he had a new partner, who is a man. Homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia. In July 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi was sentenced to three years in prison and 450 lashes for using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. This does not appear to have doused the enthusiasm of the Tory MP known to some as “the Honourable Member for Saudi Arabia”.
Mother of condemned boy appeals to Obama
The mother of a teenager sentenced to be beheaded and crucified for taking part in a protest against the Saudi Arabian government has appealed to US President Barack Obama.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was 17 when he was arrested after taking part in a demonstration by Shia Muslims calling for equal religious rights with Sunnis in the city of Qatif. Among a number of charges, he was accused of possessing a gun, which he denies.
His mother Nusra al-Ahmed told The Guardian her son had been tortured. “When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognise him,” she said. “For a month he was peeing blood. He said he felt like a mass of pain; his body was no more.”
She appealed to Mr Obama to intervene, calling him “the head of this world”.
“To rescue someone from harm, there is nothing greater than that,” Ms Ahmed said.
She praised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for raising her son’s case in his inaugural conference speech, describing it as a “beautiful gesture”.
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