The Metropolitan Police has told campaigners that the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, will arrive in London 7 March for three days of high-profile meetings. He won’t just be met by civil servants and politicians, he will also be met by protesters.
The visit will be part of the ongoing charm-offensive being waged by the Crown Prince, who has already enjoyed high profile meetings with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other world leaders. Next month it will be Theresa May playing host.
Beneath the “modernising” and liberal image he has worked so hard to build, there has been very little change. The Saudi Crown Prince might be a PR-friendly figurehead for one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world, but he has been the lead architect of the devastating three yearlong bombardment of Yemen.
The war has killed thousands of people, and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The destruction of vital infrastructure has caused the worst outbreak of cholera on record: with over one million people having been infected by the deadly disease.
Aid has not been able to reach the millions of people that need it, with a Saudi-imposed blockade having stopped food and medical supplies from entering Yemen. Despite some relief over recent months, over 20 million people have been left in need of humanitarian assistance.
The response of Theresa May and her colleagues hasn’t been to condemn the bombing and call for a much-needed ceasefire. On the contrary, the UK government has armed and supported the bombing campaign since day one.
Since the bombing began in 2015, the UK has licensed over £4.6bn worth of fighter jets and bombs to the Saudi military. These include Typhoon fighter jets, which are flying over Yemen right now, and Paveway IV bombs, which investigators from Human Rights Watch have linked to attacks on civilian infrastructure.
There is no doubt that arms sales will be on the agenda during next month’s visit. The UK Government is currently working with BAE Systems to sell even more military aircraft.
The ruthlessness of the new Crown Prince has not just been on display in Yemen, but also in Riyadh, where he has overseen one of the most extensive crackdowns in recent years.
The luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, would usually set you back £460 per night, but for the last few months it has served as a prison for Saudi royalty. Last November, over 300 princes, government ministers and businessmen were taken to the 52 acre-site and locked-up for interrogation as part of what was claimed to be a major anti-corruption probe.
The scale of the suppression has been mirrored on the streets, although the prisons for Saudi civilians have been far less decadent. Last year, the Saudi authorities executed 141 people and detained scores of human rights campaigners as part of what UN experts branded a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention.”
The visit won’t just provide a boost for military relations between the UK and the Saudi dictatorship, it will also provide a major propaganda coup for the regime.
The images of the Crown Prince on the steps of Downing Street will be broadcast all over the world. They will be seen as an important and uncritical endorsement. They will also send a clear message to human rights campaigners in Saudi Arabia that their rights don’t matter.
The Crown Prince may have convinced Theresa May and her colleagues that he is a “moderniser” and a force for liberty, but the UK public has not been so easily fooled. When the Crown Prince arrives he will be met with protests and opposition from across the political spectrum.
Poll after poll has shown that the overwhelming majority of the UK opposes arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Next month, campaigners will take to the streets and send the message loudly and clearly that this visit is not in our name and that the Saudi Crown Prince is not welcome.
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk
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