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Saudi Arabia is our friend, it's just a bit difficult to love...

If Corbyn wants to be taken seriously, he really needs to sell planes and arrange deals on human rights with a King who beheads people

Mark Steel
Thursday 15 October 2015 18:06 BST
Prince Charles with Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz in 2012
Prince Charles with Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz in 2012

It can be complicated to work out what to do with men of violence in the Middle East, with their medieval beliefs and love of beheadings. So our Foreign Secretary wanted to try a novel approach, which was to arrange a £5.9m deal with them so they could build a prison.

This shows the Conservative Party’s soft-hearted centre, because no matter how barbarically the Saudi regime behaves, our Government is determined to show them love and understanding, presumably in the hope that they’ll get in touch with their feminine side and cut down on the floggings. Maybe they’ll try a similar approach with young offenders here – so when a lad is convicted of burglary, instead of putting him in jail, they’ll give him a £4.4bn arms deal with an offer on a fleet of Typhoon jets. This was another of our “arrangements” with the Saudis, but there was a humanitarian reason for this trade: hopefully the Saudis will use the jets to kill women convicted of adultery, because strafing them with machinegun fire is so much kinder than killing them with a sword in a public square.

But it must be highly confusing for Isis, who struggle to keep up with Saudi Arabia in the beheadings league. The Saudis have carried out more than 100 in 2015 and Isis have managed just 66, so Isis need to increase their production rapidly before the British start being friendly to them.

The prison deal has been cancelled, but the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is apparently fuming. One of his supporters said: “Now is not the time to annoy Saudi Arabia by causing a diplomatic squabble.”

This seems fair, although he doesn’t say when is a good time to annoy a country by causing a diplomatic squabble. Obviously it’s not when they’re beheading people, sentencing pensioners to being lashed for making wine or stoning women to death for adultery. So maybe the best time for a diplomatic squabble is when a country is not doing any of those things, and so it’s time we broke off relations with Iceland for having too many puffins.

It’s also turned out that Prime Minister David Cameron made an arrangement with the Saudis to ensure both Saudi Arabia and the UK got a place on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Because everyone knows the Saudis are the ideal people to adjudicate on human rights. Their first report will be on the shocking state of affairs in Norway, where perfectly innocent citizens are denied their human right to crucify someone for buying a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Cameron said the deal was struck because the British Government “has a relationship with Saudi Arabia”. It’s a pity there aren’t more relationships like this, as we’d read letters like this in problem pages: “Dear Virginia, my boyfriend and I have been going out for two years and he says he loves me, but whenever I suggest he sells me a Tornado bomber and builds me a prison to incarcerate anyone who mildly disagrees with me, he changes the subject. Is it worth persisting with him or is he simply afraid of making a commitment?”

This relationship was at its most sentimental when Cameron was awarded the King Abdullah Decoration One, presented by the King himself. So if things go well and he one day sorts things out with Isis, maybe they’ll present him with a Glorious Black Hood of the Caliphate which he can add to his collection.

Defenders of the relationship like to point out that the Saudi regime is becoming more liberal, and this is true, especially with its attitudes towards women. For example, Saudi Arabia is the only country where women receive no extra penalty if they’re caught drinking and driving, as they get jailed for either so they might as well do both at the same time. One of the main reasons we went to war in Afghanistan was because of their dreadful stance on women’s rights, so clearly our allies such as Saudi Arabia must have a marvellous record in this area, where it’s just one feminist conference after another and the film Suffragette is shown on a huge screen every night in Riyadh’s main square. Rumour has it the film is already been adapted into a musical starring King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, in drag.

Last year, becoming even more liberal, the Saudis introduced a new law under which you can be jailed as a terrorist for “calling for atheist thought in any form”. This seems reasonable, because if God hears someone calling for atheist thought in any form He’s liable to blow up a bus out of anger, so this is just basic health and safety.

They also managed to pass an eight-year sentence on one man, because of “his sarcasm toward the ruler of the kingdom and its religious authorities”. And we must all hope that the convicted man replied to the court by saying: “Well that sentence is certain to reassure everyone you’re fair and measured in every way, and how you’re the ideal person to be in charge of the world’s oil. I’ll definitely vote for you in one of the free elections you are forever insisting we hold on a daily basis.”

What a shame that now we won’t be able to take pride in knowing we’d helped to build a jail that protects decent people from sarcastic atheists.

They seem to enjoy a bit of terror themselves, these Saudi rulers that we like to have a relationship with. So when Tory MP Priti Patel said last week, “Jeremy Corbyn supports terrorists”, presumably she meant it as a compliment. The only thing is, Corbyn called for the prison deal to be scrapped. This proves he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Instead of speaking at an event with a member of Hamas, the Labour leader needs to sell planes and arrange deals on human rights with a King who beheads people. That’s if he expects to be taken seriously, of course.

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