16 Jan 2012

Did Cameron's Saudi trip have to be so brief?

The prime minister made a quick and extremely low-profile visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

Whilst Downing Street managed a 100-word account of the matter at 19.44 on Saturday evening, the content was bland – “met the King”… “importance of bilateral relations”… “recent developments in the region”… and “the countries of Syria, Yemen and Somalia were mentioned”. Bahrain – where Saudi troops and hardware are still deployed – was not mentioned in the communiqué.

The king’s men are there to keep the exploited and rebellious Shia at bay. Mr Cameron will have had no quarrel with a deployment seen at containing Iran across the water.

And yet, beyond egging on our £62bn trading relationship – plenty of it in weaponry – was there anything else that perhaps should have transpired between the two men?

Old King Abdullah’s mission in life is the spreading of the Sunni faith, particularly the fundamentalist Wahhabi form of it. The proselytising of this particular somewhat intolerant form of Islam is achieved through the funding of madrassas from Luton to Lahore and beyond.

Once the Saudis formally funded the Taliban. There remains a widespread suspicion among many American and British intelligence and service personnel that informal Saudi funding continues.

Read more: Saudi women given right to vote

With the export of Saudi mullahs and the Saudi education of many others, huge numbers of Saudi-funded mosques and madrassas are developing exponentially in Somalia, Afghanistan, and most particularly in Pakistan. Coincidentally these are countries in which UK forces are engaged in active service – the SAS and the Royal Navy in and off Somalia; the SAS and other special units in Pakistan; and virtually every facet of land forces in Afghanistan.

No-one suggests that the weaponry the UK supplies King Abdullah ever ends up in these places, but history may judge what Mr Cameron called our “close relationship” with Saudi Arabia an intriguing one, given the wars currently being fought.

There is finally the matter of human rights. Was there even time, in so short a visit, to raise the plight of the bruised and battered Shia population in eastern Saudi? Was there time to raise the oppression of women? Or even time to deliver the laundry lists of political prisoners assembled by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In short, should Mr Cameron’s visit have been longer?

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7 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    It is prudent to be suspicious of all diplomatic exchanges, especially where arms are concerned, yet diplomacy is the height of the card game and cannot be judged by us outsiders who have had a taste of corruption , political tension and balance. One push too far and the house of cards falls It is bad enough dealing with these sorts of maneouvres in the UK alone, but when dealing with the hot headed and tribal Arabs the least clumsily said , the better.Gathering information and listening and putting in the occasional remark is safer . Safety is the primary objective, but if we look at the Arab spring ; over there; safety was not high on the agenda.

  2. adrian clarke says:

    A very difficult time and relationship to the Arab countries.Where we may profoundly disagree with their politics and moral behaviour,they are sovereign countries.
    Cameron is merely maintaining trading links and hopefully keeping oil routes open if Iran risks agression in the gulf.Sometimes you keep quite about beneficial arrangements

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    I’m sure that even now you believe in open, transparent and honest communication with the public.

    That being the case, what leads you to believe “There remains a widespread suspicion among many American and British intelligence and service personnel that informal Saudi funding continues”?

    Have you been talking to spooks again, as you did in Cairo? If you have, why should we believe a word you pass on from them? After all, these are the same people whose existence is mostly based on the spread of lies and propaganda, to say nothing of assassination and the promotion of illegal wars.

    As for Cameron, you BET he doesn’t want details communicated, anymore than did the war criminal Blair when he unilaterally cancelled an inquiry into Brit/Saudi corruption in arms deals. Have you forgotten already? Or is it just typically convenient media amnesia?

    As for Sunni-Shiaa sectarianism I warned you months ago that the Saudi Eastern Province would be a centre of it if opposition grew. You don’t need to be a spook or a member of the “intelligence” services to forecast that. You can bet The Friends have been busy there too.

  4. Christo says:

    What you meant to ask:

    Did C’s Saudi trip have to be so brief?

  5. Philip says:

    I suspect you know the answers to your questions, Jon. This was the latest in a series of grovelling visits to the Saudis, etc because oil & weapons sales are deemed to be more important than human rights & the highly dubious Saudi-backed spread of Sunni fundamentalism wherever they can get their foot in the door.We did the same to the Shah of Iran – & look where that got us. We were happy to support Saddam Hussein when it suited us & Mubarak…..But the one thing you wouldn’t expect from Cameron is any form of idealism if it conflicted with the interests of business

  6. Mudplugger says:

    Like it or loathe it, Saudi Arabia has a long shopping-list and deep pockets.
    With the EU collapsing into long recession and fiscal/democratic chaos, Cameron & Co need to get out and about into all those other parts of the world where there is real trade to be done.

    The 40% of our exports currently going into the EU can easily be exceeded by the scope in the rest of the world. Yes, there may need to be a degree of tongue-biting done, but rather that than trying to explain why to the next 3 million unemployed on our books and rioting in our own streets.

    I’m no fan or apologist of Cameron but it looks like he may have got the message and is at least playing the long game, by building us a trade-ladder to climb out of the deep EU-induced hole into which we have so carelessly tumbled.

  7. std vaughan says:

    it doesnt take long to say yes, but what is the relationship between britain and sadia arabia,it seems there are a lot of questions and few answers,

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