THE BLOG

The UK Must Make Ethical Foreign Policy a Reality in the UAE

09/03/2016 17:22 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Unfortunately, what goes around, comes around. The US, too often with British complicity, has taken some significant backward steps in recent years - detaining people without trial in secretive prisons, and indulging in some medieval methods of torture - all in the name of fighting terrorism. Inevitably, while once the US was able to inspire or cajole authoritarian governments towards human rights, today those same regimes use the American example to do the very opposite.

Across the Middle East, the dubious allies of the West have jumped on the terrorism bandwagon. The Saudis beheaded 47 people - including opponents to the government - on January 2, 2016, on the pretext that they were terrorists stirring up extremist discontent, rather than advocates of a continued Arab Spring. Further along the Persian Gulf, the UAE is packaging the capital trial of Kamal and Mohammad Eldarat, and Salim Alaradi, three North American businessmen, as part of its battle against terrorism.

Last week the UAE Federal Court postponed the trial yet again. The men have been languishing without charge in Abu Dhabi's Al-Wathba prison for nearly two years. The Emirati prosecution is seeking the death penalty against the men for allegedly "supporting" a terrorist organization in Libya. The only "evidence" of this claim are statements extracted during months of torture - which included waterboarding, electric shocks, beatings and hangings. The charges are so incredible that even the Libyan Attorney General has intervened by stating - in plain terms - the men are not "wanted terrorists" or involved in any illegal act relating to the financing or support of terrorist organizations in Libya.

Salim, a Canadian businessman of Libyan origin, was receiving his family on holiday to the UAE, where he had been a resident. Salim's daughter has described how a heavenly vacation culminated in her father's hellish ordeal: they had gone swimming earlier in the day and returned to their hotel in Dubai. At midnight, the family received a call from reception. Salim was taken from the room, held incommunicado for months, and horribly abused. It was months before anyone where he was. Kamal and Mohammad Eldarat, father and son, refugees in the US from Ghadaffi's tyrannical rule, suffered a similar fate.

The West has not only provided the dreadful example for such sham trials but now, bribed by petro-dollars, the West accepts their false premise. When the Saudi government executed Sheikh Nimr al Nimr two months ago, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond indicated that we should mute our criticism: "Let us be clear, first of all, that these people were convicted terrorists." Hammond even suggested that Saudi's killing spree was not so bad, given that Iran "executes far more people than Saudi Arabia does" - as if somehow two wrongs make a human right.

I fail to see how Ali Al-Ribh was a terrorist: he who was arrested outside his high school at just 17 and sentenced to death for participating in Arab Spring Protests in Saudi Arabia. I fail to see how Mustafa al-Abkar, only 13 years old at the time of his arrest, and a victim of child trafficking, was a terrorist. They are gone now. Ali Al-Ribh's family doesn't even know where their son is buried. The most the British could rise to when it came to beheading juveniles was to "urge" King Salman not to do it. We then continued to sell him arms so Saudi jets could bomb Médecins Sans Frontières hospitals in Yemen.

It is tragic that the West has set so bad an example with Guantánamo and torture. It is twice-tragic that we have spurned any sense of moral decency in favour of the "Prosperity Agenda" (a euphemism for a desperate pursuit of the dollar, no matter how blood-stained it may be). And it is thrice-tragic for Mohammad and Kamal Eldarat and Salim Alaradi that they are now paying the price for Western hypocrisy.

Britain used to boast of an ethical foreign policy. It is time we made that a reality.