David Cameron has completed a two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, where a joint defense partnership has been announced that may include the sale of 60 Typhoon jets worth $7 billion. Cameron has said that such sales are "legitimate and right" whilst stating he supports the "opportunity of moving towards more open democracies" in reference to the Arab Spring. However, is it indeed legitimate, or strategically wise, to promote arms sales to a country that continues to be intolerant of any political dissent?
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Cameron spoke of the family relationship between the UK and UAE stating that there are no "no-go areas" including the issue of human rights. There was no talk, however, of the 63 detainees in the UAE that has left the tiny Gulf state with one of the highest per capita rates of political prisoners in the region.
Cameron did speak of how the rule of law is vital in every governance system although failed to mention how this principle has been abandoned by the UAE in its crackdown against peaceful political reformists. There was no mention of the torture, enforced disappearances and lack of due process in the case as documented by Human Rights Watch.
The issue of human rights in the UAE is a highly sensitive one, as recent criticism has sparked passionate defense from Emirati politicians and commentators alike. Sensitivity to these issues should not lead to silence, however, as serious violations of rights continue to occur against both political dissenters and the labour rights of expatriate workers.
Setting aside human rights concerns, the prudency of such deals can also be questioned if Cameron's strategy is to promote 'peace and stability'.
The potential deal to sell 60 Typhoon fighter jets to the UAE will supplement a regime that already has a private mercenary army employed, amongst other reasons, to 'take control of civil uprisings'. Made up of Columbian mercenaries, this army was established by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nayan, and exposed by a New York Times report in 2011. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, sent troops into Bahrain last year to aid the violent repression of protests.
By promoting the sale of arms to the UAE, the Prime Minister has aligned himself with a regime that has clearly displayed its intentions to deal with potential civil unrest in a brutal manner.
As Gulf populations begin to call for increased political participation monarchs have displayed their steadfastness in refusing to accept such demands. The past two weeks in Kuwait have seen scenes of mass civil disobedience as people refuse to accept electoral law amendments proposed by the Emir. The authorities response has been to exact beatings and to arrest opposition leaders.
The UAE authorities are sure to be glancing nervously across to Kuwait and sadly appear prepared to take a similar course of action. With families of the detainees in the Emirates calling for a sit-in at Altakbeer Square to demand the immediate release of prisoners, public displays of discontent appear to be bubbling in the UAE.
Rather than equipping these regimes with the capability and legitimacy to repress calls for reform, the UK should be supporting the advancement of civil liberties and promoting democratic values whilst condemning abuse of fundamental human rights.
Continuing to sell arms to the UAE is neither legitimate nor wise.
Taking into consideration human rights concerns, through his establishment of a private mercenary army the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has demonstrated his intention to resist civil uprisings with violent repression. Given the handling of the 63 political prisoners, it is hardly legitimate to arm a regime with such intentions as calls for increased political participation are emerging.
From a pragmatic sense, it is unwise to arm a regime that has an increasingly uncertain future given its unwillingness to engage with citizens calling for increased democratic accountability. Potential future governors of the UAE would be unlikely to honour contracts with a country that equipped their predecessors with the ability to repress calls for change.
The role of the UK in the UAE should not be to provide legitimacy to a regime that has seen it fast eroding in recent times. The UK should impress upon our Emirati counterparts that respecting civil liberties, enshrining human rights and engaging with citizens calling for political participation is the path to peace and stability. By acting as a travelling salesman for the arms trade David Cameron is doing nothing more than promoting autocracy, legitimizing human rights abuse and diminishing the image of the UK as a defender of civil liberties.
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