At only 32 years of age, the new Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, has made quite a mark on the world stage. He has been welcomed by Vladimir Putin, praised by Donald Trump and invited to London by Theresa May. The visit, which is expected to take place in the weeks ahead, will be yet another propaganda coup for the Crown Prince.
It won’t be the first time Theresa May has rubbed shoulders with Saudi royalty: since taking office she and her cabinet colleagues have made multiple visits to the Kingdom.
Her last visit, which took place in November 2017, fell at the exact same time as the World Health Organisation identified the 960,000th case of cholera in Yemen. This outbreak is the worst on record anywhere in the world, and is the result of a deadly war that has been overseen and managed by the man she is planning to host.
It has been almost three years since the Saudi military began its brutal bombardment of Yemen. In that time tens of thousands of people have been killed in a devastating conflict that UNICEF and other UN agencies have called ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.’
Some have speculated that the Crown Prince is trying to wind down the war, but it has only intensified over recent months. If anything his recent promotion to the second most senior office in Saudi Arabia should be regarded as a vote of confidence and an uncritical endorsement of the war and its awful consequences.
Theresa May will be all too aware of the devastation that has been caused. Right from the start, UK fighter jets and bombs have played a central role in the bombardment. The results have been catastrophic, but the arms companies have treated it as a business opportunity. Since the conflict began in 2015, the UK has licensed over £4.6 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime.
The Crown Prince has not only had a terrible impact in Yemen, he has also led an even greater crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia. He may have talked about his desire to reform the Kingdom, but beneath the rhetoric, and some minor changes, the human rights situation is unchanged.
According to Amnesty International, “Mohamed Bin Salman is determined to silence civil society and human rights defenders in the Kingdom... The crackdown on members of the human rights community has continued unabated, with almost all the country’s most prominent human rights defenders now behind bars.”
Last year the dictatorship 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.” All of this has happened at the same time as Saudi forces have imposed a blockade on Qatar and been accused of detaining the Prime Minister of Lebanon.
None of this has done anything to dent May’s desires to cosy up to the regime and secure arms sales. Only four months ago, the Saudi military was among those invited to the DSEI arms fair in London, where they were greeted by civil servants and arms company executives.
There is no question that the pictures of the Crown Prince on the steps of Downing Street will be broadcast around the world. They will be celebrated and used by the Saudi Royal Family, who will regard them as a sign of international legitimacy and a firm gesture of political support from May and her colleagues.
The way the pictures will be seen by those being tortured and abused by Saudi forces is very different. The message it will send to them is not one of support. Instead it is one of contempt. It will tell them that their human rights don’t matter and that their lives are less important than profits for arms companies and good relations with a tyrant.
History will regard the atrocities that have been inflicted on Yemen as a terrible and totally preventable assault. They may have been carried out by Saudi forces, but they would not have been possible without the unbending support of politicians like May.
If the ongoing saga over Donald Trump’s UK visit shows us anything it is that protests work. Poll after poll have shown that the vast majority of people across the UK oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It’s time to send the message loud and clear that the Crown Prince is not welcome.
You can sign the petition to oppose the Crown Prince’s visit here.
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.