A royal guest to be proud of? King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

His regime is condemned as one of the most brutal in the world, but today Britain will welcome King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

This week, Gordon Brown and David Cameron will welcome the leader of one of the world’s most vicious dictatorships to Britain. Both men will embrace King Abdullah al-Saud, who heads a regime in which, according to Amnesty International, “Fear and secrecy permeate every aspect of life. Every day the most fundamental human rights of people in Saudi Arabia are being violated.”

In his Labour Party conference speech last month, the Prime Minister declared that he would oppose dictatorship everywhere: “The message should go out to anyone facing persecution from Burma to Zimbabwe … human rights are universal.” He has refused to even attend the same summit as the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, on the grounds that “there is no freedom in Zimbabwe, and there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.” David Cameron has also just promised to put “human rights” at the heart of his “foreign policy vision”.

Yet both political leaders refuse to make a commitment to even mention human rights to the king. Instead, he will ride in a golden carriage with the Queen, and be guest of honour at a Buckingham Palace banquet. It is the start of a three-day state visit, funded by the British taxpayer. The decision to lavish large sums and the rare prestige of a state visit on King Abdullah has attracted severe criticism in Westminster. The Liberal Democrats’ acting leader, Vincent Cable, has refused to attend the banquet. The Labour MP John McDonnell said: “We are feting this man because Saudi Arabia controls 25 per cent of the world’s oil, and because we sell him billions of pounds’ worth of weapons. It is an insult to everything Britain stands for to put these geopolitical concerns ahead of the rights of women, trade unionists and all Saudi people

* Pragmatism, not principle, defines relationship with regime

* Vince Cable: A dubious ally who devalues our government

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  • Saudi king chides UK on terrorism

    29 October 2007, 09:31 GMT

    watch the interview

    Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has accused Britain of not doing enough to fight international terrorism, which he says could take 20 or 30 years to beat.

    He was speaking in a BBC interview ahead of a state visit to the UK – the first by a Saudi monarch for 20 years.

    He also said Britain failed to act on information passed by the Saudis which might have averted terrorist attacks.

    BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Whitehall officials have strenuously denied this.

    King Abdullah is expected to arrive in the UK on Monday afternoon; his visit begins formally on Tuesday.

    In the BBC interview he said the fight against terrorism needed much more effort by countries such as Britain and that al-Qaeda continued to be a big problem for his country.

    BBC world affairs correspondent John Simpson says King Abdullah is annoyed that the rest of the world has largely failed to act on his proposal for a UN clearing house for information about terrorism.

    Terror ‘information’

    Speaking through an interpreter, the Saudi monarch said he believed most countries were not taking the issue seriously, “including, unfortunately, Great Britain”.

    “We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.”

    The Saudi leadership maintains that it passed the UK information that might have averted the London bombings of 2005 if it had been acted on.

    An investigation by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found no evidence of any intelligence passed on by the Saudis that could have prevented the 7 July 2005 bombings, the BBC’s Frank Gardner said.


  • Robert Fisk: King Abdullah flies in to lecture us on terrorism
    By Robert Fisk
    Published: 30 October 2007

    In what world do these people live? True, there’ll be no public executions outside Buckingham Palace when His Royal Highness rides in stately formation down The Mall. We gave up capital punishment about half a century ago. There won’t even be a backhander – or will there? – which is the Saudi way of doing business. But for King Abdullah to tell the world, as he did in a BBC interview yesterday, that Britain is not doing enough to counter “terrorism”, and that most countries are not taking it as seriously as his country is, is really pushing it. Weren’t most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from – er – Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?

    The sheer implausibility of the claim that Saudi intelligence could have prevented the ondon bombings if only the British Government had taken it seriously, seems to have passed the Saudi monarch by. “We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy,” he told the BBC. This claim is frankly incredible.

    The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy. Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we “share values” with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?

    Saudi Arabia is a state which bankrolled – a definite no-no this for discussion today – Saddam’s legions as they invaded Iran in 1980 (with our Western encouragement, let it be added). And which said nothing – a total and natural silence – when Saddam swamped the Iranians with gas. The Iraqi war communiqué made no bones about it. “The waves of insects are attacking the eastern gates of the Arab nation. But we have the pesticides to wipe them out.”

    Did the Saudi royal family protest? Was there any sympathy for those upon whom the pesticides would be used? No. The then Keeper of the Two Holy Places was perfectly happy to allow gas to be used because he was paying for it – components were supplied, of course, by the US – while the Iranians died in hell. And we Brits are supposed to be not keeping up with our Saudi friends when they are “cracking down on terrorism”.

    Like the Saudis were so brilliant in cracking down on terror in 1979 when hundreds of gunmen poured into the Great Mosque at Mecca, an event so mishandled by a certain commander of the Saudi National Guard called Prince Abdullah that they had to call in toughs from a French intervention force. And it was a former National Guard officer who led the siege.

    Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks has still not been fully explored. Senior members of the royal family expressed the shock and horror expected of them, but no attempt was made to examine the nature of Wahhabism, the state religion, and its inherent contempt for all representation of human activity or death. It was Saudi Muslim legal iconoclasm which led directly to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban, Saudi Arabia’s friends. And only weeks after Kamal Salibi, a Lebanese history professor, suggested in the late 1990s that once-Jewish villages in what is now Saudi Arabia might have been locations in the Bible, the Saudis sent bulldozers to destroy the ancient buildings there.

    In the name of Islam, Saudi organisations have destroyed hundreds of historic structures in Mecca and Medina and UN officials have condemned the destruction of Ottoman buildings in Bosnia by a Saudi aid agency, which decided they were “idolatrous”. Were the twin towers in New York another piece of architecture which Wahhabis wanted to destroy?

    Nine years ago a Saudi student at Harvard produced a remarkable thesis which argued that US forces had suffered casualties in bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia because American intelligence did not understand Wahhabism and had underestimated the extent of hostility to the US presence in the kingdom. Nawaf Obaid even quoted a Saudi National Guard officer as saying “the more visible the Americans became, the darker I saw the future of the country”. The problem is that Wahhabi puritanism meant that Saudi Arabia would always throw up men who believe they had been chosen to “cleanse” their society from corruption, yet Abdul Wahhab also preached that royal rulers should not be overthrown. Thus the Saudis were unable to confront the duality, that protection-and-threat that Wahhabism represented for them.

    Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, once characterised his country’s religion as part of a “timeless culture” while a former British ambassador advised Westerners in Saudi Arabia to “adapt” and “to act with the grain of Saudi traditions and culture”.

    Amnesty International has appealed for hundreds of men – and occasionally women – to be spared the Saudi executioner’s blade. They have all been beheaded, often after torture and grossly unfair trials. Women are shot.

    The ritual of chopping off heads was graphically described by an Irish witness to a triple execution in Jeddah in 1997. “Standing to the left of the first prisoner, and a little behind him, the executioner focused on his quarry … I watched as the sword was being drawn back with the right hand. A one-handed back swing of a golf club came to mind … the down-swing begins … the blade met the neck and cut through it like … a heavy cleaver cutting through a melon … a crisp moist smack. The head fell and rolled a little. The torso slumped neatly. I see now why they tied wrists to feet … the brain had no time to tell the heart to stop, and the final beat bumped a gush of blood out of the headless torso on to the plinth.”

    And you can bet they won’t be talking about this at Buckingham Palace today.

  • Welcome to Britain. But don’t mention bribery and corruption. This is business

    Julian Borger
    Tuesday October 30, 2007

    He may be only a couple of weeks old, but Jacob Miliband suceeded yesterday where a wide array of human rights activists, dissidents and the Liberal Democrats had failed – he managed to upset the intimate relationship between Britain and Saudi Arabia.

    By arriving in the world earlier than scheduled, Jacob, David Miliband’s American adopted son caused the foreign secretary to be away in the US collecting him on a day he was supposed to be meeting the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, on the eve of what it had been hoped would be a carefully choreographed state visit.

    Mr Miliband’s absence was made public moments before he was due to speak at a gathering billed as the Two Kingdoms Conference at Lancaster House, which was intended, as the title suggested, to emphasise what the two countries had in common. The conference logo showed the union flag’s red diagonals reaching out like outstretched hands towards the sword on the green Saudi banner, but falling short.

    A rumour in the Arab press corps suggested this was a premeditated snub in retaliation for an interview King Abdullah had given to the BBC before his arrival. The king had embarrassed his hosts by suggesting Saudi intelligence had warned the British government about the impending July 7 attacks in 2005 “but unfortunately no action was taken,” he said.

    A senior British official insisted the Saudi tip-offs had been too vague to be “actionable”, and suggested that the Saudi monarch had merely been acting defensively after a torrent of bad publicity in the British press over his country’s human rights record and apparent failure to staunch the flow of Saudi jihadists into Iraq, the Middle East and beyond. By this point, the first Saudi state visit in 20 years had not yet officially begun, but was already in danger of sinking under the weight of mutual recriminations.

    British officials hastened to divert the blame from young Jacob. Due to the media circus around the 2004 adoption of the Milibands’ first son, Isaac, also an American, it was explained there had been a heavy emphasis on secrecy this time that may have contributed to the misunderstanding. “These are forces beyond human control,” said an aide.

    But countervailing forces were also at work, diplomats on both sides insisted. One of those forces was economic. BAE has just sold Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh in a deal worth up to £20bn.

    The strong economic ties have been the focus of protest groups which contrast the Brown government’s effusive relationship with the Saudi royal family, evidenced by this week’s red carpet treatment of King Abdullah, and its indignant denunciations of other, poorer states with poor human rights records. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ acting leader, has gone as far as boycotting all official functions.

    Government officials shrugged off the criticism. One senior official said talk of human rights would “not dominate” the state visit. If anything, there was not enough business done between the two kingdoms, diplomats said.

    William Patey, the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told an Arab television channel yesterday that if he had one request to make of the Saudi government “I would ask them to make it easier for our businessmen to get visas.”

    As for the scandal over BAE secret payments to Saudi officials – including a reported $1bn to Prince Bandar bin Sultan – to facilitate a big BAE weapons sale in 1985, that was old news according to diplomats on both sides. The prince is now King Abdullah’s national security adviser and was one of the first of the Saudi entourage to disembark with King Abdullah yesterday. Expressing the official British view on the BAE scandal, Mr Patey said: “The head of the Serious Fraud Office decided not to pursue this matter for a number of reasons. This is no longer in train.”

    The Saudi government marked the seriousness of its intent by the size of its entourage. It arrived in five commercial airliners and was reported to be more than 600 strong.

    There is a lot more than money at stake in the relationship, however. Along with the king’s ceremonial visit to Buckingham Palace today, and the commercial talks at the margins, there will be some intense diplomacy in play, not least in tomorrow’s summit meeting between King Abdullah and Gordon Brown in Downing Street. On some of the most pressing issues in the Middle East, British officials suggest London is closer to Riyadh than Washington. For example, British and Saudi diplomats agree that the US and Israel have failed to offer a clear enough agenda for the Middle East peace talks that are due to take place next month.

    British and Saudi officials also see eye to eye on Iran. Both would like to see Tehran contained and its nuclear programme stopped, but are uneasy about the consequences of possible US military action.

    Mr Howells, standing in for the foreign secretary, went as far as to talk of the two countries’ “shared values and interests”, provoking outrage from Riyadh’s critics. “I am astounded that a government minister can identify shared values with a regime that is world renowned for its abuse of human rights and civil liberties,” Labour MP John McDonnell said.

  • Guardian Unlimited, Matthew Weaver and agencies, October 30

    The controversial state visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia prompted new criticism today over his regime’s alleged role in distributing hate literature in British mosques.

    The Policy Exchange thinktank found extremist literature in a quarter of the 100 mosques and Islamic institutions it visited, including London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, which is funded by Saudi Arabia.

    Some of the literature advocated violent jihad, murdering gay people and stoning adulterers, its researchers found.

    Most of the material is produced by agencies closely linked to the Saudi regime, according to the investigation.

    Gordon Brown was urged to challenge King Abdullah about the literature when he meets him tomorrow.

    The government is already under pressure to raise concerns that the regime is involved in torture and other human rights abuses.

    Researchers from the right-of-centre thinktank spent more than a year visiting nearly 100 Muslim religious institutions across the country, and found extremist material was available – either openly or “under the table” – in around 25.

    “Vanity, Vanity, all is Vanity.”

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