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The Bloody Kingdom's Tyrannical New Heir

No matter how much damage Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince does, he can still count on Downing Street’s support says Andrew Smith


Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman

Last week saw yet another twist in the geopolitical game of thrones that is the Saudi Arabian royal family. At only 31, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has already made his mark on Saudi politics. Now he is second in line to the throne of one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Born into a life of privilege, Salman has worked his way up the Saudi government. In 2015 his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, appointed him as the youngest defence minister in the world.

In that role he shaped and oversaw the devastating and ongoing bombardment of Yemen. In the two years since the bombing began, the United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed, and the country has been thrown into a terrible humanitarian catastrophe.

The bombing has been condemned by the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a host of other respected NGOs — all of which have accused the Saudi forces of violating international humanitarian law.

The war has seen a breakdown in society and infrastructure. A recent report from Unicef found that a child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, with a recent cholera outbreak putting millions more at risk.

There is no reason to think Salman’s latest appointment will lead to a change of approach. If anything, this should be seen as an endorsement of a disastrous policy that has unleashed untold misery in Yemen while exacerbating tensions across the whole region.

In addition to his role in shaping Saudi military policy, Salman has also spent the last two years as chair of Saudi Arabia’s Council for Economic and Development Affairs.

The council, which is responsible for devising the country’s economic strategy, has allowed him to shape an economic programme called Vision 2030 that is designed to reinvent the Saudi economy.

One outcome has been huge cuts in public spending, with public sector pay cuts and service reductions taking effect across the kingdom.

The austerity stands in contrast to Salman’s frivolous spending and playboy lifestyle: perhaps embodied by his spur-of-the-moment decision to spend £452 million on a luxury yacht last year.

There are some liberalising moves in the reforms, such as the opening of cinemas and small-scale improvements in women’s rights, but these tend to emphasise what a low bar it is starting from.

Even the most generous interpretation would have to accept that they will do very little to change the concentration of power or the nature of the regime.

No matter how much damage he does, one thing Salman can count on is the continued uncritical political and military support of Downing Street, which welcomed his appointment in glowing terms. Theresa May greeted his appointment with kind words and a stated desire to “deepen” ties between the two countries.

Her sycophancy will be no surprise to those who have seen the fawning images of her trip to Riyadh last Easter to sell weapons.

However, over recent months that relationship has come under closer scrutiny. Over the course of the election, it was revealed that the Home Office may be planning to quash a report on the funding of terrorism in Britain — an investigation from the Guardian suggested it was due to raise serious questions about the role of Saudi Arabia in ignoring the funding of violent actors.

Likewise, the legality of the billions of pounds worth of arms that Britain has licensed for the war in Yemen is subject to an ongoing legal action following an application by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. A verdict is expected in the months ahead.

The election has left May’s government in a weakened and insecure position.

We need to work with politicians, activists and campaigners from across the political spectrum to make sure that they are kept under pressure to end Britain’s toxic political and military support for the Saudi dictatorship.

One big chance will come this September, when the Saudi military will be among those in attendance at the DSEI arms fair when it comes to east London.

Thousands of us will be waiting for them, as part of a week of activism against the arms fair. Join us in making clear that British arms sales and political support for the regime never has been, and never will be, acceptable.

 Andrew Smith is the media coordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Source: Morning Star