This is a British war as much as a Saudi war

Andrew Murray


It is more than 35 years since I first worked alongside Yemeni workers in Britain.  Migrant workers from Yemen have always shown solidarity with the labour movement in Britain and we owe the people of Yemen our solidarity now. Yemen is the forgotten front in the ‘War on Terror’.  The devastation being done to Yemen by the Saudi-led aggression stands comparison with the destruction wrought on Iraq, Syria, Libya and the other countries which have become battlefields in that war.

As many as ten thousand people have been killed, most of them civilians and many children.  Indeed, six children a day are being killed or maimed in the Saudi attacks. Hospitals have been repeatedly targeted and schools have been destroyed, while desperately needed humanitarian aid has been blocked from reaching the people of the country. There are now serious food shortages and millions of people are on the brink of outright famine. The basis of Yemen’s economic life and its social infrastructure are being destroyed.  Its development has been set back a generation or more.

When similar suffering is imposed on the people of Aleppo in Syria there is, rightly, outrage and there are calls for something to be done, for intervention to bring peace. We have seen the moving picture of the little Syrian boy, his face bloodied, in an ambulance.  Similar children are being pulled from the rubble every day in Yemen after Saudi airstrikes – using British-made bombs.

Yet the suffering in Yemen is largely swathed in silence.  This is despite, or perhaps because of, the huge British role in the conflict.

It would be no exaggeration to describe this conflict as a British war. Britain has sold over £5 billion-worth of arms to the Saudi dictatorship in recent years.   Those sales include not just bombs but the airplanes being used to drop them. Britain’s role is about more than just munitions.  British military personnel are involved in the criminal Saudi targeting strategy and in the use of drones in the conflict. So this is a war with British planes dropping British bombs on targets chosen by the British military.  It is a British war as much as a Saudi war.

That means that the war crimes being committed – and they have been publicly exposed as such are on the account not just of the aggressors of the Saudi-led coalition, but of the British government too, in particular the successive Foreign Secretaries who have blessed this conflict – William Hague, Phillip Hammond and now Boris Johnson.

This support has its roots in the vast interlocking business relationships that tie the British elite in with the ruling establishments in the Gulf.  This has long been based of course in the exploitation of oil resources but now extends to arms sales and financial and investment ties which make the Gulf despots almost a part of the British establishment. This is hugely profitable to Britain’s rulers.  The debt is paid in political support.

So we see Britain re-establishing a naval base in Bahrain, joining the US military there, going back “east of Suez” for the first time in forty years or more. This despite the Saudi crushing of the democracy movement in Bahrain, which the British government has maintained a “diplomatic silence” about.

We can see it too in the support for the dictatorship in Kuwait and the other oligarchies, commitments which make a mockery of supposed British support for democracy and human rights. But it is above all in backing Saudi Arabia that Britain aligns with the most reactionary force in the Middle East. Not only does the Saudi regime deny its own citizens basic rights; it exports religious sectarianism to the rest of the region (and the whole Muslim world) and this ideology is key to the spread of terrorism, including that of Islamic State.  It opposes any democratic development anywhere in the Arab world too.

But this despotism is a lynch-pin of the Anglo-American order to be imposed on the Middle East.  So full support is given to its aggressive, illegal and sectarian attack on Yemen and its people.

We know as trade unionists that there can be no future under such circumstances.  Indeed, trade unionism in Yemen is doubly prejudiced by the Saudi attack. First, where there are no factories, no economic development, no infrastructure and no work there can be no basis for trade unionism.  And second, the dictatorships of the Gulf do not permit free trade unionism in any case, any more than they allow any other basic liberties.

The TUC has declared against the ‘War on Terror’, and we need to win the understanding that the war against the people of Yemen forms a part of that project. We must demand first of all a cease-fire so that real humanitarian aid, food and medicine can reach the suffering people of Yemen.

Beyond that, we must demand an end to arms sales to the Saudi and other Gulf dictatorships; an end to political support for Saudi aggression and terrorism across the region.

Trade unionists in Britain will be with you in demanding that the British government show real support for democracy and self-determination in Yemen and across the Arab world; and we will be your allies in opposing US and British imperialism.

24 Aug 2016

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