It really is all about the oil. Oh, and don't forget the arms deals.
What word(s) is/are best to describe the government of Saudi Arabia? Dave Osler uses petrotheocracy, which has a certain ring to it. I've always enjoyed kleptocracy, which is perhaps best to describe China, for instance, and certainly goes some way towards summing up bribes in the region of £1bn to key members of the Saudi royal family. Autocracy, unaccountable, oligarchy, all are similarly suitable, but all lack a certain something. Perhaps we ought to look to the Liberal Democrats for insight, especially as Vince Cable has made a courageous stand to boycott his meeting with "King" Abdullah. Mike Hancock recently referred to those who forced out Ming Campbell as a "complete shower of shits", but even that seems a little too staid for my liking. How about a collection of theocratic, democracy denying, corrupt cunts?
Petty insults aside, the sheer gall of New Labour in inviting those ultimately responsible for the torture of four British citizens wrongly arrested for a series of bombings in the country shouldn't be surprising, but the pulling out of all the stops for their visit is the equivalent of a kick in the teeth to those who dare to suggest that the government ought to be consistent in its approach to all those who deny basic human rights to their people.
As has been pointed out, we'd never dream of inviting Robert Mugabe to have dinner with the Queen, or the head of the Burmese junta to meet both the prime minister and the leaders of the other main political parties, but as for the Saudi royal family, which if anything presides over a state far more vicious and discriminatory than that of the one in Burma, they're not just welcomed with open arms, we have ministers claiming that the two states should unite around their "shared values". Whether this means that we'll be banning women from driving, while making certain that they're covered from head to toe whilst out in public, re-instituting absolute monarchy, bringing back flogging, banning all religions other than Christianity and removing all rights to privacy is unclear; perhaps it'll just mean prolonged detention without charge for critics of the Dear Leader.
A better comparison might perhaps be made with Iran. Like with the examples mentioned above, it's hard to think of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being invited to share tea and scones with Liz, or Ayatollah Khamenei shaking hands with David Cameron. Iran is simply beyond the pale; she sponsors terrorism and is building nuclear weapons, don't you know? Both sit on veritable seas of oil, but while if we proposed selling fighter jets to Iran Melanie Phillips would probably explode, Saudi Arabia is an entirely different kettle of fish. While Iran's executions of juveniles and other human rights abuses are possibly worse than those in Saudi, Iran at least has something resembling democracy when it comes to electing the president and the legislature, natives of Saudi Arabia have to make to do with essentially meaningless municipal elections, where women were denied the vote, although it's been solemnly promised they will have it in 2009.
All this moral equivalence doesn't really add up to much in the long run. It ought to be this simple: Saudi Arabia is an theocratic autocracy. Its strict state sponsored interpretation of Islam, and efforts to spread such an interpretation has greatly contributed to the rise of takfirist Salafism, the kind which al-Qaida takes its cue from. It is endemically corrupt, one of most corrupt regimes on the planet, and it effectively steals the wealth that should belong to its people. The fact that it supports either the "war on terror" or that if the regime fell the replacement could possibly be worse shouldn't really enter it to it. We ought to deal with it, of course, as we should with Iran. We need to help and encourage the reform process, but there's only so far that a reform process can go in such a country, completely unlike in Iran. What we should most certainly not be doing is inviting its rulers to have a nice chat with our own head of state with full regalia, or selling it weapons on a grand scale, which could conceivably be used against an uprising of its own people, especially when there are so many allegations that the deals have involved such huge sums of money going to those who negotiated them.
Instead, what we have at the moment is a country with an appalling record on all fronts holding all the cards. When the Serious Fraud Office gets close to uncovering the full scale of the corruption involved in the Al-Yamamah deal, they threaten to cut off their intelligence links and cancel their next big order, resulting in those with a hand in the till also mounting a specious campaign to call the inquiry off. Rather than calling their bluff, knowing full well that they'll continue to share it with the CIA even if they did act on their words, our former glorious leader ordered the attorney general to put a stop to such an embarrassment. As King Abdullah arrives and the criticism reaches fever pitch, he laughably suggests that Saudi intelligence could have stopped 7/7, thereby making everyone doubly aware of how vital it is that we continue to have close relations with his nation, even if his claims are about as credible as the ones currently being raised at the Diana inquest. If one of our political representatives has the balls to suggest that this visit isn't in our long term best interests and that he's decided to boycott it, Her Majesty's Opposition calls it "juvenile gesture politics", while they just think about all the additional arms deals they could do once New Labour finally enters the annals of history. Best to make a good impression, right?
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of our sorriest in recent times. Even when outrages like the torture of our own innocent citizens take place, so careful are we to ensure that dealings continue in the fog of good vibes as they have for decades, we go out of our way to make certain that they can't apply for compensation from even the individuals responsible, let alone from the state itself. John McDonnell has said it best:
"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."
This was one of the men who Gordon Brown described during the leadership campaign as "simply not having support for their views in the Labour party." This royal visit has proved one thing. Brown and the others supportive of it are more happy in the company of a dictator than they are in those with whom they are meant to have common cause.
Chicken Yogurt - Monsters Inc.