Britain and the Kings of Arabia

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Britain’s support of the authoritarian regimes of the Arabian Peninsula is deeply rooted in their vast economic and military interests through often corrupt partnership between the royal families. In this documentary the history of these relations are studied; and it shows how huge amounts of oil revenue is again invested in Britain by Arabian princesses instead of being spent on the people of these nations and where these funds are needed. The torture and murder of an Afghan laborer at the hands of an Abu Dhabi prince with the aid of the police is also depicted.

TIME CODE : 00:00 _05:00

Narration:

PR: As the ‘Arab Spring’ toppled dictators across North Africa, leaders in the nearby Arabian Peninsula watched on with trepidation. Soon, they acted to maintain their absolute power. These are the most undemocratic regimes in the Middle East. But the survival of these unelected leaders is helped by a powerful backer. Britain.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

At the very same time that these events were happening in Egypt and the rest of North Africa, we were as a country exporting arms and training the Saudi national guard, the shock troops really that cut down the momentum of the Arab spring in countries such as Bahrain.’

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

The message is very clear. We in Britain support those friends. Although they are dictators, even if they are killers, we will continue supporting them. Even if they are murderers.

Narration:

Britain and the authoritarian regimes of the Arabian Peninsula share vast economic and military interests. This partnership is often forged by corrupt deals worth billions of dollars.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

You’re talking about very secretive governments, very rich governments. Places were deals can be done by personal recommendations…and you get Western companies who are very keen to go along with those orders and are quite happy to be corrupt.

Narration:

The financial partnership between Britain and the King’s of Arabia is facilitated by a very special relationship - the long-standing bond between royal families.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

There is a great comfort zone between the Monarchies. The British have always gone along with absolute monarchs in the region, providing they are buying the arms and selling the oil. That’s OK.

Narration:

Ever since 1820, when it concluded treaties with local rulers to combat piracy, Britain has manipulated and managed tribal monarchs in the Persian Gulf. By the end of World War I, royal families from Oman to Iraq had yielded power to Britain.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London Univ.:

The survival of forms of feudalism in the Middle East was part of the deliberate strategy of the British Empire from the First World War onwards. It is after all the British that create the structure of the modern Middle East.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

These were virtually protectorates of Britain and the royal families of those countries were selected and appointed by Britain and they were British dependencies.

Narration:

Britain’s concern was to secure a trading root for its merchant ships to India and envoys were sent to each Gulf state.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

You would have a political agent in Kuwait, another in Bahrain, another one in Qatar, another one in Oman, another in Muscat and so on. He would be the effective ruler of each of those Sheikhdoms. They were colonies under the name of Protectorates. But they were colonies of course.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London University:

Britain essentially seeks to maintain its particular interests in the Middle East through an alliance with local elites. This is essentially what it’s been attempting to do since the beginning of the 20th century. There’s very little new now in that political landscape. The faces have changes but the structures remain the same.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

Going back to the 18th, 19th century there’s been a consistency of meddling so whilst Britain hasn’t had the colonial presence in the region in the same way that it has in for example South Asia, the Caribbean or Africa, it’s always had this very close commercial relationship.

TIME CODE: 05:00 _10:00

Narration:

This close relationship has been fostered by a friendship between royal families.

Narration:

A symbolic sharing of a common culture.

UPSOUND: (Queen) And encourage the appreciation of what is best in both our cultures.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

Royalties would stick together. They would like to speak the same language. The language of aristocracy. The language of supremacy. They always feel they are aristocrats; they are different from normal people.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

I just read a statement by the Defence Minister in relation to a trip that he’s just made to Saudi Arabia. When he talks of visiting the Kingdom he speaks about our bilateral and shared heritage and history conveniently ignoring of course the human rights abuses within the Saudi territory.

Phil Rees:

It seems that authoritarian Arab despots – once favoured by the West – are no longer acceptable. But absolute monarchs, they are OK. After all, Britain didn’t just rule over the Kingdoms of Arabia. Britain in a sense created them.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London University:

Where does Kuwait come from as a nation state? Kuwait was very much the creation of British interests who sought in the 1950s to ensure that the most oil rich part of a territory, which previously they’d governed as a single space called Mesopotamia would not be part of what was then the rather troublesome republic of President Qassim. So the independence of Kuwait in 1961 is very much part and parcel of a kind of grand strategy operating within the Middle East which will lead not just to the creation of these neofeudal states in the Middle East but also to the export of the proceeds of the oil wealth of the Middle East to banks in places like London.

Narration:

After the rise in oil prices in the 1970s, the royal families of Arabia held vast wealth in what became known as petrodollars. While Britain was no longer their colonial master, a partnership emerged – one of mutual dependency and mutual benefit.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

The Saudi oil minister became one of the most powerful people in the world. It was that turning point of the 1970s that really made Britain and France and to some extent the United States dependent on the finance and economy of the Gulf region and the Gulf States.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London University:

By the end of the 1970s, the principal beneficiary of the increase in oil prices in the Middle East was actually the banking sector in places like London as petrodollars flooded in and created the basis of a new period of lending and expansion.

Narration:

Many of London’s most famous landmarks are owned by the families of the Kings of Arabia. Their money helps feed London’s property and luxury goods market. Sometimes the playboy lifestyle of their princes leads to diplomatic incidents. In 2010, the grandson of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia checked into this London hotel. Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser put 30,000 Euros in cash in the hotel safe and booked a series of appointments with gay prostitutes. Then one night, he went drinking with his servant – who was also his gay lover. After drinking champagne and cocktails, he returned to his hotel. Then Saud Abdul Aziz began to punch his servant. After going to his room, the Saudi prince sexually assaulted the man and then strangled him. According to the court, the prince had carried out frequent attacks on his servant ‘for his own personal gratification’. At the palatial Royal Saudi Embassy in London’s Mayfair, officials tried to claim that the prince had diplomatic immunity. He did not - and is now serving life in jail. The Saudi embassy has the greatest number of diplomats who break the law but escape justice. Figures in 2011 showed that four embassy staff were arrested for driving drunk and another for shoplifting - but each enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

NATSOUND:

The Middle East is called the Middle East for good reason. It’s in the centre of it all. I’m Cheryll Gillespie. Let’s shop.

Narration:

For Westerners, these fast growing kingdoms are simply shoppers’ playgrounds in the desert. But they have no democracy and few safeguards for human rights.

TIME CODE : 10:00 _15:00

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

When people go shopping in Dubai they wonder at the scenery, they wonder at the buildings they very seldom question the social structure of many of the Gulf countries

Narration:

At the top of the social structure are the royal elites that govern by decree. At the bottom, an invisible underclass of migrant workers who build the towers and maintain the luxurious lifestyle of the elites. Their plight is rarely glimpsed by western tourists.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

Many have passports and identity documents removed on arrival, held by their employers so if they step out of line in any way they can be the more easily deported by the state. They have very few if any political rights within the region.

Narration:

When a migrant worker was accused by Sheikh Issa bin Zayed - the brother of the emir of Abu Dhabi - of short changing him, the Sheikh decided to punish the man himself. He began to torture the Afghan migrant while others filmed. The man was beaten. He was shot at. An Abu Dhabi policeman ties the victim's arms and legs, and later holds him down as the Sheikh forces him to eat sand. Then Sheikh Issa ran him over with his Mercedes SUV. The Sheikh was tried in an emirates’ court. But he was found not guilty, claiming that he’d been drugged and was not responsible for his actions. The Royalty of Arabia believe they are above the law.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

It is not a royalty, it is a dictatorship. It is dictatorship. The people have no right to decide or take part in the running of their own affairs. The whole political system is monopolised by the royal clique.

Narration:

So given this, why does the British prime minister not address human rights abuses during a meeting with the Saudi king – but instead discusses the Queen’s jubilee celebrations?

UP SOUND (Cameron) It’s her 60th year on the throne and there will be enormous celebrations in the United Kingdom..

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

The Establishment see these very despotic regimes as key allies in terms of those key economic interests. Q Oil and banking? Oil, banking and arms exports. There’s a huge industry in the U.K.

Narration:

Shortly after the fall of Egypt’s President Mubarak, David Cameron visited Cairo and met the new military rulers. But why was he there?

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

I do recall David Cameron’s strange odyssey around the region in which he did indeed go very briefly to Tahrir square surrounded by more security that had ever been seen before but he did get the photo shot in Tahrir Square but more interestingly, he was accompanied by a group of arms sales people in order to sell yet more arms to a region that’s groaning under the weight of imported arms.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

When the Arab spring erupted he decided to take a little detour and went to Tahrir square and walked around, talked to people and talked about democracy took a bit of good publicity as the first western leader to go there.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

When Cameron was promoting the Arab spring, he was actually on a trade mission selling arms to some of the most despotic countries in the world. When all this was happening, Britain exported about 2bn pounds worth of arms and £1.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

The mission was about British economic interests. He claimed it was about the spread of democracy and he and Sarkozy have used the language of democracy but the reality is, they’ve supported the King in Saudi Arabia, they’ve supported the royal family in Bahrain. It’s a very limited form of democracy that they’re promoting.

Narration:

The European Union provides the Kings of Arabia with a wide array of military hardware.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

Between 2008 -09 arms exports to the Middle East region almost doubled. The vast majority of sales were going to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And they went from 4.9 bn Euros to 9.2 bn Euros in just one year. That gives some idea of the extent of the market there. Absolutely enormous.

Narration:

These military supplies have not been used against foreign invaders.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

They are buying weapons that can be used internally to suppress their populations. One thing that’s particularly disturbing aspects of British arms exports particularly to the United Arab Emirates is a huge growth in surveillance equipment, monitoring equipment, weapons known as cryptography.

TIME CODE: 15:06 _ 20:00

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

These are dictatorships or authoritarian governments. They are not answerable to parliament; they are not answerable to popular demands.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

The model that we’ve built with Saudi Arabia in terms of the formation of the Saudi National Guard and then the arming and training of the Saudi National Guard is now being transported to other ‘allies’ as it were in the regionand now in Bahrain.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London University:

There are a number of regimes in the Middle East whose Emirs and Sultans remain in power through the active assistance of the SAS.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

One of our biggest exports to Saudi was a range of armed personnel vehicles called Tactica. These are made by Bae systems and they are manufactured in Tyneside, I believe. They were sold directly to the Saudi National Guard and they sent hundreds of these vehicles into Bahrain at the request of the Bahrain government.

Narration:

Saudi forces crossed the causeway into Bahrain in order to help the island’s royal family crush pro-democracy demonstrators. Bahrain’s absolute monarch is King Hamed al Khalifa and for nearly a century, Britain has played a central role in preserving the rule of the Khalifa dynasty. While the British government said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of human rights abuses, the UK has repeatedly helped to prevent democracy emerging in Bahrain.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

Britain had crushed dissent in the past militarily. In 1956, 1965, British soldiers were in the streets crushing the uprising. At every juncture, Britain would come to salvage the situation for the al Khalifa. Sometimes they would say “they are very concerned”. This is the maximum we got from America and Britain in the last 50 years or so. When the situation became so bad and people got murdered and butchered in the streets and in torture cells, we would see Washington and London expressing “deep concern” but nothing more. They would prop up the regime with any means at their disposal.

Narration:

The head of Bahrain’s security service for three decades was Colonel Ian Henderson, who lived part of the year in Devon.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

Henderson remained in Bahrain after independence. He seemed to be their main security adviser, during which time the constitution was suspended, political opponents were arrested and imprisoned,

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

We knew in the 1980s, many people died under torture under him. We have people who gave testimonies that they were being tortured as he entered into the room.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

Allegations of human rights abuses in Bahrain are not new. I first met Bahrain human rights activists in 1986 at a UN human rights conference in Copenhagen and they’ve been at it ever since. And it’s been very hard to persuade the British government to take issues of human rights abuses seriously there.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

You look at the weaponry that we have sold Bahrain and its all the sort of weaponry you’d use in internal suppression. It’s things like sniper rifles for example. It’s wall and door breaching equipment. It’s a whole range of cryptography equipment, which is used for internal surveillance. So all the sort of weaponry we are selling are so likely to be used for internal repression.

Richard Drayton, History Prof., London University:

It is of course quite striking that the kind of emphatic support by Libyan rebels in early 2011 was not equalled in support for rebels in Bahrain or elsewhere. Indeed, the state in Bahrain was given the best possible assistance by Britain and the United States in order to maintain order rather than being forced by NATO to cede power to its own citizens.

Narration:

The king declared a three-month state of emergency in March 2011 and ordered the military to end the demonstrations. The protesters' camp at the Pearl Roundabout - a landmark in the capital Manama - was bulldozed before the monument itself was torn down. At least sixty protesters have been killed. Two thousand rounded up.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

There was systematic torture. There were extrajudicial killings. Depravation of sleep is common practice. Sexual assault is there all the time.

TIME CODE : 20:00 _26:25

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

Many of the detainees have either his sons or father in jail and a relative would be brought in and tortured in front of the relative. One detainee was taken to court. He said to the judge. Look, I was tortured by the son of the King himself. Nacer bin Hamed. I had electric shocks and he also hit me and abused me. He said please record it, but the judge would not write a single word of that.

Narration:

Under British law, it is illegal to sell weapons to countries that torture or suppress their citizens. Arms manufactures need a government licence, listing the name of the end user.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

In order to get a licence you are supposed to demonstrate certain conditions. So far example, the UK is not supposed to be selling to countries that are aggressive toward their neighbours, or who are in regions of conflict or tension or are likely to use those weapons to suppress human rights.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

Parliamentary committees in Westminster over the years have shown a lot of concern about the fact that the UK government has no control over the way that the arms exports that we provide for these countries are actually used. When we are providing these arms, what are they actually used for?

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

Politicians themselves know that these countries are very undemocratic if you look at the Foreign Office’s annual Human Rights report and you look at the countries of concern and some of the biggest countries of biggest concern are the ones they are selling weapons to. It’s quite astonishing.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

So there is this narrow consensus that eeven xists within the Commons that is very much aligned to the policy of the Foreign Office. Even in this place, it’s very difficult to actually scrutinize the government.

Kaye Stearman, Campaign Against Arms Trade:

The point is these guidelines can be pretty flexible and overridden by other considerations such as commercial considerations or the need to keep good relations with certain countries. So they can override any considerations of human rights.

Narration:

David Cameron met the King of Bahrain in Downing Street just three weeks after an official inquiry detailed the torture and death of prisoners held by Bahraini authorities.

The prime minister had already given a warm welcome to the King’s son, the Crown Prince two months after the protests were crushed.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

The scene on the steps of Downing Street and the message that sends to the oppressed people of that country is that the UK government is legitimising these regimes.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

When David Cameron shakes hands with the father of the torturer, I don’t know what message he is trying to send to the world apart from declaring regardless of what these dictators do, regardless of the torture they commit, regardless of human rights’ abuses they afflict on people, we will still support them to the last breath.

Narration:

At the Saudi Embassy in London, the ruling family is a regular target of protests.

Protester 1:

Saudi army still in Bahrain. Still, it burn our Qur’an, still destroy our mosque. We try to fight against this regime, Bahraini regime as well as Saudi regime.

Protester 3:

Unfortunately, what we see now is the unexplainable silence either in the United Kingdom or the United States and we feel ashamed that the United Kingdom keeps away from what is going on in Saudi Arabia in terms of the human rights violations and the growing tendency toward dictatorship.

Narration:

As it increases its control over the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia’s friendship is central to furthering Western interests in the region. Britain’s royal family have played their part in maintaining a close friendship with the Kings of Arabia.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

When the Countess of Wessex was received by the dictator of Bahrain and was given lavish goods and jewellery. They say we were given advice by the Foreign Office. So they didn’t just go on their own. The Foreign Office, the politicians were involved in arranging the whole thing. So this monarchy here is exploited, used directed by the politicians in order to facilitate British interests.

Jonathan Edwards, MP, Party of Wales:

People out there would be extremely concerned if they were aware of some of the things that happen in their name. Until people get informed about what’s being done in their name, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to get a change in UK Government policy.

Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement:

They always weigh out – how much in trade will we lose if we raise the issue of human rights and democracy in those regions. Leave well alone they always say, so they would rather ignore what goes on.

Narration:

For now, the Kings of Arabia cling onto power. But it is hard to see a lasting future for rulers whose legitimacy is derived from medieval institutions and the vestiges of British colonial rule.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Labour Party:

I think every one of the Monarchs across the whole region are pretty nervous because they’ve seen that Mubarak overthrown by popular unrest, the Tunisian president was overthrown by popular unrest. I think they’re all pretty nervous about what the future holds.

   

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