Next week Downing Street will be rolling out its red carpet for a three-day visit from the new crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman.
At only 32, the crown prince has styled himself as a social reformer and a rising star. He will no doubt use his visit as a chance to talk about the ‘change’ he is supposedly implementing as part of his Vision 2030 project to overhaul the Saudi economy.
However, according to Amnesty International, repression in Saudi Arabia has worsened since Bin Salman became crown prince. Here are five reasons it’s important that as many of us as possible take action against his visit.
1. The crown prince has overseen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Over the last three years Saudi forces have unleashed a terrible bombardment on the people of Yemen. Tens of thousands of Yemeni people have been killed and a Saudi-led blockade has left millions at risk of famine and cholera, causing UN agencies to describe it as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
In his other role as defence minister, the crown prince has been the lead architect of the war and has overseen it since day one.
Rather than putting pressure on the Saudi regime and calling for the bombing to stop, the UK government has offered staunch and uncritical support. At the outset, the then foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged the UK would “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” Unfortunately, it’s a promise that’s been kept.
2. UK arms have played a central role in Yemen’s destruction.
The Saudi military is by far the world’s largest buyer of UK arms, so there is no doubt that arms sales will be high on the agenda for the crown prince’s visit.
The UK has licensed almost £5bn worth of arms to the Saudi military since the start of the war in Yemen, including fighter jets, bombs and missiles. These arms have been used to destroy vital civilian infrastructure.
The government’s priorities were made obvious last October when the former defence secretary Michael Fallon urged MPs to stop criticising the Saudi regime because it was “not helpful” for UK arms sales.
3. The Saudi regime has one of the worst human rights records in the world.
Theresa May may have praised “changes taking place in Saudi Arabia”, but for the most part these have been superficial.
In 2017 alone the Kingdom executed 141 people. If executions continue at this rate, another 1,800 death sentences will be handed out by the time Vision 2030 is implemented.
Adding insult to injury, the visit is currently scheduled to take place over International Women’s Day. Despite talk of reform, Saudi women remain among the most discriminated against in the world.
In 2008 Saudi women’s rights activist Wajeha Huwaider marked International Women’s Day by filming herself driving and was arrested for it. A warm welcome for Bin Salman will send a message to women everywhere that short-term profits are more important than promoting their rights globally.
4. A red carpet welcome will be a propaganda victory for the crown prince.
The Saudi leadership has recently hired a number of public relations firms to improve its awful reputation and to promote the Kingdom as a safe haven for business. But beneath Bin Salman’s well-funded charm offensive lurks a political ruthlessness. As well as the economy, the crown prince has seized direct control of the Ministries of Defence, Interior and the National Guard.
While in the UK, he will pose for photos with the prime minister and her colleagues and with senior UK royals who are rumoured to be taking part. These images will be a major propaganda victory, helping him to whitewash the destruction of Yemen and gloss over the abuses being carried out against Saudi people.
5. The visit is out of step with public opinion.
Unlike Theresa May and her cabinet colleagues, the UK public is deeply uneasy about the ever-closer relationship with Saudi Arabia. Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority oppose arms sales to the Saudi military.
If the uncertainty over Donald Trump’s UK visit following significant public opposition shows us anything, it’s that protesting these visits works. If enough of us take action, the crown prince’s visit may be called off too.
Reports suggest the visit has already been postponed due to unease about negative media coverage and the promise of large protests. We need to keep up this pressure until the invitation is withdrawn completely.
Join Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in a protest outside Downing Street on 7 March and sign the petition to oppose the Mohammed bin Salman’s UK visit.