Tories back despots
The recent execution of 47 prisoners by Saudi Arabia’s rulers has been widely condemned as barbaric. These killings have also ratcheted up tensions with the oil-rich state’s main regional political rival – Iran.
The latter’s regime has issued warnings over the killing of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, a prominent political opponent of the Saudi Arabian Sunni regime.
Saudi’s ruling clique, which executed 151 people last year (mostly for non-violent drugs offences), has said the executions were of “terrorists”. But the country’s repressive judicial system is notorious for witch-hunting the regime’s critics, especially among its Shia minority community.
Iran on its part is equally notorious for its regular executions of political opponents since the country’s 1979 revolution.
The two regional powers were already in conflict, with their proxy wars being fought in Syria and Yemen.
Since the executions the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran, Iran, has been firebombed, while Tehran has accused Saudi Arabia of “intentionally” bombing its embassy in the Yemen capital, Sanaa.
This deepening antagonism has polarised the region’s ruling classes.
Despite the feudal-rulers of Saudi Arabia having one of the worst human rights records of any country on the planet, UK Tory Prime Minister David Cameron remained tight-lipped in condemning the latest spate of executions.
The Foreign Office merely expressed “concern”. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond suggested there was little point condemning the executions, since it wouldn’t change the minds of Saudi’s rulers.
One year ago Cameron, along with a host of other Western ‘democratic’ leaders, jetted off to Saudi Arabia to attend the funeral of the country’s absolute monarch King Abdullah and endorse the succession of his half-brother Prince Salman to the throne.
The Tory government’s reluctance to criticise the House of Saud has a lot to do with lucrative arms and other trades deals with Britain, as well as Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves.
The regime is also a key regional power broker, vital to western governments’ geo-political interests in the Middle East.
Last October, on Channel 4 news, David Cameron repeatedly refused to answer questions on Britain’s secret security pact with Saudi Arabia (which saw both countries elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council).
Cameron eventually conceded that the British government “has a relationship with Saudi Arabia” which means “we receive from them important intelligence and security information”.
Cameron also admitted that he personally had not intervened in the widely publicised case of 17-year-old Ali Mohammed al-Nimr (nephew of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr), arrested during the Arab Spring protests three years ago and who faces execution.
Saudi Arabia is dependent for 90% of its revenues on oil sales. However, the collapse in world oil prices has resulted in the country’s budget deficit ballooning to an enormous 15% of GDP last year, gouging $100 billion of its $650 billion of foreign reserves.
In turn, this has prompted spending cuts and hikes in petrol, electricity and water prices.
A combination of cutting subsidies and increasing taxes on the population can only deepen discontent within the kingdom.
Undoubtedly it is the fear of widening internal dissent that in part lays behind the recent mass executions and the regime’s clampdown on ‘terrorism’.
The executions also reflect Saudi leaders’ anger at the western powers’ rapprochement with Iran over its nuclear programme – forgetting that it has been the continual support of the West that has kept the House of Saud in power.