Sorry Theresa May, you can't kid us about the real nature of the Saudi Crown Prince's visit

Theresa May, seen here meeting a senior Saudi delegation at the G20 summit in 2016, is due to host the Saudi Crown Prince this week

Theresa May, seen here meeting a senior Saudi delegation at the G20 summit in 2016, is due to host the Saudi Crown Prince this week

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

This Wednesday will be a very busy day for Downing Street.

The international media will descend on it in the morning, when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, will welcome and greet Mohammad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They will smile and exchange pleasantries as they try to put as positive a face as possible on his visit.

People say that a picture tells a thousand words, and there is no doubt that the pictures taken outside Number 10 will be broadcast all over the world.

The two leaders will use it as a chance to talk about ‘cooperation’, ‘reform’ and ‘progress’ in the Kingdom. However, neither of them will mention the fact that, despite some minor changes, the regime of which the Crown Prince is the figurehead has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

They will not talk about the 137 people that were executed in Saudi Arabia last year, 96 of whom were executed after the Crown Prince came to power. Nor will they talk about the 18 young people that could be executed any day now for the ‘crime’ of protesting.

Another point that will almost certainly be absent from all of the public backslapping and nauseating platitudes will be the fate of Yemen. Over the last three years, Saudi-led military forces have inflicted one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world on what was already the poorest country in the region.

Thousands of bombs have been dropped. These have killed thousands of people, wiped out vital infrastructure and put millions of lives at risk. Many of those bombs have been made here in the UK, and, shamefully, so were the fighter jets dropping them.

The bombardment has been awful for those that have been forced to endure it, but for the arms companies it has been a major business opportunity. Since the bombing began in March 2015, the UK government has licensed £4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi forces.

The end result has been one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world, with 20 million people left in need of medical assistance. The worst outbreak of cholera on record has affected one million people. Unicef has called Yemen one of the worst countries in the world to be a child, and Save the Children has found 130 children a day dying of preventable causes.

Despite these atrocities, the mutual fawning will not be restricted to Downing Street. Reports suggest that, after meeting May, the Crown Prince and his entourage will be whisked away to Windsor Palace for a luxurious dinner with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

Regardless of the exact itinerary, we can be sure that it will be a garish and sickening spectacle. It has been designed purely to promote further arms sales and legitimise and boost the image-conscious Crown Prince and the appalling dictatorship that he represents.

However, there are many of us that are not as easily convinced as May and her colleagues. All of the polling shows that the vast majority of people in the UK are firmly opposed to the uncritical political and military support that the UK has given to Saudi forces.

Time to take sides

On Wednesday evening, hundreds of activists and human rights campaigners will come together outside Downing Street for a major protest against the visit.

The protest has been organised by a broad coalition of campaign groups. We will be all be united in condemning the visit, and will be calling for an end to the terrible bombardment of Yemen, and for May to stop arming and supporting the Saudi regime. We will be demonstrating in full solidarity and support with those that are being tortured and repressed by Saudi forces, and with those that are suffering in Yemen.

In politics you have to take sides. We are unflinchingly on the side of those that have suffered under the Crown Prince and his brutal regime. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the Prime Minister has made clear that she is not.

Join us in sending the message loudly and clearly that the Crown Prince is not welcome.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.