The vital strategic partnership between Britain and its Gulf ally is suddenly under threat
A piece in The Telegraph from Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz. "Over the past few weeks, there has been an alarming change in the way Saudi Arabia is discussed in Britain. The Kingdom has always had to deal with a lack of understanding and misconceptions, but on this occasion I feel compelled to address some of the recent criticisms."
The Ambassador whines on...
"The importance of Saudi Arabia to the UK and the Middle East’s security, as well as its vital role in the larger Arab world as the epicentre of Islam, seems to be of little concern to those who have fomented this change. Yet it should be worrying to all those who do not want to see potentially serious repercussions that could damage the mutually beneficial strategic partnership that our countries have so long enjoyed.
Saudi Arabia is a sovereign state. Our Kingdom is led by our rulers alone, and our rulers are led by Islam alone. Our religion is Islam and our constitution is based on the Holy Qu’ran. Our justice system is based on Sharia law and implemented by our independent judiciary. Just as we respect the local traditions, customs, laws and religion of Britain, we expect Britain to grant us this same respect. We do not seek special treatment, but we do expect fairness. I do recognise, though, that we in the Embassy can do more to create a better understanding of my country.
Saudi Arabia and the UK are fortunate to have forged such a strong alliance – one that dates back to before the foundation of the Kingdom in 1932. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have said it had never been stronger.
The Kingdom’s contribution to Britain’s security and economy provides the foundations on which the bilateral relations between our two countries are built, allowing trade, cultural exchanges and military cooperation to flourish. Saudi Arabia ultimately provides over 50,000 British families in the UK and the Kingdom with livelihoods, thanks to commercial contracts worth tens of billions of pounds. Saudis also have an estimated £90 billion in private business investments in the UK.
One recent example of this mutual respect being breached was when Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Opposition, claimed that he had convinced Prime Minister David Cameron to cancel a prison consultancy contract with Saudi Arabia worth £5.9 million. This coincided with speculation linking the contract’s cancellation to a number of domestic events in the Kingdom.
If the extensive trade links between the two countries are going to be subordinate to certain political ideologies, then this vital commercial exchange is going to be at risk. We want this relationship to continue but we will not be lectured to by anyone. Hasty decisions prompted by short-term gains often do more harm than good in the longer term.
Saudi Arabia has also had to contend with disingenuous allegations concerning the Kingdom’s role in the war against terrorist groups such as so-called Isil and al-Qaeda. The fact is that no nation is more invested in the struggle against extremism than the Kingdom, which remains the primary target of such organisations, even more so than Western nations.
Furthermore, the Kingdom remains an invaluable source of intelligence on the activities of terrorist groups. Information from Saudi intelligence in 2010 resulted in a major counter-terrorism success by scuttling an al-Qaeda attempt to blow up a cargo airliner over Britain. In a recent interview, David Cameron confirmed the importance of our contribution when he declared: “Since I have been Prime Minister a piece of information that we have been given by (Saudi Arabia) has saved potentially hundreds of lives here in Britain.” Given information to which I am privy, that number is, in fact, in the thousands.
There have also been other unfounded allegations made against the Kingdom. It has been claimed that it was the convoy of the Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman that caused the recent tragic Mina stampede that killed hundreds of Hajj pilgrims. This is untrue. There has also been intense criticism of the Kingdom’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Yet this is unfair, as it fails to acknowledge that Saudi Arabia has taken in over 2.5 million displaced Syrians.
We were pleased to hear Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond state at the Conservative Party conference that “Gulf security is UK security”. We firmly believe that to be the case. But to further our shared strategic interests in the years ahead as we confront a variety of threats, it is crucial that Saudi Arabia be treated with the respect it has unwaveringly afforded the United Kingdom."
Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz is Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom