The other day British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Saudi Arabia was “puppeteering and playing proxy wars”, which was a bit of a political cock-up given that Saudi Arabia is Britain’s top regional ally in the Middle East. However there was nothing incorrect about his statement because Yemen is currently being destroyed by Saudi Arabia, and indeed British and American weaponry is being used in Yemen by the Saudi government. If this was a statement on its own then I would find it funny because when politicians accidentally tell the truth it’s pretty much always funny but the response from the government illustrates how unjust British foreign policy is.
When news broke of Johnson admitting that Saudi Arabia was engaged in a proxy war against Iran in Yemen, Downing Street issued an official response in which they stated that Saudi Arabia was “a vital partner in the region”. This statement illustrates how British foreign policy is in no way guided by factual assessments of geopolitics or what our perceived values are.
Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policy is horrific in a number of ways but let’s go through just a few. Not only are them conducting a proxy war in Yemen but they have been spreading Wahhabism across the world, which is one of the ideologies motivating groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Saudi government officials have publicly stated that because Islam is so important to the people of their countries, atheists are considered terrorists. According to Saudi law if you leave Islam the punishment is death, and the punishment is the same for the ‘crimes’ of homosexuality, witchcraft, sorcery (which is apparently not the same thing), and adultery. But not only does Saudi Arabia have capital punishment for these ridiculous ‘offenses’, the executions are carried out in the public square to deter future offenders. The only word that springs to mind to describe such a situation is feudal.
British foreign policy is clearly based on oil and the hypocrisy from the government is unbelievably obvious. When I make arguments about countries embracing renewable energy and becoming energy independent this is an important reason. If countries were no longer reliant on Saudi oil countries wouldn’t have to dance around their obvious human rights abuses and forces of social change would be emboldened.
A collapse in demand for oil would starve the Saudi government of money. This lack of money politicise Saudi civil society and drive demands for increased social welfare provisions and the Saudi government would respond accordingly. Obviously if it didn’t and suppressed opposition foreign governments would have no vested interest in keeping the regime in power and could easily institute economic sanctions as with the case with Apartheid South Africa. These being the two options- governmental crackdown or domestic reform- removing the demand for oil would substantively change the world whilst also dealing with climate change.
The Foreign Secretary has said something that is actually true and this should never be discouraged even if I disagree with him politically. The response from senior government figures is shameful because the implication is that pointing out obvious abuses of power and crimes against humanity should be avoided. If Theresa May claims to care about human rights, which she has done on numerous occasions despite violating many as Home Secretary, then rebuking the Saudi government is an essential. Indirectly telling-off a Cabinet Minister for essentially pointing out the Yemeni Civil War’s existence is just depressing.