Dear Prime Minister,
In the next few days, London will host the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in what will be the first official visit of the young and ambitious heir-apparent to the throne in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As such, this visit constitutes an opportunity which must not be scuppered to assert the values and principles which we hold high, at the heart of any trade deal, contract or political agreement which will be ratified with Saudi Arabia this week.
Saudi Arabia is a country of utmost strategic, commercial as well as religious importance which cannot be undermined. However, any eagerness to enter into trade with Saudi Arabia must not be at the expense of essential values, nor should it allow us to overlook tragic realities on the ground.
The issue of human rights must absolutely remain at the very heart of any discussion, trade or otherwise, with Saudi Arabia. It would be an affront to the concept of human rights and its victims to take at face value the recent superficial measures implemented under the instructions of the Crown Prince. Allowing women to drive, opening cinema multiplexes, holding musical concerts and having the religious establishment rescind most, if not all, of its previous fatwas and rulings on matters concerning public dress and behaviour, do not mean that the construct of human rights is established, particularly when democracy is absent, political expression is banned and any form of dissent is punished to the maximum.
As you will be receiving the Crown Prince, hundreds, possibly even thousands of Saudi society’s most revered figures, will have been locked up for their 6th month without any official charges, nor legal representation, family visitation, or any hope of seeing the inside of a courtroom in the foreseeable future. Many have indeed been subjected to torture. Those professors, scholars, lecturers, writers, academics, social commentators, human rights activists and religious figures have no hope of finding justice nor freedom, if major states like the United Kingdom do not bring up their cases to the rulers of Saudi Arabia.
The war in Yemen has turned into a tragedy of epic proportions for many reasons, but amongst the most important of those, is the role of Saudi Arabia – among several other regional states – since it began its campaign to reverse the Arab Spring and re-establish the grim, failed and tyrannical realities of the region which dominated the past 5 decades. The Crown Prince must hear from you directly and in no uncertain terms what we think of what Saudi Arabia’s role did to destroy the lives of millions of Yemenis, and eventually crushing a fledgling democratic experiment. Our role in providing the shells and the bombs through incredibly lucrative arms contracts with Saudi Arabia cannot be denied, and history will condemn us, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and others, if we chose to neglect the outrageous cost to humanity these contracts yield. On this, you and your guest will undoubtedly notice the large gathering of human rights organisations, pro-democratic groups and Stop The War Coalition on Wednesday afternoon to protest Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and our role in arming the conflict that has led to the disintegration of that state. This protest will reflect the sentiments of large swathes of the British public, but more crucially, will speak on behalf of the victims of the Yemeni crisis.
Saudi Arabia’s role in inflaming tensions with Qatar is both inexplicable and unacceptable. A region which has fires burning wildly in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, does not need further tensions, nor more conflicts. You must insist on your guest that this siege imposed on Qatar must come to an immediate end.
The position adopted by the Saudi Arabian government in targeting pro-democracy actors within its borders and across the Arab and Middle Eastern region as an existential threat is not only absurd, but extremely dangerous. Those who call for democracy, human rights and freedoms, must not be allowed to be prosecuted by regimes that never came to power as an outcome of a democratic process. If we allow that, then we simply defy and contradict the very values which we claim to uphold.
As such, Mrs Prime Minister, it might help to bear in mind the disparity in your respective positions; You are in office as a result of an election, whilst your guest is not, and indeed, he is going out of his way to ensure that an election is never held.
The Muslim Association of Britain wishes for nothing more than a fruitful, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship is established between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that sees both our nations prosper. However, such a relationship must be established on the grounds of the universal values of humanity which are shared by all fair-minded people rather than on mere crass heartless political, commercial and strategic interests.
We wish you well.
Dr. Anas Altikriti
London, 6th of March 2018