Saudi Arabia; the religious and political wars within

The Middle East is in turmoil and has been in this state for decades. In addition to the Palestinian crisis, new fronts have contributed to the volatility of the region. ISIS has played a role, but state players have probably contributed more to the instability. The Arab Spring may be considered a turning point. Counter-revolutionary forces entered the fray with vengeance. Led by Saudi Arabia, they have caused enormous mayhem in an already unstable environment. The Saudi and Emirati military incursion in Bahrain in mid-March 2011 marked a new era in Saudi pre-emptive policies against any democratic transformation. Three years ago the two countries waged relentless war on Yemen, causing death, spreading disease and causing the worst humanitarian crisis in modern times. Where are the Saudis going? What are the plans of the “reformist” crown prince? And why have the US and UK adopted the Saudi war on Yemen?

Jess Poyner: I would just like to say thank you so much to the organisers of this event for having me today. Last week we saw the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, being welcomed with open arms by the UK government to London. We saw his face plastered across billboard in London which was very strange. This was happening while he was being treated to lunch with the queen and dinner with Prince William.

Mohammed Bin Salman is supposedly a radical reformer but the records show otherwise. Since he came into office the execution rate in Saudi Arabia has doubled and we have seen a major crackdown on opposition forces in Saudi Arabia. Only two weeks ago we saw human rights campaigners sentenced to six years in prison for merely sending tweets.

He is also the architect of the horrendous involvement in Yemen which has been condemned by the UN and we have seen the horrendous effects on civilians. Over 10,000 people have been killed and we have also seen the worse cholera outbreak recorded.

Where ever you see conflict was and oppression arms dealers are close behind. Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of UK arms. This is despite the humanitarian catastrophes unleashed across Yemen. This raises the question why is the UK still arming the Saudi regime?

Since the war began the UK has sold over £6.4bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. This includes the jets that fly over Yemen as well as the bombs which are being dropped on civilians.

Theresa May and her colleagues in government have been playing a central role in the arms trade. Last November the former defence secretary Michael Fowler told opposition MPs that they should stop criticising Saudi Arabia because it is making it very difficult to sell arms. This is played out over and over again whether we are talking about Turkey or Bahrain. The result is that the UK is complicit in abuse and the UK government’s ability to have a positive impact across the world is neutered.

Last November we saw the scale of the relationships between the UK government and arms dealers. The Defense Security International Arms Fair, the largest arms fair in the world was held at the Excel centre in east London. Here we saw the worse human rights abusers in the world rubbing shoulders with arms dealers. The UK government rubber stamped this entire event.

In my role as universities network co-ordinator, I have also seen the increase in UK universities involvement with arms companies. This is in terms of investment, recruitment and research.

In terms of investments, we have seen UK universities invested directly into arms companies. We have also seen UK universities giving a massive platform to arms companies to recruit on campuses at careers fairs. And one of the worse things is arms companies buying research for their companies at UK universities.

Universities have been pushed into these relationships with arms companies after years of central government funding. We know it is not possible to promote human rights while at the same time you are promoting arms sales.

Yemen has endured three years of war and yet the arms sales have continued. If this is not enough to end arms sales what is? Poll after poll shows that the majority of the UK public are as appalled by arms sales as we are. Right now with Brexit around the corner, the UK is at a crossroads. It is time for the UK to listen to the will of the UK people and more importantly those who are on the receiving end of oppression and it is time to work to end that complicity. Last year we took the UK government to court over arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We did lose the initial judicial review and we are in the process of appealing and we are going to hear more about that in April.

Last week we protested against the crown prince’s visit and we did that in support and solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen who have been experiencing some of the most horrendous human rights abuses and that campaign has got to continue.

Lyndon Peters: The title of my presentation is The financing of terrorism, the narcotics and arms trade in the UAE prior to 9/11 and the subsequent transformations in UAE foreign policy.

On September the 11th 2001 out of 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks on the world trade centre and the Pentagon, 15 were Saudi Arabian citizens and two were Emirati citizens. Most of the attackers travelled via Dubai en-route to the US. In the 9/11 Commission Report, it is stated that the money which financed the attacks flowed through the UAE.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE took part in lobbying against the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which came into effect in September 2016 allowing US citizens to sue foreign governments which have supported attacks of terrorism. As it stands the UAE are not included in the lawsuit despite the calls from the families of victims of 9/11, the UAE lobby arguably has more power than the Saudi or AIPAC lobbies do in Washington.

The United Arab Emirates’ role as a facilitator of terrorism and other networks of global crime has been identified by a number of investigators as an ongoing issue for decades. Since 1999 and particularly after the fallout of 9/11 the UAE has crafted itself as an ally of the West (UK, USA) for security and counter-terrorism, but as with Saudi Arabia, we see how this role can be a double-edged sword. Their way of responding to criticism of their terrible human rights records is to blackmail would be critics.

If Western governments go too far toward confronting the role of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in financing terrorism and exporting the ideology which underpins it, then these two Gulf states threaten to withdraw counter-terrorism cooperation. Nevertheless, independent sources have provided strong support to the assertion that the laxly regulated economy in the Emirates (which caters for secretive financial transactions) has been essential in facilitating terrorism and the illicit trade in arms and narcotics.

Dubai is ranked the 9th most secretive tax jurisdiction on the 2018 Financial Secrecy Index, Bahrain is ranked 17th – Hong Kong is ranked 4th and Singapore is 5th. The former colonial ruler of these territories the United Kingdom is itself 23rd .

Nichola Shaxson from the Tax Justice Network has written about the relationship between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (B.C.C.I) which was registered in Luxembourg with head offices in London and Karachi. The bank has been implicated in criminal activity relating to financial fraud, the funding of terrorism, the illicit trade in weapons and the drugs trade throughout the 1970s and 80s.

In this excerpt from Shaxson’s book Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World a short summary of B.C.C.I’s activities are provided:

“The bank was set up in 1972 by an Indian-born banker, Agha Hassan Abedi, who got backing from members of the Saudi royal family and from Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nayhan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi. BCCI grew super-fast under a simple business model: create the appearance of a reputable business, make powerful friends, then agree to do anything, anywhere on behalf of anyone, for any reason. BCCI loaded politicians with bribes and served some of the twentieth century’s greatest villains: Saddam Hussein, terrorist leader Abu Nidal, the Colombian Medellin drug cartel and Asian heroin warlord Khun Sa. It got involved in trafficking nuclear materials via sales of Chinese Silkworm missiles to Saudi Arabia and in peddling North Korean Scud-B missiles to Syria. Its branches in the Caribbean and Panama serviced the Latin American drug trade; its divisions in the United Arab Emirates, then enjoying an oil boom and an offshore banking bonanza, serviced the heroin trades in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan; and it used Hong Kong to cater to drug traffickers in Laos, Thailand and Burma.”[1]

The extent of B.C.C.I.’s criminal activity transcended many borders, yet neither Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan nor his Saudi counterparts have been held accountable for the activities which the bank facilitated. Financial secrecy enables immunity of responsibility which has allowed the persistent human rights violations committed by the UAE inside and outside their borders to carry on unabated. The UAE played a prominent role alongside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in giving diplomatic recognition to the Taleban’s rule over the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan; they gave legitimacy to the Taleban when the rest of the international community refused.

Since 9/11, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have waged an effective PR campaign to redeem themselves as allies of the West in the war on terror. The role of the UAE prior to 9/11 as a backchannel between the Taleban and the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has been well documented by the ex-ANC politician Andrew Feinstein in his book The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade:

“(Viktor) Bout’s dealings with the Northern Alliance (Afghan) caused him considerable problems. On a routine flight in 1995, one of Bout’s air freighters carrying ammunition to Kabul was intercepted and forced to land by an old MiG fighter jet belonging to the Taliban. Its occupants, all Bout employees, were taken a hostage and the onboard material seized. In August 1996, the captured pilots supposedly overpowered their captors and fled. The escape was probably staged to secure the pilots’ freedom without diminishing the fearsome reputation of their captors, who had become clients of the Russian. Ever the salesman, while negotiating with the Taliban about his captured jet and crew, Bout persuaded them of his skills as an arms dealer. Over the next few years, he delivered massive quantities of weapons to the Taliban from his base in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, netting an estimated $50m. He also helped the Taliban set up its own transport network by selling the organization a fleet of cargo planes in 1998. In the wake of 9/11 Bout’s relationship with the Taliban would make him an international pariah.”[2]

The UAE was evidently a crucial hub for arms exports to the Taleban from the mid-1990s until the prince of darkness Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) guided the UAE into the neoconservative fold as an active ally of the West in the war on terror. MbZ voiced his support for the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. From 2005 to 2015 the UAE’s military spending increased by 122% compared to increases of 20% in Saudi Arabia, 18% in Israel, 9.6% in Turkey conversely there was a 7% reduction in Iranian military spending in the same period.

The UAE’s foreign policy is often described in the mainstream media as “activist” which is a thinly veiled euphemism connoting a hubristic neoconservative approach; they intervened in Libya with NATO to promote the removal of Gadaffi (but along with the UK they now support Khalifa Haftar who is an old ally of Gadaffi). In Syria, unlike Saudi Arabia and Turkey UAE have not been clearly supporting ISIS and Al-Qaida – instead, they sent support to the US-backed SDF to fight Assad (their stance can be seen as essentially anti-Islamist, pro-Russian but anti-Assad and anti-Iran.)

The role of the UAE in infiltrating US politics can be summed up as an attempt to draw Russia away from Iran towards the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Recent arms sales from Russia to Saudi Arabia can be seen as evidence of this shift, Russia is clearly susceptible to betraying its makeshift allies in the region as they pursue their own economic and security interests.

In 2011 the UAE intervened as part of the Saudi-led GCC Peninsula Field force to crush the uprising in Bahrain. In Egypt, they supported the military coup which brought Sisi to power and in Tunisia, they have been attempting to subvert the gains made by pro-democratic forces since Ben Ali went into exile in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the greatest fear of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is the emergence of democratic forces wherever they arise in the region.

Democrats within the UAE have suffered reprisals as a result of this paranoia they are labelled as terrorists and detained without a fair trial while anyone supporting gradual democratic reform is labelled a supporter of Al-Islah, thus classified as a terrorist and thrown in jail indefinitely. In 2011, many Emirati’s began calling for small steps towards democracy – and the UAE constitution itself there is a reference to establishing democracy in the Emirates. However in the UAE, there is a total absence of rule of law, and the authorities of the state fail to respect their own constitution.

Those who criticise the government such as Ahmed Mansoor, Mohammed al Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith languish in jail. Mansoor’s exact location remains a mystery, and recent attempts by Irish lawyers to find out where he is being held have been unsuccessful. Aside from these higher profile cases which receive some publicity from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there are hundreds of political prisoners arbitrarily detained in the UAE.

So at 5.30pm on Tuesday 20th March the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE will be outside the UAE embassy in Grosvenor Crescent to demand the release of Ahmed Mansoor, commemorating one year since state security forces raided his home in the middle of the night and took him away from his family.

Sam Walton: I have been asked to talk a bit about my experiences opposing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia another repressive regime. The question of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia has long vexed me. I am not going into details about what Saudi Arabia did with those weapons. I am not going to patronise you.

Needless to say, myself and others have been involved in supporting the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, I have met my MP, I have been on protests, I dressed up as an elf. I have done all sorts of things. If you have any ideas about how we could oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia I would love to hear them.

But for me, there was a moment I saw something that changed the way I saw things. I spent too long on twitter, I will admit that. A British bomb made by a British company was dropped on a food store in Yemen. Fragments of the casing from this bomb survived. That means we knew it was British, we knew it was made in Britain. We knew that it was sold to Saudi Arabia after they had started bombing Yemen. We sold that bomb to Saudi Arabia in the full knowledge that it would almost certainly be used to bomb civilians in Yemen – and it was. It blew up a food store.

I felt that my campaigning efforts were no longer sufficient and I had to do more. On January 29th last year myself and a Methodist reverend, Dan Woodhouse, cut through the fence of BA’s Walton Airbase and tried to disarm Euro fighter typhoon jets bound for Saudi Arabia. These are the top of line jets. They are about £100 million. The majority of Saudi Arabia’s air force comes from BA systems and it is assembled at Walton. When we were there we also saw a Tornado. Tornadoes were last made in the 90s. We saw a Tornado being refurbished so it could take part in the attacks on Yemen.

Unfortunately, security caught us just before we got to the planes. We made a bit too much noise trying to demolish the last door. I remain absolutely gutted that we did not get to those planes because we would have saved lives in Yemen. These British planes and British bombs are killing Yemeni civilians.

It is not just Yemeni civilians. Anyone from Bahrain will tell you that when Saudi Arabia drove over the causeway into Bahrain to crush the Arab Spring uprising they did it in British armed vehicles. We are completely complicit in that.

In Yemen, we are particularly complicity because not only are we making bombs, not only are we making the planes. We also have 250 UK military personnel out there. They are not doing the cooking. They are embedded in the military and they are going the targeting. They are running this war. British weapons and British armed forces are complicit in every bomb dropped in Yemen and in every war crime.

In October I was on trial with the reverend and after a three-day trial we were found not guilty and that is really a damming indictment of just how bad what Saudi Arabia is doing is. We broke into BA systems property and tried to smash up their property which they were selling to Saudi Arabia and the court said that is fine because the war crimes that are being committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen are so heinous that it is okay. So if you want any tips I can tell you where to get some bolt cutters. Just come and speak to me at the end. I am serious.

It’s a real honour to stand alongside people from Bahrain and people who are oppressed by British weapons. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have no morality. It is a real honour to stand alongside them and to protest with them. I want to say very well done to everyone who opposed Mohammed Bin Salman’s visit last week. I have never seen such opposition to Saudi Arabia. Jeremy Corbyn was criticising Saudi Arabia. The shadow foreign secretary was writing opinion pieces. We have really made an impact.

Mohamed Bin Salman seems to be a bit of a snowflake. There were advertising vans driving around London saying, Saudi prince, not welcome so he started hiring his own ad vans. He started putting ads and billboards in newspapers. I was talking to my friends over lunch and they said it is a bit like sending a Christmas card to yourself to make it appear like you have got friends.

He does not need to go around advertising what a nice guy he is. If he really is a reformer other people will praise him. He does not need to buy advertising space to prove this. People in Britain are not buying it. We had a huge success last week. We signed a new arms deal to sell 48 more typhoons to Saudi Arabia. I am absolutely gutted about this but that deal was meant to go through 18 months ago and in the meantime, BA systems have cut 2,000 jobs making these weapons. And the British arms trade has sweeted. There has been a gap in the delivery of typhoons and this gap will continue as it takes a while to make one of the most advanced weapons in the world.

We have slowed the amount of war material going to Saudi Arabia and Yemen and that is due to opposition. I am gutted that the arms deal went through but we have to take credit for slowing that down. Saudi Arabia is absolutely desperate to get as much war material as possible.

Just like former defence secretary, Michael Fowler said could you shut up about criticising Saudi Arabia in parliament. We are trying to sell them weapons. The fact that he has had to come out and say this is a measure of our success here. We must keep criticising Saudi Arabia because they are snowflakes, because they crush all dissent, just like in Bahrain and the UAE. So protests work, events like this work, so let’s keep going.

It makes no sense for us to be arming Saudi Arabia. It makes no economic sense. Britain just prostituted its reputation to the world on human rights last week by bowing down to Saudi Arabia by trying to sell them more weapons. Our arms trade is being subsidised economically and diplomatically. It makes no security sense to back Saudi Arabia. They are the biggest funder of terrorism in the UK. Theresa May commissioned a report about who is the biggest funder of terrorism in the UK and did not publish it because it was Saudi Arabia. So it makes sense to try and argue any kind of security argument. It makes no moral sense to be backing Saudi Arabia.

I would like to end by saying that it often feels as if we are facing a brick wall – an impenetrable façade of the strength of the Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati regime. They do put up a very strong front. These are very powerful rulers who are very brutal and act in an absolutely appalling wall.

But Mohamed bin Salman has many enemies in Saudi Arabia. This war in Yemen is not going well. That is the thing he is famous for in Saudi Arabia. He is famous for being the defense minister and for invading Yemen. There is no exit from this war. They cannot win and that leaves him in a very vulnerable position. The moment that there is trouble in Saudi Arabia I will see you at the Pearl Roundabout. There is hope. We are having success. Let’s keep it up. We are succeeding.

Zina Taher: Thank you very much for organising this important conversation surrounding Saudi Arabia, its foreign policy and some of the actors that help to prop up the Saudi regime. Today you have heard a lot about Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. I have been asked to talk about the domestic situation to help put into context how its violent foreign policy is also reflected inside the kingdom with its use of heavy repression and violent policies.

Saudi Arabia employs a repressive state apparatus to help continue its power base with the use of prisons, notorious courts and the police to settle political scores. In the last few days, we have been bombarded by a public relations campaign picturing Bin Salman as a grand reformer.

In actual fact, since Prince Salman has become the crown prince and the defacto ruler of Saudi there has been a complete lockdown inside Saudi Arabia in terms of human rights abuses. Execution rates have shot up since the beginning of 2018 and there have been massive waves of arrests of individuals for their peaceful beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, there are now no effective human rights defenders. They are either all in prison, or they are being harassed. So the situation is very, very difficult.

With regard to the internal situation in terms of human rights defenders, I think it is really pertinent to add what happened last summer with an unprecedented military campaign in Al Awamiya because this is another example of where weaponry and arms are being used against civilians or citizens. It this case it was the citizens.

Awamiya was put under lockdown siege. It started from May 2017 for a few months. During this time they cut the electricity of the inhabitants, there was large-scale shelling and sniper fire and as a result, 25 people died including one young child. There was a massive displacement of some of the local population which numbers about 30,000.

This was all done in the name of counter-terrorism. They said they were searching for terrorists but an operation of this scale is wholly disproportionate. Once the government killed these individuals in Awamiya they placed their names on the wanted list retrospectively to legitimise their killing.

So moving to the more recent events. There has been a brutal crackdown and wave of arrests which started in September 2017 where there was unexplained harassment of over 30 individuals – preachers, writers, activists. Among them was Dr Salman Al Alwda an iconic religious reformer who has spoken out in terms of human rights and Dr Al Karmi. No official reason was given for these arbitrary arrests but it is believed they were linked to the Gulf crisis with Qatar.

Many of these prominent figures did not align themselves with Saudi Arabia – they remained silent on the issue. Dr Salman Alwada tweeted that he hoped for warmer relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and hoped that they would come together for the sake of the people. It is believed that that tweet was the reason for his arrest. So his arrest is a direct retaliation for him expressing his peaceful beliefs which obviously violates international law. He is still detained and once he was hospitalised. That shows how they treat detainees once they take them into prison.

Following that there was another wave of arrests but of a different nature. It was the anti-corruption purge which Mohamed bin Salman headed where 200 officials royals and businessmen were detained in the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption. They were not released until they had signed over a large part of their assets. During that time 17 of them were hospitalised and one of them died in custody.

The credibility of an anti-corruption drive which bin Salman has advertised as reforms cannot be accepted. The person heading that drive has got question marks on himself. He recently purchased a £450 million yacht while his country is undergoing austerity measures.

At the same time as this anti-corruption drive is going on Saudi Arabia has been prosecuting anti-corruption activists. Among them is Issa Al Kheipi. He has been sentenced to six years. He tweeted a lot and criticised government policy against Yemen and other security policies. Issa Koshak who was active in highlighting human rights abuses against activists and dissidents was recently sentenced to four years. A young lady Naha Al Dawi was recently arrested. She was very outspoken on social media. She was talking about social media and women’s rights. She became too loud for the Saudi government. They arrested her and they released her about 20 days later.

These kind of prosecutions are in addition to the death sentences which are being rolled out in Saudi Arabia. Recently they have approved 12 death sentences as part of a spy ring trial. There are eight minors currently on death row. We have documented about 40 individuals that are currently on death row now and facing execution.

The situation is very dire. So when we are talking reforms and human rights reforms the opening of cinemas are superficial reforms. This is not enough. Real reforms would mean respect for and protection of human rights. Among those would be the right to life, the right to be free from arbitrary detention, the right to express your opinion without fear of being targeted by the government.

So what we can say is that there is no proper rule of law in Saudi Arabia and these reforms are nothing but lip service.

Chairman: I think one of the positive things about the events of the last few weeks is that the facts about what is going on have been coming out. That is not something the regime wants to happen unless it’s censored them beforehand.

Jawad Farouz: Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for being here with us tonight. It is my pleasure to talk to you today about the destructive role of Saudi Arabia regionally and especially their destructive role and sequence of Saudi intervention in Bahrain.

What is not told is greater than what has been told. This is the title of a documentary series which is being shown on Al Jazeera. It says that there was a plan by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE against the previous emir Mohamed Bin Khalifa where they planned details to bring his father once again. What is not told is greater than what has been told.

I think this is also true of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. We have not yet heard the entire story. I hope one day there will be a similar documentary about the destructive role of these three families – Al Saud, Al Khalifa and Al Zeyd – and how they played a destructive role in Bahrain and in the region. If the Saudis were condemned for their intervention in Bahrain on 13th March 2011 and the international community prevented the Saudis from remaining in Bahrain definitely they would not launch a war against Yemen.

They would not have detailed Al Hariri in Saudi for so long. They would not dare to be involved even in Syria and try to military and financially support many terrorist groups. I think this is the biggest mistake that the international community made. They kept silent or they gave the green light for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain. It became a legitimate act for a foreign country to intervene militarily against the will of the people.

Imagine if in the United Kingdom the majority of people are in the street demanding reform and there is a dispute between the government and the majority of the people. The people have gone out into the street to make their voice heard by the government and ask for major changes. French troops arrive. How would you define the people opposing them?

In Bahrain, those who are opposing the Saudi invasion are being called traitors. All those who oppose Saudi intervention, who are opposing human rights violations or opposing detentions are called traitors. You can find on the list scholars, MPs, journalists and politicians.

I will come to my short speech on the sequence of the Saudi invasion. Bahrain has lost its sovereignty. So much of its policy is being dictated by the Saudis. The ruling family has to be blamed for how easily it let control the sovereignty of Bahrain go. Bahrain is an independent country and the people voted to be independent when the Shah claimed it was part of Iran. We are part of the GCC, we are a Muslim country.

Why did they leave the people on one side and let the Saudis interfere militarily and through their political views? Since the invasion, all aspects of life in Bahrain are being controlled by the Saudis. We used to be controlled economically and through the foreign policies but now all aspects of life in Bahrain are being controlled by Saudi Arabia so, unfortunately, we lost our sovereignty.

Sectarianism has been enhanced. We never had such a sectarian feeling about the Bahrainis who lived together for so long. This is part of the policy of divide and rule so they enhance the differentiation between Shias and Sunnis. They came up with so many stories. They tried to present the conflict as one that is not between the ruling family and the people but between Sunnis and Shias.

I had some meetings with the rulers. One of them was with the Ministry of Justice, one was after the 2011 uprising when they called for a national dialogue. They said we want the dialogue between the factions of society, between the community and when you come together we will be very happy.

I said to them the problem is that there is a deviation between you as the ruling family and the majority of the people. It has nothing to do with factions and the community. This is something you want to create. I told them the people want to have a democratic state, not one where you have absolute power. He said we are not a political party. I asked how they were not a political party if they were controlling the key positions in the government: the prime minister is from the ruling family. So is the foreign minister, the interior minister and the assistants to the prime minister are from the ruling family. If you are not a political party and you are controlling the country, not as a constitutional monarchy you are controlling it as an absolute monarchy.

Under the absolute monarchy, there has been an increase in human rights violations. More than 14 Bahraini citizens have been sentenced to death and it is really historical. We never had in one court decision that six people would be sentenced to death. This was a military court decision. Civilians were never changed in a military court.

The nationality of the most high-ranking scholars has been stripped: Ayatollahs Qasim and Najati. More than 578 people have been stripped of their nationality. They are now sentencing political leaders. They have fabricated a story against Sheikh Ali Salman of Al Wefaq. He gave his view during the national dialogue and now he is being considered a traitor and charged. The prosecutor demanded the harshest penalty which is the death penalty.

So during the past seven years, Bahrain is going deeper and deeper into political crisis. The subsidy on basic commodities has been lifted. Imagine a country in this economic crisis spending more than $ 6.6bn on weapons. We think this is due to Saudi support.

Unfortunately, the Saudis are being backed by the United States and the current administration. No action has been taken against their policies in Yemen or Syria. The Saudis are expanding their influence and I can’t understand how Mohamed bin Salman can be called a reformer. If he is really a reformer he would pull out his troop from Bahrain and he would let the people decide how they are going to run their country.

** Sam Walton is an activist within the Quakers Movement in the UK. He is also active against the arms trade, wars and human rights violations. He took several personal initiatives to challenge war-mongers and arms trade.

***Jawad Fairooz is chairman of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights. He is a former Member of Parliament in Bahrain and chairman of public utilities and the environment committee. From 2002 to 2006 he was an elected councillor and vice-chairman of the Northern Municipality Council. Jawad was one of the founders of Al-Wefaq Society, a political opposition party and a board member from 2001 to 2012. He is graduate with a degree from the USA and he practiced his career as Electrical Engineer since 1986. He was detained in 2011 and severely tortured. He currently lives in exile in London since November 2012 and was one of the first batch of Bahrainis forcibly stripped of their nationality.

****Jess Poyner is the Universities Coordinator at CAAT. She works with students across the UK to expose the ways in which arms companies are trying to cash in from working with UK universities.

*****Lyndon Peters is a research intern at the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE. He graduated with a BSc in International Politics from City University London in 2014, then he graduated with a Post Graduate Diploma in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at King’s College London in 2016. The main focus of his research is on the political, economic and military relationship between the UK and the UAE, and how this relationship has an adverse effect on human rights in the UAE and the wider Gulf region.

******Zena Tahir is a human rights Research Associate a the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights. Zena has an MA in Human Rights Law from SOAS.

[1]              Shaxson, Nicholas. Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the world. Random House, 2012. p.161-162

[2]              Feinstein, Andrew. The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. Macmillan, 2011. p.116

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