Is London Courting Riyadh For Money And Power?

Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, March 4

The state visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to the United Kingdom last week did not pass without controversy. Hundreds of protesters greeted bin Salman in the streets of London, demonstrating against Riyadh’s military involvement in Yemen, where so many civilians have been killed. A 32-year-old prince who will one day assume the throne, bin Salman has long been viewed as the architect of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in the Gulf, both as regards the campaign in Yemen and the embargo placed on neighboring Qatar. But some have also noted the liberal reforms that the crown prince has implemented in recent years, most significantly the lifting of the ban on women driving and the integration of more females into the workforce. British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, both of whom met with the crown prince, went to great lengths to subdue public anger ahead of the visit. Indeed, Secretary Johnson, writing for the Times, hailed bin Salman’s social and economic reforms as some of the “most progressive” initiatives ever carried out in the region. Prime Minister May, similarly, described Saudi Arabia as one of Britain’s “oldest and closest” allies in the Middle East. But the protesters were not so easily convinced. Many of them were, in fact, demonstrating against Johnson and May, whose government continues to provide Riyadh with weapons for its military campaigns. Some international agencies, including the United Nations, described the situation in Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War. But May’s government is not acting out of kindheartedness. We must remember, of course, that bin Salman’s royal welcome is part of a broader British strategy to court the House of Saud ahead of this year’s expected initial public offering by the massive Aramco oil company. Johnson and May want the company listed on the London Stock Exchange, and not in New York, and they are doing whatever they can to entice the Saudis to strengthen bilateral ties. Unfortunately for the protesters, this means that May’s government will continue providing bin Salman with all of the support and backing he needs, regardless of the humanitarian toll. – Arib al-Antawi 

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