John R. Bradley

The hypocrisy of Cameron’s Saudi trip

The hypocrisy of Cameron's Saudi trip
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A year ago, Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia, thus ushering in the Salafi Spring. No doubt now bored out of his mind, this once stubbornly secular leader is said to have caught religion of the deranged Wahhabi variety propagated by his oil-rich hosts.


In turn, the Saudis are preparing to welcome Rachid Ghannouchi – the notoriously humble leader of the even more notoriously moderate Ennahda that now controls Tunisia’s parliament – on a state visit. This week Ghannouchi has been heaping praise on the Persian Gulf monarchies, doing us all the favour of revealing where his true sympathies lie when it comes to issues like religious moderation and its love affair with democracy.

Tomorrow in Tunisia, where I happen to be, celebrations for the Jasmine Revolution’s anniversary include an invitation list of what can only be described as a Rogues’ Gallery of Arab despots, including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.


Al-Thani, like Ben Ali, seems to have come over all Wahhabi, having renamed his tiny island’s main mosque after none other than Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the eighteenth-century ‘reformist’ bigot who perhaps did more than anyone else in Islamic history to ensure the Enlightenment never made it to large swathes of the Arab world.


If all this were not depressing enough, David Cameron is choosing to spend the anniversary of the Salafi Spring not in Tunisia but Saudi Arabia, taking time from his own busy schedule of promoting democracy throughout the Middle East by meeting with Prince Naif. Cameron’s goal: to strengthen Britain’s ties with its main trading partner. In a sideshow to the official welcoming party, Naif’s security forces gunned down peaceful Shia protestors in the Eastern Province, killing at least one.


It was the British, we should recall, who funded Ibn Saud, the founder of the Wahhabi kingdom – even sending the RAF to bomb his enemies. The idea, of course, was to make Saudi Arabia dependent on his British paymasters. That worked for a while. But the stinking hypocrisy engulfing Cameron’s trip shows that it's now the Saudis who have the bankrupt British firmly over a barrel.


Consider William Hague’s announcement in today’s Times that the UK will support the Islamic governments elected in the wake of the Arab Spring on account of them representing the will of the people. ‘It is true that parties drawing their inspiration from Islam have done better at the polls than secular parties and there are legitimate concerns about what this will mean,’ he explained. Leaving aside his lack of concern at the barbaric nature of the House of Saud’s rule, the irony is that the Islamists triumphed in elections in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt for a reason that Cameron can be sure to avoid discussing as purposefully as he will the shooting incident in the Eastern Province: the Islamist parties, like Britain's economy, are bankrolled by the Wahhabis.