"Repression in the name of security": Mehdi Hasan on UK-Saudi relations

Our second-best friend in the Middle East continues to violently resist the Arab spring.

The easiest and quickest way to expose the hypocrisy of our government's, and the wider western world's, professed support for democracy and freedom in the Arab world is to say just two words: Saudi Arabia.

From the BBC website today:

Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of reacting to the Arab Spring by launching a wave of repression.

In a report, the human rights group said hundreds of people had been arrested, many of them without charge or trial.

Prominent reformists had been given long sentences following trials Amnesty called "grossly unfair".

So far unrest has largely been confined to the Shia minority in the east of the country.

In its 73-page report published on Thursday, Amnesty accuses the Saudi authorities of arresting hundreds of people for demanding political and social reforms or for calling for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial.

The report says that since February, when sporadic demonstrations began - in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests - the Saudi government has carried out a crackdown that has included the arrest of mainly Shia Muslims in the restive Eastern Province.

Yet, in October, when Prince Nayif - the Interior Minister who has been behind much of this repression - was appointed Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the US government lauded the move and President Obama said:

The United States looks forward to continuing our close partnership with Crown Prince Nayif in his new capacity as we strengthen the deep and longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

And here's our premier, David Cameron, welcoming "the strength of the bilateral relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia" in a meeting at Number 10 with Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al Faisal.

Depressing, isn't it?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.