With the focus of international media on the Mesopotamian Valley, due to Isis, the Syrian war, and of course the refugee crisis, it’s easy to forget about the big-picture problems of the wider Middle East. Jeremy Corbyn, the recently elected leader of the Labour party, used his speech at the party conference in Brighton to draw attention to this, and to call upon David Cameron to stand up to Saudi Arabia and stop the flow of weapons to Riyadh.
Many establishment politicians and media outlets ignore Saudi Arabia, because the guise of external stability makes it easy for our leaders to do so, in spite of the fact that Saudi Arabia blatantly lacks the desire to act in the interest of its people peace in the region.
Saudi Arabia has recently been appointed leader of a United Nations panel, which governs human rights inspections, and there was a horrifying lack of outrage in the Western world in response to this news. This is because many Western governments believe it is in our geo-political interests to turn a blind eye to the nature of the Saudi Arabian state; we buy oil from Saudi Arabia, and they then use that money to buy the weapons we manufacture. On the surface, this appears to be a lucrative partnership, securing both our resources and strategic interests in the region.
However, this is a completely incorrect and frankly juvenile assessment of the political reality of the wider Middle East, with the Iranian nuclear deal effectively ending the main problem the West has with Iran: its capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction, as there is a genuine lack of any serious military threat. Some may argue that Iran supports terrorist groups abroad, such as Hezbollah, and is therefore a danger to be contained. Saudi Arabia, though, has been at best complicit in the Isis advance, because, as a Sunni group, it destabilises the Shia governments of Iraq and Syria, which are more closely aligned to their sworn enemy, Iran. By buying oil and selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, we make our fight against Isis much more difficult, by continuing to fund the Saudi state’s ability to resist our own influence.
Saudi Arabia’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is both morally repugnant and against Western interests. Saudi Arabia has refused to reallocate any of the 20% of GDP it spends on defence to house refugees, or provide any humanitarian relief in the country. Instead, the Saudi government continues to use its military to bomb small and impoverished Yemen to its south, where an airstrike recently killed over 150 people at a wedding party. Perhaps more worryingly for the fight against terrorism, Saudi Arabia has offered to build 300 mosques in Germany for the influx of refugees; this is no religious humanitarianism, but a calculated move to further export Wahhabism, the Saudi government’s hard-line, socially backwards and perverted form of Islam.
In using his speech to bring the attention of people in the UK to the naïve and hypocritical relationship we have with Saudi Arabia, Jeremy Corbyn has done a wonderful thing. The Conservative government continues, wrongly, to support one of the most detestable regimes on the entire planet, one that punishes its own citizens in a medieval fashion. Isis and Assad may be abhorrent, but we only have to look to our ‘allies’ to find the root of the poison.