Tag Archives: saudi arabia

Flags at half mast – the right way to mark the passing of an illiberal despot?

You can probably guess that my answer to this question is a resounding “No.” When I saw yesterday that Westminster Abbey of all places was flying the flag at half mast to mark the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, I was horrified. The vomit-inducing tone of the tributes portraying him as some sort of reformer added to my irritation. If he was a reformer, Brian from the Magic Roundabout is a world champion sprinter to rival Usain Bolt.

I guess what intensified my overall sense of injustice was the chorus of silence from Liberal Democrats. Surely at least one of our parliamentarians should have openly criticised such a ridiculous decision. The only honourable exceptions I can find are Meral Ece and Mike Thornton, both of whom have been retweeting human rights information about Saudi Arabia and wry observations about the reaction to Abdullah’s death:

Most annoying was that it fell to a TORY to heap the most condemnation on the flags decision:

It’s all so different from 2007 when Vince Cable as acting leader boycotted the State Visit of King Abdullah, saying:

Mr Cable added: “I think it’s quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour.”

He said that although Britain has a “business-like” relationship with the country, Britain would not dream of extending the same invitation to other controversial leaders like Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi..

He said he had also been critical of the Saudi regime’s treatment of Britons.

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Opinion: Apostasy and Saudi Arabia

Jeddah Corniche - Some rights reserved by CharlesFredRaif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian liberal writer, was arrested on June 17 in Jeddah and charged with ‘insulting Islam through electronic channels’ and ‘going beyond the realm of obedience’. His ‘crime’ at that point appeared to be setting up an online forum, Free Saudi Liberals, and attending a meeting in Cairo on May 7 of the Arab Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, but the words that constitute the offence were not specified.

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How to defeat Al Qaeda

The cover of Bruce Riedel’s The Search for Al Qaeda shows a group of armed men working their way up a hillside overlooking a beautiful valley that stretches away to rolling hills. It captures the wonder and the tragedy of Afghanistan in one frame.

The book itself is similarly crisp, packing a wide-ranging history of Al Qaeda and its key figures into only 150 pages of moderate size print. It is penned by an ex-CIA man of thirty years service who was frequently closely involved with the figures and events painted in the book, but not so closely as to make the reader fear it is more a justification of his career than a fair account of events.

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Conservative Party faces investigation over controversial donations from Said family

The Electoral Commission is investigating tens of thousands of pounds the Conservative Party has received from the Said family, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Wafic Said was a key figure in the highly controversial Al-Yamamah arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the UK. Allegations of corruption surrounding the deal were being investigated by staff at Britain’s Serious Fraud Office – until they were ordered to drop the investigation because it was supposedly against the national interest. Tough on crime? Only when it suits.

Although the Liberal Democrats – and Norman Lamb in particular – have been vocal in their criticisms of …

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Two key figures sacked in surprise government reshuffle

In an unexpected reshuffle that is likely to see a shift in government policy, two powerful figures have been sacked and a woman appointed to the highest post ever held by a female.

The news is from Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah has sacked Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, who was the country’s head judge and had talked about it being acceptable to kill the owners of TV channels that broadcast immoral shows.

Also gone is Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (aka Saudi Arabia’s religious police).

Norah al-Faiz has become …

Posted in Europe / International and News | 4 Comments

What will happen to oil prices?

This is the first of a regular series of columns from economist Tim Leuning.

January is the time for predictions. Every year economists make them. Sometimes we are right, and sometimes wrong. Some predictions, like inflation, are easy, but others are not. The oil price is not.

For fifty years, 1921-71, the oil price was fairly stable at c. $20 a barrel (in today’s terms). That was surprising: the price yo-yoed in the mid-nineteenth century and was fairly volatile 1880-1921. But neither the booming 20s nor the great depression, a world war, nor a post-war boom seemed to affect oil prices at all. Oil prices were one thing you just did not have to worry about.

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Vince boycotts Saudi honour

Acting Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has – shock, horror – decided to put principle ahead of protocol by turning down the chance to hob-nob with Saudi King Abdullah at a state banquet tonight.

You can hear Vince give his reasons – citing Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record – on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme here. And the Lib Dems’ Corruption is a Crime website has more here.

Proof that Vince was doing the right thing arrived with the typically pompous condemnation of the Tories’ ultra-right-wing defence spokesman Liam Fox (he sneered that the Lib Dems were …

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Opinion: Why we should condemn the academic boycott of Israel

The University and College Union’s (UCU) proposed academic boycott of Israel has attracted opposition from many people who might usually be numbered among Israel’s harshest critics. The (Palestinian) President of Jerusalem’s Al Quds University is among those opposing the boycott, in a joint statement with the (Israeli) President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As a Liberal Democrat, my opposition is rooted in our party’s fundamental liberal belief in free expression, particularly in situations involving conflict resolution.

To boycott Israeli academics, including liberal individuals who strongly disagree with the Israeli government, is not only illiberal, it is also perverse. Imagine a boycott of British universities and academics, based on our government’s disgraceful conduct of the war in Iraq!

Almost worse is the suggestion that Israeli academics might be exempted from a boycott if they distance themselves from their government’s policies. Presumably the proponents of the boycott are planning to summon up the shade of Joe McCarthy to supervise this exercise in thought control?

The proposed boycott is also perverse because it singles out Israel among all the countries of the world. Israel, for all its faults, is a parliamentary democracy. Its universities, like British universities, are open to all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. I have been to the Hebrew University and met Arab students, including some who came from the Palestinian territories, and some who came from Israel itself. There are also many overseas students at Israel’s universities. Israel enjoys the same academic freedom as does this country and other democracies.

The tragic irony of singling out Israel is that no other Middle Eastern country has academic freedom, so why only boycott Israel? When other Middle Eastern countries are infringing human rights in ways that directly affect academic freedom, why is the UCU silent?

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 39 Comments

OPINION: Corruption is Corruption is Corruption

Imagine you’ve been burgled and (by a small miracle!) someone is up in court, charged with the burglary. How impressed would you be if the accused said, “OK, I did do it – but you have to understand. I’m a poor student at the local university and all the French and US students there steal things too, so it wouldn’t be fair if I was left out and had to make do without the proceeds of crime too?” Not very I think! But that’s pretty much the excuse so often rolled out to brush away corruption around international arms deals – everyone else gives out bribes you know, and it would be so unfair and unforgivable if we didn’t too.

So – despite the allegations involving huge sums of money and numerous senior people – both Labour and the Conservatives have been happy for the corruption investigation around the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia to be dropped. And it’s the only area of crime (other than graffiti!) where – when campaigning against it – I’ve encountered a handful of people saying, “but it’s ok”.

Well – I beg to differ on several counts!

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How far will Brown go to protect BAE from corruption charges?

The Labour Government could soon be faced with a stark choice: to co-operate with the US department of justice’s investigations into the BAE bribery allegations, or risk reciprocal co-operation and intelligence-sharing with the US.

Those who’ve been following the biggest scandal of Labour’s time in office – and, if you haven’t, why not visit the Lib Dem’s Corruption is a Crime website – will know that the US authorities began an inquiry last year into the £2bn payments made by BAE to the Saudi royal family and its agents in the 1980s (with the complicit approval of …

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The ConHome verdict on Tories’ BAE bribes silence

It isn’t only Liberal Review and the Lib Dems’ Corruption is a Crime website which have noted how quiet the Tories have been about BAE’s Al Yamamah deal, and the Labour Government’s decision to squash the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation of advance commissions cash bribes.

Surely this should be the ideal opportunity for David Cameron to take the attack to Labour on precisely the same ground – dodgy foreign arms dealing – that so damaged the Tories in the 1990s?

Yet as the Conservative Home website notes:

The Conservatives, unlike the LibDems, have been as quiet on the

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Opinion: A stench that starts at the very top

Yet more news, as reported in today’s Guardian, of the Labour Government’s complicity in bribes paid by BAE to a Saudi prince to secure a huge arms deal:

British investigators were ordered by the attorney-general Lord Goldsmith to conceal from international anti-bribery watchdogs the existence of payments totalling more than £1bn to a Saudi prince, the Guardian can disclose.

The money was paid into bank accounts controlled by Prince Bandar for his role in setting up BAE Systems with Britain’s biggest ever arms deal. Details of the transfers to accounts in the US were discovered by officers from the Serious Fraud

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Corruption is a crime

The story of how Labour axed criminal investigations into bribery over the UK’s big arms deal with Saudi Arabia has been a favourite of various Lib Dem blogs (including this one), particularly given the rather curious continued silence from the Tories on the issue. (Tough on crime? Err, only sometimes, when it suits, if it’s not too much bother and when we’ve finished changing our clothes.)

The party’s now launched a new online petition and campaign website on the subject: www.corruptionisacrime.com

It’s one of a series of initiatives over the next few weeks backing up the party’s major crime campaign, …

Posted in Online politics | 1 Comment

How to explain away any crime, Labour-style

In today’s Politics Show interview with Tony Blair, Blair came up with a pretty comprehensive excuse for not investigating a crime:

This was all to do with historical events in the past

(The Saudi Arabian arms deal corruption investigation being the cause of the quesiton, unsurprisingly.) 

So that’s ok, as long as your crime was in the past, it’s not worth investigating. That should help cut the prison population at a stroke as people start using that defence in court, “It’s ok m’lud; I did commit the crime but it was in the past.”

And your starter for ten for any pedantic chronologists

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Al Yamamah: Conservatives silent, yet again

PMQs today – Ming Campbell questioned Blair about the blocking of prosecutions for corruption over the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and as for the Tories – silent yet again on the issue.

It’s clearly a very sore point for Blair (you can tell how rattled he is by how rude he is in response) yet once again the so-called “Official Opposition” have run a mile from the issue. Could it be because they have rather more connections with Saudi arms deals and money than they would rather we knew … ?

Note: the Liberal Democrats have a blog …

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Al Yamamah: More Labour hypocrisy

A brief recap: after the then Conservative Government signed the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Labour politicians were very keen for there to be proper investigations into corruption allegations.

Another example found in the archives: in the early 1990s a National Audit Office investigation was given only a very narrow remit and then surpressed. The then response of Labour MP and defence spokesman Martin O’Neill? You guessed it – he promised that Labour would reopen the inquiry.

Again though, this enthusiasm seems to have waned rather…

(Hat tip: CAAT again).

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Al Yamamah: Conservatives silent, again

Another burst of stories in the media about the Al Yamamah Saudi Arabian arms deal and Labour’s axing of investigations into corruption (about which you can sign a petition here).

As a Lib Dem it’s gratifying to see the frequent coverage of the party’s views on the issue (yet again), but (yet again) there is nothing from Her Majesty’s Official Opposition (as in this BBC report). Silence from David Cameron and co seems to be the order of the day.

Is it too cynical to ask if all this could be because the arms …

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Al Yamamah: Labour hypocrisy

Back in the 1980s, Allan Roberts was MP for Bootle and a Labour defence spokesperson. When the Al Yamamah defence sales deal was arranged by the Conservative government with Saudi Arabia and there were allegations of corruption in the air, this was his – and his party’s view:

a. He was “quite confident” that commissions (ie bribes) had been paid, and
b. He demanded an official investigation.

(Hat tip: CAAT)

How times change … and I wonder if the fact that most electronic databases of news stories don’t stretch back to the mid-1980s has anything to do with the lack of stories in …

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Lib Dems up the pressure on Saudi deal

Liberal Democrat MPs are planning to up the pressure in Parliament over the Government’s controversial decision to drop corruption investigations around the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

(As an aside – perhaps action in Parliament will flush out rather more comment from the Conservatives on this issue, who overall have stayed very, very quiet…).

UPDATE: Simon Hughes has called for action following this case, whilst you can read the views of Norman Lamb (a long time campaigner on this case) here

UPDATE 2: The Liberal Democrat petition calling for an inquiry into the dropping of the Continue reading »

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSimon Oliver 27th Nov - 1:25pm
    Bravo Guy - great article.
  • User AvatarPHIL THOMAS 27th Nov - 1:24pm
    Tories gain seat from Lib Dems in Salisbury yesterday. That's what happened as being part of a Govt ?
  • User AvatarShaun Cunningham 27th Nov - 1:24pm
    I saw a TV programme the other night, communities in Africa cooking grass which looked like straw. Children desperate for food, their stomachs empty, they...
  • User AvatarPHIL THOMAS 27th Nov - 1:23pm
    Another Tory gain from the Lib Dems in yesterdays by-elections. No progress being made under Tim ?
  • User AvatarGareth Epps 27th Nov - 1:21pm
    I am also in agreement with Paul, for this reason: it is unwise and wrong to set about intervention with no clear objective of what...
  • User Avatarexpats 27th Nov - 12:51pm
    Gordon & Anne....I couldn't agree more.....We are being fed half truths and lies....Where in our mainstream media is there any REAL reporting of Putin's comments...