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Has Britain upset its Gulf allies?

UAE banks British nationals

Although the parliamentary inquiry carries no legislative weight and the Guardian does not speak for the British government, the criticism nonetheless stung.

November 4, 2012 12:45 by

With billions of dollars worth of deals and vital geostrategic interests at stake, Britain can ill afford to upset its Gulf allies, yet signs are emerging of growing Arab irritation over the issue of human rights.

The Arab Spring has ratcheted up sensitivity in the largely autocratic Gulf region over perceived criticism of how it deals with dissent, making Britain’s efforts to balance its push for rights and democracy with other interests increasingly tricky.

Saudi officials told the BBC last month they were “insulted” by a parliamentary inquiry expected to look into the country’s human rights record and that they would be “re-evaluating their country’s historic relations with Britain” in response.

The United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash rubbished an October editorial in Britain’s Guardian newspaper describing the UAE as an “authoritarian regime”, accusing the paper of knowing “very little with their condescending view”.

Although the parliamentary inquiry carries no legislative weight and the Guardian does not speak for the British government, the criticism nonetheless stung.

“There’s huge nervousness across the region, and that nervousness is caused by a number of unresolved crises, the tensions with Iran and of course the Arab uprisings,” said Chris Doyle of Caabu, a group set up to advance Arab-British ties.

“This has made keeping relations on a smooth and even keel very difficult for the British government, because whilst it is not responsible for what is written in the media, it is often seen as responsible, whether it likes it or not,” Doyle added.

Gulf states are regularly criticised by rights groups, who accuse them of a heavy-handed response to dissent, an opaque legal system, a lack of democracy and a poor record on women’s freedoms and the rights of migrant workers.

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1 Comment

  1. dismanirie on November 5, 2012 12:10 pm

    The Guardian is a splendid newspaper and has been responsible for some of the best journalism in the world. It is, however, liberal in its editorial bias (which it has every right to be), and it is little wonder that the Guardian’s critical perspective on what are exceedingly conservative regimes may be seen as unfriendly.

    But as the report suggests, the Guardian speaks only for itself, not the UK Government. The fact that KSA and UAE cannot differentiate between press opinion and government policy says far more about those countries than the UK.

    As for the parliamentary enquiry, not even Britons pay any attention to what these buffoons in Westminster choose to “look into”. So the reactions of the Saudi officials once again reveals more about their sensitivities than anything else.


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