Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has chosen Britain as his first western destination of his much talked-about foreign trip.
Where on one hand the U.K. government is making grand arrangements for his arrival, protesters are also gathering in the country to receive the prince not so welcomingly.
Bin Salman, aka MBS, has gained worldwide recognition for bringing about domestic reforms of historic proportions in an ultra-conservative Islamic country.
However, apart from being the poster boy for economic progress in Saudi Arabia, the prince is also the chief architect of the bloody invasion of Yemen.
MBS' three-day long tour in the U.K. will kick-start with a grand welcome and lunch with Queen Elizabeth on the first day.
Talks with PM Theresa May have also been scheduled as both countries plan to capitalize from the meetings. Britain is exiting the European Unionso it needs a trading partner and Saudi Arabia has to convince dubious investors about the veracity of the Gulf kingdom's recent domestic reforms.
Part of May’s agenda, though, is to express “deep concern” at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, according to Downing Street. A spokesman also highlighted the PM’s intention to inquire about the steps taken by the prince to address the crisis.
“You can expect them to discuss Yemen, and the prime minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation,” May’s representative said. “She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law.”
The British government also expects protests outside Downing Street, where Mohammed bin Salman will meet May and other cabinet ministers.
Human rights advocates have opposed MBS' visit owing to the fact that he led the coalition bombing of rebel Houthi forces in Yemen in 2015. The casualties in the ensuing war accounts for nearly 10,000 deaths, half of them civilians. The conflict also pushed 8.3 million people at the mercy of external food aid and 400,000 children suffer from life-threatening levels of malnutrition.
Moreover, protesters are also planning to question Britain on its licensing of £ 4.6 billion (over $6 billion) of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.
In addition, tour buses in London, two days prior the crown prince’s arrival, bore banners accusing MBS of war crimes.
“It is vital that people show up to the protest tomorrow outside Downing Street to make clear that the UK government’s complicity in the war on Yemen is not supported by the public and that we demand a peaceful and humane foreign policy,” said Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition.
The Yemen war has its origins in Riyadh’s uncorroborated fear of growing Iranian influence among the minority Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. The war has done little to restrict the Houthi movement but has rendered catastrophic damage on the civilians.
Though the war will be a part of the discussion between the Saudi monarch and the British government, it may take a backseat in the face of the countries’ financial interests.
Leaders from both the nations will launch “UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council” - an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and foster more cooperation on issues such as education and culture, as well as defense and security. Part of the British government’s scheme, it is believed, is to exploit Saudi Arabia’s expanded market for service sector exports and to direct the Arab state’s cash to their country to finance their domestic projects.
Britain is eager to transfigure its relationship with Saudi Arabia well beyond than just defense ties. The goal is to build a two-way trade and investment bond.
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