The United Kingdom is rolling out the red carpet for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (known colloquially as MBS), as he begins his first international tour. He will dine with the Queen and meet with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. He will be coming fresh from a visit to Egypt, where, in addition to political leaders and Muslim religious figures, he visited the Coptic Pope and invited the community to come to Saudi Arabia.
He will head to America after his stop in Britain.
The 32-year-old crown prince will succeed to the throne when his 82-year-old father, King Salman, dies. In the meantime, the crown prince has been given sweeping powers and has launched an ambitious program, Vision 2030, to modernize the country.
He has also embarked on reforms. He lifted a ban on cinemas and presided over a decision to allow women to drive. He plans to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil. He has even announced a Red Sea tourist resort, where women will be able to wear bikinis, and a $500 billion high-tech city called Neom. He will seek to present an image of a friendlier, more tolerant Saudi Arabia which is modernizing fast and open for business.
Critics remain unimpressed. Hundreds protested his UK visit outside the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. They chanted, “Hands of Yemen,” and called on the UK to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia. They cited Saudi Arabia’s continual ill treatment of women, as well as its brutal repression and lack of a free press along with the botched war in Yemen as reasons to oppose MBS’s visit.
“Despite his reputation as a liberal and a reformer, he is the figurehead for a regime with one of the worst human rights records in the world,” Andrew Smith, the head of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) told Al Jazeera.
“The UK has been totally complicit in these abuses. It has armed and supported the Saudi military for years, with UK fighter jets and bombs playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen. The pictures of the crown prince on the steps of Downing Street will be projected around the world, and will be used by the regime to legitimize it on the world stage. Theresa May is handing a major propaganda coup to the dictatorship.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry penned an op-ed in The Guardian slamming the government, saying: “Britain’s red carpet for the Saudi ruler is shameless.”
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