UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

SAB 24

Written evidence from Lieutenant General (Rtd) Sir Graeme Lamb KBE, CMG, DSO


· The ‘so called’ Arab Spring isn’t.

· Iran and its Foreign policy are increasingly dominated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

· The case for UK to continue to support and to provide positive guidance to the Kingdom of Bahrain is I believe proven.


I am Lieutenant General (Retired) Sir Graeme Lamb KBE, CMG, DSO I served in Her Majesties Armed Forces for 38 years and had extensive experience of operating in the Middle East. I continue to advise across the Region for HMG and the US Military and travel to and from the Middle East regularly.

The Arab Spring

1. I would bring to the committee’s attention the opening statement on the 7th of March 2012 by General James Mattis in Congress to the House Armed Services Committee on the proposed Fiscal 2013 Defence Authorization as it relates to USCENTCOM & USSOCOM hearings which brings some clarity to the so called Arab Spring;

"Let me begin with what I see today in the Central region. The Arab Awakening is manifesting differently in each country. While we may hope for and certainly will firmly support efforts for more democratic government, the awakening's origins are not necessarily a rush for democracy, rather this awakening stems from breakdown in the social contract between governments and their people.

Unjust or unresponsive regimes have fallen or are in the throes of falling as is the case in Syria. However, the transition to a democratic government is never easy as we see in Egypt. Further, it is not clear what the resulting governments across the region will look like. Challenges remain beyond the promise of the Arab Awakening. Iran and its surrogates continue to orchestrate violence worldwide as evidenced by its plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington, D.C. Iran represents the most significant regional threat to stability and security. Its reckless behavior and (inaudible1:48:33.7) have created a high potential for miscalculation. While we've made security gains in the fight against terrorists, the threat remains. Al Qaeda and associated groups continue to kill innocents from the Levant to Yemen and are adapting in the face of U.S. pressure. While we maintain our pressure on the enemy, we are nest in our military efforts inside four broad U.S. diplomatic objectives for the region: first, we support each country's political reform to adapt at their own pace; second, support for economic modernization to provide the people ownership for their future; third, a renewed pursuit of Middle East peace, recognizing the status quo is simply not sustainable; finally, we stand firmly with our friends and we support regional security, territorial integrity of sovereign nations and the free flow of commerce".

Comment: The media and adopted term ‘The Arab Spring or Arab Awakening’ limits our horizons to only some 22 Nations and some 280 Million people, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau amongst others of the Enlightenment Movement saw the breakdown in the social contract between Governments and the people as a universal outcome, we should as no one else has matched the depth of this thinking accept that and broaden our own 21 st Century thinking on the events in the Middle East accordingly. Furthermore the underlying threat exposed in Gen Mattis’s statement of Iranian behavior in the Region justifies the inquiries attention.

2. Ayatollah Khomeini urged that the country’s military forces should remain unpoliticised an intent that held from 1980 to 2004 where representation in the parliament was in single percentage digit figures; that is no longer the case and will increase:

Comment: The militarization of Iranian politics both domestic and foreign is rapidly increasing along with the IRGC’s controlling influence of large parts of the economy. Under the Iranian Constitution Article 150 the IRGC are defined as the ‘guardians of the Revolution and of its achievements’ a role they are increasingly embracing while hidden behind the public political and Religious fronts.

3. I wrote two articles pone for the Times (Op-Ed) and a Web piece for the Guardian neither by way of an apology but of one which saw the events that were unfolding in Bahrain as a Regional contest. The article’s makes clear my objection to the manner in which the Police acted and the need to bring those responsible to account. The Web piece brought to people’s attention the cold hand of Iran across the Region including Bahrain. My greater interest lies with the actions of Hezbollah and Hama’s, in Yemen and Lebanon. The other facts (specifically on Bahrain) are those I gathered for the Times article to ensure I had a balanced view of the situation and not one coloured by visual and occasional media comment:

Times Article: ‘Without doubt, Bahrain is guilty of the use of excessive force, of damned bad judgment, of unacceptable behavior by its own security forces and of failing to do what a responsible sovereign state must which is to protect and listen to its own people. As a Bahraini woman told Chatham House on 4 July 2011: ‘I love my country and I don’t want any change of regime. We wanted a democratic life.’

Unacceptable as their action was, this was not from my personal experience routine or established bad practice of causal excesses, but truly unworthy when set against Bahrain’s record and its aspirations. Images of doctors defending the injured and themselves being arrested are unbecoming and not ones compatible with being part of an acceptable global society. For part of an acceptable global society it was and returning to that is important for Bahrain, for its leadership, its people and for us.

For Britain has good reason to help, it has a special responsibility. Our links to Bahrain go back to the 18th century with the country subsequently becoming a British protectorate; it gained its independence forty years ago this month.

Bahrain has always been considered one of the most progressive of the Gulf and Arab states. According to the UN, Bahrain is the 39th most developed country in the world – ahead of the likes of Portugal and just 13 places behind Britain. It has high literacy (86% compared to Tunisia’s 43%), high GDP (some $40,000 per head against $4,800 in Syria), and low unemployment (3.6% again Tunisia at 43.3%). It has a welfare state with free education and free healthcare.

The country has freedom of worship. It has a synagogue and churches. Women had the vote back in 1924. When Bahrain was elected head of the UN General Assembly in 2006, it chose the first Middle Eastern woman to fill the role and only the third woman in history. So to scoop Bahrain up into the same Middle Eastern melting pot of Syria, Libya or Egypt is for our part equally unworthy as her actions have been.

Britain should help steer the country back onto the course it held before these events that being one of progressive change. We should support the independent commission appointed by the King to assess what happened and who is to blame.

We should remain open minded. Cerif Bassiouni, the UN human rights expert leading the independent commission, told Reuters earlier this month that he does not believe there was a policy of excessive use of force or torture from the top. It was, Bassiouni thought, a case of people at a lower level acting with an inadequate chain of control.

We should do everything we can to encourage Bahrain’s rulers to act decisively and constructively when Mr Bassiouni and his commission report in October. We should also support renewed focus on political reform and making the government accountable to the elected chamber of parliament.

At the same time, we should also seek to better understand what has happened and to listen carefully to both arguments. I have been struck by the one sided nature of our debate so far, Bahrain as I suggested is not Syria, Libya or Egypt.

Most importantly we must do everything in our power to make sure that Bahrain does not slide into chaos, a course which would benefit no one other than the most extreme elements. To believe such elements do not exist in a country sitting atop of the Shia/Sunni fault-line running across the Middle East is wishful thinking.

I am a practical man so a sense of realism, a term I always use cautiously is needed. We should be careful not to be duped by the long-standing complex Trans-National influences being played out in this small state. On one side of the Gulf are the omnipresent hands of Iran, which has the most to gain from turmoil and regime change in Bahrain; on the other is Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, which will not tolerate a Shia-state on its Eastern flank. Majority rule as I recall was tried in the early years of independence and simply failed.

We need to have a better understanding of what happened, a better and balanced view point in order for Britain play its full part in guiding all parties toward a better outcome. But as we reflect on Bahrain’s forty years since independence, we should also recall that 30 years earlier, this same country, without the benefit of large oil revenues found the money to fund six Spitfires to battle for Britain. Bahrain in my humble opinion has earned the right to a fair hearing and Britain’s help and support at this difficult time.

Web Article for the Guardian: Why, a year on from the Arab Spring, do we limit our judgment on political progress and constitutional reform to just the Arab world? The Arab Nations are made up  some 22 countries and around 280 million people who are clearly experiencing an ‘Awakening’; a public event we all watched unfold first in Tunisia and then saw  progressively cascade across many of the countries that make up the Arab League. My question is - why have we limited our focus to this narrow band? Is it because it neatly fits into our view of the ‘Arab’ and if so, do we not widen our scope then to include the Middle East (18 countries) Greater Middle East (38) Near Eastern (31) or Muslim majority countries (49 such as Turkey and Tajikistan) hoping that a more compliant Islam emerges?  Using a catchy strap line ‘The Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Awakening’ limits the international and regional debate to a narrow prism.

Or does it suit a spectator status that we in the West feel comfortable with, assuming our governments are the glowing example for others to follow, in particular the Muslim nations?

I am no apologist but I do believe in fair debate, and the current debate is not a fair deal. We must seek to understand with some rigor the open discussion we are engaged in.

Is the Arab Awakening really a 21st Century struggle for democracy by 22 countries? I care to think not. It is more a statement of the failure of the social contract between government and the people. The causes of the current unrest across the region are little different to those which brought about the French Revolution in 1798. They are rooted in politics, indifference and injustice. Today’s uprisings are similar because they are focussed on regimes that   failed to  meet expectations, and failed to provide opportunities of employment and economic prosperity for their people. I find it incredible that we debate progressin Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain but do not consider Iran. Iran was supposed to have had a  ‘Persian Awakening’ in 2005 and again in 2009, prompting ‘fair’ elections that had been forced upon government by public opinion and the Green Movement. Yet Iran  doesn’t appear to have made any significant concessions, changes or constitutional adjustments. Iran’s response has been a brutal stamping out  of public protest and continued interference in the 22 countries we have now placed in the spotlight. And a harsh spotlight that is. Bahrain is a telling example. Here is a country that  enjoys the 10th freest economy in the world (GDP per capita at $23,450 seven places ahead of Saudi Arabia by IMF calculations), and was the first Arab country to institute unemployment benefit. It has empowered women unlike any other - yet it will be hounded in the press for failing its people. Of course, Bahrain could and should do better.

But Iran is a bigger, and more immediate problem. It has a claim on Bahrain, a country it sees as its own  (they lost it in 1783). Iran’s cold, manipulative hand is encouraging violence by organized gangs, and inciting public protest to its own national selfish self-interest.

Yet little international attention is given to its political freedoms and its reform programme. The Arab Spring is to be welcomed but welcomed for what it is, not simply what we would wish it to be. Our debate must be broader and our judgments must be wider than those we impose on a selected 22 countries. The Social Contract and underlying intellectual case was, in the 18th Century, hotly and globally debated and with good reason for the people’s lot was truly wretched. Two hundred year ago Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that ‘If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A Government so perfect is not suited to men’. We should be careful of whom and what we judge.

The Facts:

- According to the Heritage Foundation Bahrain is the 10th freest economy in the world – just one place behind the USA and first out of the 17 countries in the region.

- Canada’s Fraser Institute also ranked Bahrain as having the highest level of economic freedom of all Arab nations in October 2011.

- Fair taxation of Bahrain’s mineral wealth enables all Bahraini’s to benefit from generous funding of public services, including free education and free healthcare.

- In 2007 Bahrain became the first Arab country to institute unemployment benefit as part of a series of labour reforms instigated under Minister of Labour, Dr. Majeed Al Alawai

- Bahrain is a beacon in the region for women’s rights:

o Women have the right to vote

o They are represented in Parliament,

o They have the right to own and inherit property

o Women have the right to get divorced and to child custody

- The first girls school in the Gulf was opened in Bahrain in 1928

- In June 2006, when Bahrain had the honour of being elected head of the UN General Assembly, it chose Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa to fill the role, making her the first Middle Eastern woman and only the third woman in history to do so

- It has two woman ministers

- Bahrain leads in terms of freedom of worship in the region; alongside Mosques there are also Churches and a Synagogue.

- Dr Jasim Husain, former MP for opposition party al Wefaq, told a Chatham House gathering on 4 July 2011: ‘Bahrain has been an agent of change. We were the first country to introduce education and modern administration in the area. So Bahrain can be really something positive for the region as a whole.’

- Such progression prompted Britain’s former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to call it ‘a paradigm of Arab democracy’.

Democratic Governance Indicators

Elected parliament

Parliament has power to remove PM

Women voting in national elections

Women candidates

Legal parties/political societies


Following national dialogue, power to remove ministers. HM appoints PM.

1973 (i.e from Independence)

11 women out of 40 in the appointed upper Shura chamber

4 out of 40 in the National Assembly

Opposition (Al Wefaq) doesn’t run women candidates

Political societies permitted



4 women elected in 2009 elections

Political parties banned


No – there is no PM


1 female MP – out of 84

No – illegal


No – appointed 35 member consultative


No elections

No elections


Saudi Arabia



No national elections

No national elections

[local elections?]

No -banned


50% elected indirectly via electoral college, 50% appointed



7 MPs (17.5% - one elected, 6 appointed), with 85 out of 468 candidates at last election women

No – officially illegal



By law 25% of MPs must be women – currently 82


Parliament cannot remove Supreme Leader but can remove ministers


No women allowed by Guardian Council to stand in 2009 presidential election

Parties must accept Islamic theocracy

Guardian Council vets all candidates


One party state



31 (12.4% - in 2007)

One party state


Parliament elects the president for a 6-year term


4 MPs (3.13%)


Egypt – 376 women candidates but not one elected to 508-seat People’s Assembly [check]

Jordan – 13 women in lower house; 9 in the appointed upper

Arab world average: 11.4% lower house 7.3% Upper

Jordan has 30 different parties

Geographical Indicators


Life expectancy




GDP per capita





78.15 years



$22.66bn (2010 est.)

$40,300 (2010 est.)

3.0 (2011)

23.9% of GDP



77.09 years



$136.5bn (2010 est.)

$48,900 (2010 est.)

2.2 (2004)

12.9% of GDP



74.22 years



$75.84bn (2010 est.)

$25,600 (2010 est.)

15.0 (2004)

29.1% of GDP



75.7 years



$129.5bn (2010 est.)

$179,000 (2010 est.)

0.5 (2010)

29.1% of GDP

Saudi Arabia


74.11 years



$622bn (2010 est.)

$24,200 (2010 est.)

10.8 (2010)

22.9% of GDP






$246.8bn (2010 est)

$49,600 (2010est.)

2.4 (2001)

23.8% of GDP



70.55 years



$113.4bn (2010 est.)

$3,800 (2010 est.)

15.3 (2009)




70.06 years



$818.7bn (2010 est.)

$10,600 (2010 est.)

13.2 (2010)

27.5% of GDP



74.69 years



$107.4bn (2010 est.)

$4,800 (2010 est.)

8.3 (2010)

18.4% of GDP



75.01 years



$59.37bn (2010 est.)

$14,400 (2010 est.)


33.4% of GDP

18 November 2012

Prepared 7th January 2013