The UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

3  Bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia

Historical ties

27.  In its submission to this inquiry, the Government referred to the "long history of friendship and co-operation" between the UK and Saudi Arabia. The relationship stretches back just over a hundred years, to the period before the Kingdom was unified under the Al Saud monarchy. Between 1902, when Abdul Aziz al Saud returned from exile to capture Riyadh, and 1932 when the Kingdom was finally unified under the Al Saud monarchy, the UK had broadly positive relations with the Al Saud, signing its first agreement with Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1911 and shifting its support conclusively behind him in the 1920s. Following a series of conquests that eventually united the tribes and territory under a single banner of the Al Saud and Wahhabi Islam, the UK signed the 1927 Treaty of Jeddah, recognising the territory (and protecting the boundaries of the UK's interests elsewhere in the region).

28.  On the discovery of oil in the 1930s and 40s, Saudi Arabia granted a US company the rights to exploration, while the UK had exclusive rights in its protectorate states on Saudi Arabia's borders. The UK has on the whole maintained a broad alliance with Saudi Arabia ever since, based on shared strategic interests, especially in defence and trade, and a shared commitment to security and stability in the Middle East, although one witness noted that the relationship had nonetheless been subject to some disruptions:

There was an interval that many may not recall of 12 years of no diplomatic relations at all, between 1953 and 1965 over the Bahraini episode in the Empty Quarter, the boundary dispute and the initial search for oil and so on, where Britain undertook to support its protected regimes in the form of Abu Dhabi and Oman and aroused the intense irritation of the Al Saud.[45]

The relationship also suffered under a 1973 oil embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members of on the UK and Western States following their support for Israel in the October War 1973.[46] The 1980s saw warmer relations, and a major defence agreement (more details in paragraph 64), Several witnesses to the inquiry emphasised the benefit of historical connections for the UK's current diplomatic relationship. Sir Alan Munro told the Committee that as ambassador in the 1980s, he had had "extremely close and, indeed, rewarding contact" with King Fahd and other senior members of the government and of the royal family. He had:

a conviction that our relationship with Saudi Arabia remains and has long been of the first order. […] it remains for this country a relationship of the first order in diplomatic, political, economic and cultural terms, and at the public level.[47]

Saudi Arabia has since provided vital support in recent times of crisis, as an important ally in the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1 and the subsequent no-fly zones, during which it hosted British Tornadoes, and by providing support and bases for allies in the second Gulf War.

UK-Saudi diplomatic relationship today


29.  The current UK-Saudi relationship is based on these historical ties as well as a continued sense of common interests in defence, security, and trade. These shared interests continue to be important in the 21st century, with ongoing co-operation with Saudi Arabia on some of the UK's greatest security concerns, including Al Qaeda, Iran and, most recently, Syria. The Government told us of Saudi Arabia's importance across a wide range of areas, including as: a regional influence, a global religious influence, a key counter-terrorism partner, a key player in global energy markets, a major market for British goods and services and a country visited by tens of thousands of Britons every year.[48] In 2011 the Foreign Secretary affirmed the Government's commitment to building on the UK's historical relationship and continuing to develop its relationship with Saudi Arabia:

Britain's links with the Kingdom are deep and long-standing and extend from inter-governmental relations to the rich network of links between our people. It is vital that we continue to develop our relations across the board.[49]

Sir Tom Phillips, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia between 2010 and 2012, endorsed this policy, describing how the UK had "extensive interests at stake" in Saudi Arabia, which is a "long standing ally and key partner in a complex and volatile region."[50]

30.  Saudi Arabia is nonetheless a far from straightforward ally. Its political development since 1930 has not kept pace with its startling economic development, and remains one of the least democratic states in the world with a notoriously poor human rights record. This presents problems for the UK Government in its desire to pursue closer ties with this important ally, as the UK has also made human rights and supporting reform in other states increasingly central to its foreign policy.[51] As the largest Gulf State, with the biggest GDP and enormous social and economic influence on the region, Saudi Arabia presents perhaps the biggest challenge to the FCO's efforts to both secure the UK's interests and pursue its values.


31.  The Government has committed itself to strengthening the UK-Saudi relationship, within the overarching framework of the Gulf Initiative. As part of this, in July 2011 the Government announced its intention to upgrade its annual Two Kingdoms Dialogue[52] with Saudi Arabia to a "full Strategic Partnership" before the end of that year. The Foreign Secretary said that the establishment of a 'Strategic Partnership' between the UK and Saudi Arabia:

will enable greater engagement between our two Kingdoms and formally put our relationship on a par with that between Britain and other major global partners. At a moment of unprecedented change, this is more important than ever.[53]

The Government does not publish a list of countries with which it has a 'strategic partnership' and there is no fixed template for the form a UK bilateral 'strategic partnership' might take. It is, therefore, arguably something of a re-branding exercise in the same vein as the Gulf Initiative referred to in paragraph 14. However, Sir Tom Phillips, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2011, explained that the UK had proposed the new partnership because "we wanted to send a signal of the importance that we attached to that huge spread of UK interests that was at stake".[54] Under the Gulf Initiative, the Government has since 2010 established formal dialogues with other states in the Gulf, including the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.[55]

32.  Since 2011, and despite two visits to Saudi Arabia by the Prime Minister in 2012, the UK has neither signed an agreement for a new 'Strategic Partnership' with Saudi Arabia or held another meeting of the Two Kingdoms Dialogue. When he appeared before this inquiry, then Minister with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, confirmed that the Two Kingdoms dialogue had not been rekindled, for "all sorts of reasons", noting that the first two years of UK-Saudi relations under the current government had been "slightly difficult because of illnesses and ill health in Saudi Arabia". He told us that the proposal was still on the table and that the UK Government would like to pursue the idea of a strategic dialogue to help to give "a bit of extra structure", however, he emphasised that its lapse "has not got in the way of relationships or anything else up to now."[56]

33.  Our witnesses endorsed the Government's account. Sir Tom Phillips told us that the UK has "a very intensive dialogue with the Saudis already at ministerial and lower level. In some ways, [securing a structured dialogue] is recognising the reality of what goes on anyway."[57] Sir David Wootton, former Mayor of London, agreed that the lapse of the dialogue was for "reasons not applicable to the British side" and said:

Lots of business and visits have been going on meanwhile, but the time will, at some stage, be right for a revivification of the formal structure. It is work in progress, but meanwhile a lot of good things are going on.[58]

34.  The UK-Saudi relationship continues to be important for the UK. We have no reason to suspect that the failure so far to establish a formal 'Strategic Partnership' indicates that the friendship between the UK and Saudi Arabia has suffered. It appears that practical reasons have prevented progress. However, we agree with the Government's original position that structured relations can provide a useful forum to enhance co-operation on common interests and to raise issues of concern, and the lapse of regular annual talks is therefore regrettable. The FCO should include the reinstatement of talks via a strategic partnership, or the reinstatement of the Two Kingdoms Dialogue, as a goal in its business plan and should continue to represent the benefits of such structured talks to the authorities in Saudi Arabia.

People to people contacts and public opinion

35.  While relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia have traditionally been conducted at the level of ruling elites, including the Royal Families, links are increasingly being forged between the broader societies as well. There are sizeable expatriate communities in each country: 34,000 Saudis were resident in the UK and 20,000 British nationals were resident in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Saudi Arabia is not a tourist destination for Britons, but over 70,000 British Muslims visit on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina each year, and British Muslims make up the largest contingent from a Western state to the annual Hajj. The UK, particularly London, is considered a tourist destination, and over 100,000 visits were made from Saudi Arabia last year, making the UK the European country most visited by Saudis in most years.[59]

36.  Overall, our witnesses were of the opinion that the UK was generally viewed quite positively by the Saudi leadership, and Sir Alan Munro described "a mixture of [...] ignorance and attraction"[60] among the wider Saudi population. However, research conducted by the British Council presents a more negative picture of popular opinion about the UK. A 2012 poll done by the British Council and Ipsos Mori surveyed 520 online Saudi respondents aged 16 - 34 that had completed at least secondary education, and asked them to self-assess their level of trust in people from the UK. It found that the net level of trust[61] was -10%. The same poll later distinguishes between trust in people from the UK (-10%) and trust in the British Government (-34%).[62] This is a small poll but its conclusions seemed to be somewhat supported by the limited public polling available from commercial sources, such as the Arab Youth Survey 2013, run by ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations consultancy. This poll surveyed young people from 16 Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, and found a favourable rating for the UK of only 32%, lower than that of France (44%) and Germany (39%), and just above the US (30%).[63] The Arab Youth survey cautiously attributes this to a decline in favourability toward 'traditional regional powers' such as the UK and US.[64]

37.  British public opinion of Saudi Arabia appears to be similarly poor: when a 2012 Chatham House survey asked 2,000 members of the general public in the UK to pick countries about which they felt especially favourable from a list of 19, just 2% picked Saudi Arabia. When the same group was asked to identify states toward which they felt especially unfavourable, 16% picked Saudi Arabia.[65] Further polling by US-based Pew Research as part of its 'Global Attitudes Project' revealed similarly negative views of Saudi Arabia in Britain with regard to their perception of the Saudi government's respect for human rights. When British participants were asked if they thought that the government of Saudi Arabia respects the personal freedoms of its people, 69% said no, and only 12% said yes.[66]

38.  The Middle East Association told us that Saudi Arabia's reputation in the UK was one of its biggest obstacles to increasing trade.[67] Negative opinions about Saudi Arabia might in part may be due to a lack of information about Saudi Arabia provided to the general public in the UK. A 2012 BBC World Trust review of reportage of the 'Arab Spring' by the BBC national TV and radio, online content, and BBC World News found that there had been inconsistencies in the BBC's coverage across different states in the Middle East and North Africa, and singled out the BBC's "thin" coverage of Saudi Arabia for criticism:

Given the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia, its role as the key ally of the West in the region and its active role in both the Yemeni and Bahraini uprisings, it is notable that so little attention was paid to it [during 2011]. [68]

The report notes that the problems in reporting on Saudi Arabia were not new, and stemmed from the Saudi government's reluctance to allow journalists access to the country:

[...] the Saudi regime itself shares Western interest in its own stability, but it does not see that objective as being served by detailed Western knowledge of its own society and internal workings, and especially not knowledge by the Western media and public.[69]

39.  Evidence of negative perceptions of the UK among young Saudis is deeply concerning, particularly in a state in which over 60% of the population is under 30 years old. It is difficult with so little evidence to draw conclusions as to the reason for the low level of trust in the UK, but we recommend that the Government set out in response to this report any research it has conducted on the public perception of the UK in Saudi Arabia, and its views on the reasons for the poor public perception of the UK.


40.  The Government did not make reference to public diplomacy work in Saudi Arabia in its submission to this inquiry. However, some effort has been made to reach out to the Saudi public through old and new media. In recent years, the British Ambassador has written a column in a major Saudi newspaper every two weeks. Sir Tom Phillips told us that this column enabled ambassadors to provide a sense of British views and values to the readership.[70] In addition, in line with FCO guidance, the Embassy in Saudi Arabia also has a webpage, Facebook page and Twitter feed in English and Arabic. In an example of its outreach work, the Embassy has launched a photo competition open to the general public "to search for the best image which demonstrates the friendship between UK and Saudi Arabia".[71]

The World Service and BBC Arabic language service

41.  The BBC Arabic language service is part of the BBC World Service and delivers a news service in Arabic for and about the Middle East. Our Committee has commented previously on the importance of BBC Arabic, particularly following the events of 2011 in the Middle East.[72] At the end of 2011, the BBC World Service reported record high viewing figures for its Arabic Service across the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, BBC Arabic TV saw its weekly audience more than double from 12.2% to 24.6% in 2011.[73] In its 2012/13 Annual Review, the BBC World Service reported that it had surpassed its targets by achieving an overall BBC multimedia reach in Arabic of 32.5 million. However, when it surveyed Saudis regarding the BBC World Service's performance in comparison to its competitors, it found that "Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera outperform on many measures but the BBC is still seen as the most trustworthy."[74]

The British Council

42.  The British Council also contributes to people-to-people trust and understanding, promoting Britain through education, art, and social initiatives. With offices and teaching centres in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Khobar, it boasts a strong presence in Saudi Arabia and told us that it was "recognised as a trusted partner by both governments and by civil society".[75] It provides English language teaching and training to 15,000 students, as well as working with the Saudi Ministry of Education, universities and private schools. The British Council claimed to be dominant in this area, telling us that "the scale of our work in English is unrivalled by US and other European cultural relations analogues in Saudi."[76] The British Council also emphasised the arts as a means of connecting the Saudi and British societies, highlighting the success of their Out of Britain touring exhibition of contemporary British art and the British Museum's Hajj exhibition.[77]

43.  A 2012 British Council poll provides support for the British Council's claims to improve trust in people from the UK. The below chart illustrates that Saudi nationals who have been involved in "cultural relations activities" with the British Council have positive levels of 'net trust' in people from the UK, unlike those who have had no contact with the UK, who have overall negative net levels of trust:[78]

44.  We recommend that the Government make public engagement with the wider Saudi population a priority for its digital diplomacy team in the Gulf and Embassy in Saudi Arabia. The Government should also set out in response to this report its public engagement strategy, including the steps it is taking to engage with Saudi youth on social media, how it is representing the UK to the younger generation in Saudi Arabia, and what staff and resources it is dedicating to this task.

45.  The work of the British Council is particularly useful in Saudi Arabia as it is one of the only channels of direct contact between the UK and Saudi public. As a provider of valued language training services, it is able to co-operate with and support the Saudi authorities at the same time as engaging directly with the Saudi public and promoting a positive image of the UK.

Economic and commercial relations


46.  Saudi Arabia has the world's 20th largest economy and the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Its strength is based almost entirely upon its petroleum exports, which are the biggest in the world and stand at around nine million barrels per day. It also has almost one-fifth of the world's proven oil reserves and fifth largest natural gas reserves, though natural gas production remains limited. Dr Neil Partrick noted the importance to the UK of Saudi Arabia's role as a reliable oil producer, and particularly its ability to stabilise global oil markets through its spare capacity of around two million barrels of oil per day.[79] This means that Saudi Arabia is able quickly to respond to any shocks in the global market, such as the halting of Libyan oil fields during the intervention in 2011. The wealth Saudi Arabia gains from petroleum exports has provided it with substantial sovereign wealth fund and foreign exchange reserves, as well as the ability to fund large-scale domestic programmes and to provide what Sir Alan Munro called a "mega welfare state".[80] It has also proven relatively reliable over the last decade, with a high oil price of over $100 per barrel and GDP growth in Saudi averaging over 5% over the last five years, which is comparable to growth of one of the BRICS countries.[81]

47.  Saudi Arabia's rulers nevertheless face considerable economic challenges in the coming years. These include a demographic phenomenon which has seen the Kingdom's population double since the 1980s, resulting in an annual 4.5% increase in the labour force; high unemployment; and pressure on housing, public services and utilities.[82] In addition Dr Neil Partrick questioned the sustainability of Saudi spending in the longer-term, which he considered had always been high but was raised further in response to the Arab Spring (Saudi Arabia's 2013 budget is 58% higher than its pre-Arab Spring 2010 budget.[83]). He cited one report by a Saudi investment bank that considered that a "phenomenally high" oil price of $350 per barrel would be necessary by 2030 if current levels of spending were maintained. [84] Saudi Arabia's growing population and generous domestic energy subsidies have also resulted in an exponential growth in its own energy consumption. The Economist warned in July 2013 that "even rich Arab countries cannot squander their resources indefinitely", adding, "local consumption already eats up a quarter of Saudi oil output, and on current trends could devour all of it within 25 years."[85]

48.  The Saudi government has recognised the challenge and begun to take steps to diversify its economy, encourage the development of the private sector, and attract foreign direct investment. It has also launched an ambitious spending programme for infrastructure development and modernisation, as well as far-reaching health, social and educational programmes. As part of this, the state has guaranteed a stimulus package of $400 billion for capital projects, such as the development of seven new cities, a £120 billion programme of investment in schools and hospitals and a £30 billion Railways Development Programme.[86] Unsurprisingly, our trade witnesses were enthusiastic about the prospects for bilateral trade and investment and Saudi Arabia was described as a source of immense opportunity. Sir David Wootton told us that "the sheer scale of economic activity, particularly in Saudi Arabia, is huge, and there is much more we could do." David Lloyd, Senior Consultant at the Middle East Association, agreed, and said

It has by far the largest population of all the GCC states. That population has to be served with roads, schools, universities, power - you name it. As such, it is by far the most important and largest economy in the Middle East.[87]

The oil and gas sector, infrastructure, mining and housing development, were all raised as holding opportunities for UK businesses.[88]


Source: UNCTAD. Figures in $millions

49.  Saudi Arabia's current economic advantages are one of the Government's major reasons for its push to improve bilateral relations. Saudi Arabia is already the UK's largest market in the Middle East, comprising 20% of our exports in goods and services to the region in 2011, and it is our 18th largest market globally, with £7.5 billion in exports of goods and services in 2012, and overall bilateral trade worth an estimated £15 billion per year.[89] The Government estimates that over 6,000 British companies are actively exporting to Saudi Arabia.[90] The UK is also the second largest cumulative investor in Saudi Arabia after the US, according to UKTI, and there are approximately 200 UK/Saudi joint ventures with total investment of more than £11 billion.[91] Thousands of British expatriates work in Saudi Arabia and British companies involved in the country include Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Marks & Spencer. With enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia is also a source of investment into the UK. It has an estimated £62 billion invested in the UK economy.[92]

Trade promotion by the Government

50.  The Government has identified Saudi Arabia as a 'High Growth Market' in the Gulf and is committed to working with the Saudi government and British and Saudi businesses to build a greater understanding of the Saudi market and its opportunities.[93] The FCO highlighted opportunities for UK-Saudi partnerships in the health and education sectors, both of which will be the focus of significant Saudi spending over the coming few years. The UK and Saudi governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the UK's Department of Health and its Saudi counterpart in 2011, whereby the UK will support the Saudis' ambitious $100 billion investment into health programmes, drawing on NHS and private sector expertise.[94] See Appendix 1 for a full list of extant Memorandums and treaties signed between the UK and Saudi Arabia.

51.  The Government has made trade delegations a priority: the Prime Minister led trade delegations to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012, securing defence sales contracts (see below). The Lord Mayor of London takes a trade delegation from the City of London every year, while the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, led a trade delegation in April 2013. Sir David Wootton told us that the UK's trade delegations received a "very warm" reception in Saudi Arabia and that the Gulf States value a visit by the Prime Minister very highly. He added that it was important to maintain a regularity of visits and contact at all levels - building personal relationships at the "technical level" as well as at the "decision-making level" in order to ensure success.[95]

52.  However, unlike for other states in the Gulf, the FCO did not set a specific target for increasing the UK's trade with Saudi Arabia in its 2011-15 Business Plan. The FCO's Jon Davies explained that this was because the Saudi market was

more mature and [...] already extremely healthy for the UK. Looking to guarantee a doubling of that market over the period would therefore have been more challenging. If we can, we will, but that is why we are not committing ourselves as formally as that."[96]

However, the Middle East Association (MEA) has pointed out that the UK's export market share is well below that of the US, Japan, Korea and our leading EU competitors.[97] Sir David Wootton attributed this in part to the failure of UK business to respond:

The UK government effort is very good. I think the people in post are working very hard and are very well connected, and, as I say, are throwing up more opportunities than we are taking up at the moment.[98]

53.  The scale of the investment projects proposed by Saudi Arabia does not always count in the UK's favour when it tries to secure contracts. While in Saudi Arabia, we were told that UK businesses held their own in securing second and third tier contracts as subcontractors for the main organization running a project, but they rarely secured the overall contractor positions because the UK lacks "big hitters" at the top of the infrastructure sector and is not good at forming consortiums. This is not a new problem: Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, a former envoy to the Gulf and current Chairman of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce told an 'Opportunity Arabia' business conference in 2011 that "we Brits really do have to do better in putting together consortia to meet Saudi needs. We have to put together business packages and proposals, which must crucially involve the transfer of knowledge and skills to Saudi business partners."[99] Other states do not seem to suffer from this problem: consortiums of construction groups from the US, Spain and Italy were each awarded multi-billion dollar contracts in July 2013 to build a metro system in Riyadh.[100]

54.  The Government has taken some steps to support UK involvement in large-scale projects: in June 2013, the UK's export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), announced that it will guarantee $700 million (£450 million) of finance to British companies bidding for contracts on a new $19 billion (£12 billion) petrochemical facility in Saudi Arabia. This is backed by the UK Government, and is the biggest project financing facility in the UKEF's history. Three British companies working in engineering, procurement and construction - Jacobs, Fluor and Foster Wheeler - have already secured contracts which will benefit from financing under the facility.[101]

55.  However, significant barriers to trade on the Saudi side risk impeding further growth in British exports to the state. This is true, for example, in agriculture exports. The UK is in theory allowed to export lamb and mutton to Saudi Arabia but requirements currently imposed by the Saudi authorities are seen as onerous and not conducive to the establishment of an export market.

56.  The growing Saudi market and the Saudi government's spending plans offer huge opportunities for British businesses across a wide range of sectors. Given the large-scale opportunities available, we see no reason why the UK should not set ambitious targets for growth in UK-Saudi trade and investment.

57.  We recommend that the Government facilitate a leading role for British businesses in international consortiums to bid for projects in Saudi Arabia. In its response to this report, the Government should set out what resources it is dedicating to this task.

The work of UKTI

58.  UKTI has created a 'high value opportunities team', specifically to identify projects in Saudi Arabia. The UK has a British Trade Office in Al Khobar, in the oil rich Eastern Province, in addition to the consulate in Jeddah and Embassy in Riyadh. David Lloyd told us that, across the Gulf, UKTI services were variable, but he praised highly the work of the Al Khobar Trade Office post in eastern Saudi Arabia that he considered "outstanding", and which had organized a Saudi-British energy week in 2012 which provided "first class" organization and connections.[102] However, he was critical of the charges the UKTI levied on business people, including the fees that the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) asked in order to host an official embassy reception, which were over £2,000 and for receptions of variable quality. He told us that in consequence:

We are now starting to have to bypass UKTI services at the embassy, because missioners cannot afford to pay that price. That seems to me to be a major deterrent. Why are we charging our exporters?[103]

59.  We recommend that the Government assess whether it would be beneficial to lower the costs of its introduction services to British businesses for a temporary period in order to boost the UK's participation in the Saudi market, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises.


60.  The requirements for visas cause resentment on both sides of the UK-Saudi bilateral relationship. On our visit to the Gulf, we heard repeated complaints about the problems in obtaining a British visa. Mr Burt acknowledged that visas were "one of the hottest topics"[104] on his visits to the region and told us that the Government was still considering the UK's border security assessment, including visa arrangements across the Gulf:

We believe that the visa service we operate right across the Gulf is very good. In each of the states, regular visitors to the United Kingdom know exactly what it is that they need to do. They are able to get multiple or long-term visas and they know what they need to get them. [...] My honest assessment is that even though this is raised a lot by all the states in the Gulf, it does not desperately get in the way of people's visits here, and we are extremely conscious of any risk that that should be the case.[105]

Despite the complaints, it appears that the UK is more generous to Saudi nationals than Saudi Arabia is toward UK nationals. David Lloyd, representing the Middle East Association, pointed out that while the UK offers 5 year multiple-entry visas to Saudi nationals and a 24 hour turnaround process; this is not reciprocated for British travellers going to Saudi Arabia.[106] Mr Lloyd complained about the difficulties that British business people have in obtaining a Saudi entry visa, describing the visa process as arbitrary, unpredictable and very off-putting for businesses who are seeking to establish a firm foothold in the Saudi market, and "the biggest deterrent to doing business in the Kingdom".[107]

61.  The UK gains considerable benefits from its visa provision for Saudi nationals. For example, there are now 20,000 Saudi students attending British universities and institutions, which the British Council estimates is worth around £700 million per annum to the UK.[108] Mr Lloyd said that the UK Government had made several representations for reciprocal visa arrangements and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs had taken steps to address this problem, but its recommendations had not been implemented at the Saudi embassy level. He contrasted the UK's experience with that of the US, which had imposed security checks on Saudi travelers after 9/11. These inconvenienced Saudi travellers, leading Saudi Arabia to push for a reciprocal visa agreement, and a 'trusted traveler programme' was consequently signed between the US and Saudi Arabia in January 2013. Aside from the US, however, he believed that visas were a common problem for western business travelers to the Kingdom.[109]

62.  The current visa regime is a significant source of difficulty and inconvenience for both Saudi and British businessmen and undermines the UK Government's stated priority of increasing trade with Saudi Arabia. The improvement of the visa terms would be of benefit to both states and we are disappointed that the UK has not managed to secure reciprocal terms for its business visas. We recommend that the Government make improving the visa regime a priority in its discussions with the Saudi government when seeking to establish a strategic partnership.


63.  Sales of defence and security equipment by UK companies remain a significant, and controversial, portion of the UK's overall trade with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of the British defence industry's largest markets. It is hard to obtain exact figures as to the volume of defence trade as the Government restricts the supply of some information; however, the UK has granted export licences for almost £4 billion worth of defence equipment over the last five years.[110] Reports on the UK's strategic export controls produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills show that the UK issued Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs) for over £117 million worth of military and other defence exports in 2012. This was in addition to defence exports that were classified under Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs), for which the Government does not provide figures of the value of exports as these are open-ended. The defence items licenced under these provisions reflect a broad range of equipment, for example: body armour; communication equipment; crowd control ammunition; hand grenades; cryptographic software; machine guns; and military combat vehicles.[111] The UK is one of the three largest suppliers to Saudi Arabia, alongside the US and France.

Sources: European Council Annual report according to article 8(2) of Council Common Position 2008/944/cfsp defining common rules governing control of exports

Source: Figures are SIPRI Trend Indicator Values (TIVs) expressed in US$ m. at constant (1990) prices.

64.  The British Government supports major defence sales to Saudi Arabia directly through providing government-to-government contracts, in which the Ministry of Defence signs agreements with the Saudi Arabian Government, then places contracts with UK prime contractors (such as BAE Systems) to fulfil the UK's obligations. The Ministry of Defence oversees several of the main contracts through two main bodies: the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Project (MODSAP) and Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project (SANGCOM). These monitor the progress and performance of the contracts and provide training and assistance. The project's operating expenditure is covered by a management fee received from the Saudi Arabian Government, but details of the fee are confidential.[112] Several of our witnesses endorsed the Government's efforts to support the industry: Howard Wheeldon, for instance, said that the defence deals and follow-up had been "very well handled and very well supported."[113]

Al Yamamah agreements (I and II) initiated in 1985 between the UK and Saudi governments for the supply of a complete package of military equipment, especially Tornado and Hawk jets, by BAE Systems, it was worth over £43 billion by 2004. Following allegations of corruption and a Serious Fraud Office investigation, Al Yamamah was officially closed in 2006.

The Saudi-British Defence Cooperation Programme (SBDCP) is a new and separate defence cooperation agreement between the UK and Saudi governments to provide support for the equipment already in service with the Saudi armed forces, including upgrading and servicing some Tornado aircraft. The programme is funded by the Saudi Defence Budget and began operation in 2007. It is overseen by MODSAP.

The Salem ('Peace') Project initiated in 2007. A deal between the UK and Saudi governments for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons to be provided by BAE, which involves RAF and Royal Saudi Air Force air crews and ground technicians training alongside each other in the UK. It is also overseen by MODSAP. 24 planes were delivered in 2009, but there have been continued delays and price 'issues' relating to the remaining Typhoons. Though the initial contract was for £4.4 billion, it is estimated to ultimately be worth c. £20 billion.

In May 2012 BAE won a contract with Saudi Arabia to provide 22 new Hawk advanced jet trainer aircraft, 55 Pilatus PC-21 aircraft and other aircrew training equipment. The deal is worth $2.5billion and reportedly will preserve 250 jobs at the BAE Systems factory in Brough in Yorkshire, with the planes being built in Samlesbury and Warton.[114]

65.  In addition to the government-to-government contracts, the UK dedicates significant resources across the Government departments to promoting the defence trade in the Gulf, as a key part of the Governments broader support for exports and "prosperity agenda".[115] The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has designated Saudi Arabia as a priority market for UK arms exports, and UKTI has a Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) which aims to help UK defence and security companies to build and maintain relationships with overseas customers and to export their products. The UK also holds promotional events and hosted a defence and security international exhibition in September 2013 that is thought to have been the largest of its type in Europe this year.[116] The Prime Minister has personally championed the UK's defence sales in Saudi Arabia. His November 2012 visit to the Gulf was seen as being aimed principally at promoting the sale of Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the UAE and Saudi militaries. These sales would reportedly be worth up to £6 billion, with further purchases expected to be made by Oman.[117] As such, the Government emphasised to us that these defence sales "represent a significant success story for UK industry, sustaining many thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of export orders."[118]

66.  Our witnesses agreed that Saudi Arabia was an extremely important market for the UK, the loss of which would be very difficult for the defence industry. Howard Wheeldon suggested that a cancelled order for the Typhoon would be "devastating" for the UK's industrial regions, while Dr Eyal told us that without Saudi buyers for Typhoons, the unit price would be affected and it would "change the entire dynamic of the project."[119] However, witnesses mostly believed that the UK defence industry could survive without Saudi Arabia, if necessary.[120]

Criticism of defence sales

67.  British defence sales to Saudi Arabia are controversial, and we received several submissions that disagreed with the UK government's approach to supporting the British defence industry's sales to Saudi Arabia. Criticism of the sales centred around three main areas: human rights, corruption and the misuse of leverage.

68.  Human rights: Several submissions to this inquiry highlighted a perceived contradiction between the Government designating Saudi Arabia as a 'Country of concern' in its annual Human Rights and Democracy report, while simultaneously marking it as a priority market for arms exports. The Campaign Against Arms Trade argued that:

Selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian regimes has undermined the credibility of the UK's advocacy of democracy and work to end corruption. It has compromised the UK's justice system, and left UK taxpayers vulnerable to loss if there were a default.[121]

Witnesses highlighted fears about the equipment being used both in internal repression (for instance, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province), and in external action, such as the GCC intervention in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's alleged bombing of Yemen in 2009.[122]

69.  The Government has strongly refuted these concerns, arguing that there is no evidence that equipment supplied by the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia has been used in breach of the EU's arms controls criteria.[123] On a recent visit to the region, the Prime Minister told the BBC he would make "absolutely no apologies" for talking to the UAE and Saudi Arabia about "defence partnerships", adding that: "Their security is important for our security and this is vital for British jobs".[124] He further stated:

We have one of the strictest regimes anywhere in the world for sales of defence equipment but we do believe that countries have a right to self-defence and we do believe that Britain has important defence industries that employ over 300,000 people so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right.[125]

70.  The Committees on Arms Export Controls recorded 417 extant export licences for Saudi Arabia in May 2013.[126] The UK Government stated that it had re-examined all of its licences to Saudi Arabia at the time of the Arab Spring and was satisfied that all licences granted to Saudi Arabia remained consistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. On being questioned by the Committees on Arms Export Controls about the possibility of arms being used for internal repression in Saudi Arabia or other states, the Government repeated that:

export licences for Saudi Arabia are kept under constant review and every licence is scrutinised in light of changing facts on the ground.[127]

The Government is satisfied that none of the extant licences for Saudi Arabia contravene its stated policy.[128] Several of our witnesses endorsed the Government's position. Sir Tom Phillips said Saudi Arabia was "a long standing friend and ally in a volatile region with legitimate defence requirements."[129] Howard Wheeldon agreed, and further considered Saudi Arabia to be a responsible buyer of defence equipment:

We have been selling defence equipment to Saudi Arabia for a long and enduring period. They have behaved, in my view, extremely responsibly through that time and through the whole relationship in how they have used the power that we have provided them with.[130]

71.  Corruption: In 2006 a major Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into alleged bribes paid as part of the Al Yamamah deal was controversially halted after it was advised that Saudi Arabia might withdraw intelligence cooperation. In 2012 the Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into GPT, the subsidiary of EADS, the pan-European defence contractor that supplied the Saudi Arabian National Guard Communication project (SANGCOM) equipment, in the light of further bribery allegations. The Government has thus far declined to give further information about the case.[131]

72.  The closure of the SFO's Al Yamamah inquiry led to increased international and domestic pressure to update the UK's bribery laws, contributing to the Bribery Act 2010, which clarified what could and could not be done by British companies when conducting business both at home and abroad. This legislation put the UK on a par with the strongest anti-corruption measures in the world, including those of the US. Howard Wheeldon and Dr Eyal both considered that the UK's regulations were as tough, if not more tough, than our competitors', though Howard Wheeldon noted that "It is a pity, of course, that the rest of the world does not necessarily play with us on a level playing field."[132] As the UK has imposed new limitations, Saudi Arabia is also beginning to improve: Jane Kinninmont, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, told us that the Saudis had begun to address corruption from their side, stating that: "King Abdullah has taken steps to make the procurement more transparent from his end, because he has clearly been very aware that corruption eats away at legitimacy."[133] This trend toward greater transparency has seen institutional changes, as financial accounting responsibility for the defence contracts have moved from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Defence to its Ministry of Finance, and the 'oil for arms' arrangements no longer exist. According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012, Saudi Arabia is a middle-ranking country in terms of public sector corruption.[134] Scoring 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the least corrupt, Saudi Arabia is seen as less corrupt than Italy and than many of its neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East (although its neighbouring Gulf States are all rated higher, with the UAE and Qatar doing significantly better). The UK scores 7.4.[135]

73.  That the sales are used as leverage: Dr Rosemary Hollis suggested that the Gulf rulers, including the Al Sauds, have "worked out that Britain needs them as much as they need us, if not more so."[136] She suggested that when Gulf rulers are upset about something (such as the above-mentioned SFO investigation) "The message comes out, 'We don't actually have to buy your Typhoons. We can always buy from somebody else."[137] However, Dr Eyal of RUSI was not convinced by suggestions of 'arm twisting' by Saudi Arabia when it came to the most recent contract, stating:

It is very easy to jump to the conclusion that what we are being subjected to is sort of—how should we put this politely?—a political blowback or that there is a suggestion that somehow if we do not behave in a particular manner, Riyadh would draw the consequences. I am sorry to disappoint some people, but I have not seen evidence of that. I have not seen direct evidence of that. I think they cherish the relationship and want it to continue.[138]

74.  Nevertheless, Dr Eyal did admit that the UK defence industry was under pressure in the Gulf, but he believed that this pressure was coming from competitors. Dr Eyal pointed out that competition was coming from traditional rivals such as the US and France: the latter had made four visits at presidential level with defence "at the top of the agenda" in 2012, and also from newer, "second-tier" competitors such as Serbia and South Korea:[139]

we are under pressure in this industry, which is still important for the UK. It is one of the main contributors to engineering skills in the UK, and we are under pressure. Please look at the figures in terms of world league tables for exports. Some people may find it refreshing that we are under pressure on this score, but we are.[140]

Dr Eyal also warned that with other players in the market, the UK should not overestimate its own influence and leverage: "There are many other players in the region that do not necessarily displace us but certainly put us in a diminished position as far as our leverage in defence relationships is concerned." [141] He considered such pressure to be problematic, as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states turned to these alternative providers "in part due to apprehension […] about how steadfast are its western allies."[142]

Defence and security cooperation

75.  Defence cooperation is central to the Government's view of the UK-Saudi relationship, with defence activities seen to "underpin" the entire bilateral relationship. The Government told us that decades of partnership between UK armed forces, British companies, and Saudi Arabia had "strengthened and deepened" the UK-Saudi bilateral relationship.[143] The UK maintains the following teams in Saudi Arabia:

  • A small British Military Mission (BMM) of seconded British Army personnel that trains and advises the Special Security Brigade of the Saudi Arabian National Guard providing advice on such issues as officer training and developing basic military skills, and in more specialised areas such as anti-terrorism.
  • A separate, specialised team assisting in the procurement and commissioning of a new communications system for the National Guard (SANGCOM). This team is made up of one MoD civilian based in the UK and around 20 UK military personnel and 50 MoD civil servants in Saudi Arabia.[144]
  • A larger team of UK civil servants and MoD personnel working for the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Project (MODSAP). This team of around 80 staff based in Saudi Arabia (along with a further 112 staff in the UK) oversees the major defence cooperation agreements (see above).[145]
  • A small Royal Navy liaison team (5 Royal Navy personnel) provides support to the King Fahd Naval Academy at Jubail.[146]

The UK has approximately 20 naval personnel, 40 army personnel and 70 air force personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia overall. For comparison, the UK has similar (slightly more) numbers of each service stationed in the Netherlands working as NATO staff, personnel exchange and on bilateral engagement (30, 40 and 90, respectively). The UK has the same numbers of naval and army personnel and just less than half the number of air force personnel as Saudi Arabia stationed in Oman.[147] There is limited information available about the number of MoD civil servants in each country, which makes it more difficult to compare these figures.[148] MODSAP's operating expenditure, including staff salaries, is covered in full by a management fee received from the Saudi Arabian Government, but details of the fee are confidential.[149] Other Gulf States also cover the operating expenditure of resident British missions.[150] Dr Andrew Murrison told us that staff salaries are paid by the UK, and that the costs are reimbursed at a government-to-government level.[151] In addition, Saudi Arabia sends some of its army and naval officers to train in the military academies and colleges in the UK, and UK ships make regular Saudi visits and occasionally participate in joint exercises. In his evidence to us, Sir Tom Phillips, former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told us that the training provided by the UK, for instance, to the National Guard was "based on the rule of law and the rules of international conflict, etc.—[which] again, allows us to put across a values element in that sort of thing."[152]

Controversy over the intervention in Bahrain

76.  In May 2011, it emerged that Saudi Arabian troops who were sent into Bahrain in March 2011 to assist its government in ending a popular protest might have benefited from British military training, and it was alleged that the troops had used British-made armoured vehicles.[153] The Gulf Cooperation Council's 'Peninsula Shield' force was used to secure key installations in Bahrain and did not take any frontline roles. However, in the crackdown that followed the GCC intervention, over 35 people were killed and many more were injured, prompting international condemnation of the Bahraini authorities and an independent commission of inquiry (BICI).

77.  Dr Murrison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, confirmed that the Saudi forces that took part in the intervention did include members who had been in receipt of British training, but he reassured us that "none of that was used in a repressive way." Dr Murrison added that the BICI had exonerated the GCC force from any involvement in the mistreatment that occurred.[154] Mr Burt agreed that the Saudi forces were not at fault, telling us:

There is no logical connection between what the Saudi authorities were asked to do by the Government of Bahrain and the GCC, namely to come in and provide protection and do what they did—there is no connection between any of those vehicles and any human rights abuses. It would have been entirely open to the Bahraini security forces to do their job properly.[155]

Mr Burt thought it was "unfair" to search for a British connection to the abuses.[156]

78.  Saudi Arabia is an important buyer for the UK defence industry, and defence sales are important to the overall UK-Saudi relationship. The UK provides valued training alongside its defence sales that is beneficial to both UK and Saudi forces. With other competitors in the market, there is little to suggest that ending the UK's defence sales would have any effect on overall defence sales to Saudi Arabia, or that it would give the UK additional leverage to effect positive improvements. The government must adhere strictly to its existing policy to ensure that defence equipment sold by UK firms are not used for human rights abuses or internal repression. In its response to this report the Government should provide further evidence that it is doing so in practice, including any evidence gathered by end-use monitoring.


79.  Counter-terrorism, and particularly the threat from Islamist terrorism, is a key part of the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia, and a long-standing and primary security concern for the UK. In a speech at RUSI in February 2013, the Foreign Secretary confirmed its continuing importance, stating that "Twelve years after 9/11 the greatest source of the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom remains Al Qaeda and its ideology."[157] However, the role played by Saudi Arabia as a counter-terrorism partner is a mixed and contradictory one. The Saudi authorities have proven to be engaged and innovative in their co-operation with the UK and others on counter-terrorism issues. However, there are fears that the Saudi authorities do not pay enough attention to the dangerous effects of the funding and religious teaching that are exported by Saudi citizens to extremist groups across the region and the wider world.

80.  One the one hand, the FCO considers Saudi Arabia to be the UK's "key operational partner" on counter-terrorism in the region, as well as a "strategic partner in our global efforts". The FCO also noted that Saudi Arabia had faced its own very serious terrorist threat, and it stated that the "strong cooperation on counter-terrorism [...] is essential to the interests of both countries."[158] Saudi Arabia is especially important to efforts to counter the threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen and is widely thought to be the most dangerous of the Al Qaeda 'franchises'. AQAP has proved capable of mounting significant terrorist attacks in the region and has tried several times in the past three years to carry out bomb attacks in the West using complex explosives that are difficult for airline scanners to detect.[159] Saudi authorities have demonstrated their value as counter-terrorism partners by co-operating with the UK and the United States in trying to control and counter AQAP, for example: by allowing the US to locate a secret drone base on Saudi territory, whence the US could pursue senior AQAP figures in Yemen;[160] and sharing critical intelligence on threats to Western targets. The FCO highlighted an example of important Saudi-British counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence-sharing:

British-Saudi collaboration has resulted in the foiling of AQAP terrorist attacks, which would have caused substantial destruction and loss of life, including the provision of information to protect British interests. An example of this cooperation was the discovery at East Midlands airport of a 'printer bomb' onboard a US bound flight in October 2010. The initial alert came from the Saudi authorities, who have been quick to provide information to protect British interests on many other occasions.[161]

81.  Our witnesses agreed on the important role played by Saudi Arabia, with a number of witnesses pointing to the UK's halting in 2006 of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into Al Yamamah as a sign of the importance of co-operation, although one witness expressed doubt as to how much credence the UK should give threats that cooperation would be halted:

There might be room for a bit of scepticism about whether counter-terrorism co- operation would really have suffered so badly, given that that seems to be something that is clearly in the national interest of both sides, and not a favour that the Gulf does to us.[162]

RUSI Director Dr Jonathan Eyal agreed that co-operation was of mutual benefit and was unlikely to be fully withdrawn, however he suggested that problems in the relationship could mean that "there would be damage to the quality and the timeliness of information provided to us."[163] Dr Eyal was supportive of counter-terrorism co-operation between the UK and Saudi Arabia, describing the counter-terrorism work by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Interior as "innovative" and the UK's engagement with Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism as important and productive.[164] Rosemary Hollis pointed out that the cooperation was three-way with the United States, and that the UK would "not want to be excluded from something that the Saudis would remain in with the Americans."[165] This accords with our visit to Saudi Arabia, where we met Ministry of Interior officials and received the impression that counter terrorism was an important and highly valued part of the UK-Saudi bilateral relationship.

82.  However, alongside this central role as a counter-terrorism partner, Saudi Arabia also appears to be responsible for some elements that directly contribute to the growth of extremism and terrorism worldwide. As part of our ongoing inquiry into The UK's response to extremism and instability in North and West Africa, we have heard from some sources about concerns regarding the Saudi funding and encouragement of conservative Islamic Wahhabi madrassas, mosques, and social and political organisations across North Africa which encourage radical and extreme forms of Islam. Some of the people we have met during that inquiry have considered such madrassas and groups as directly contributing to troubling extremist trends in the region. As one argued: people travel from madrassa to mosque to extremist groups. The funding from Saudi Arabia is attributed to private Saudi individuals (rather than the government) who donate to charitable causes but may not always be aware of the details of what they are funding.[166]

83.  The dangers associated with this phenomenon appear to be a major concern of the US government. Our witnesses pointed to a 2008 memorandum published by Wikileaks in 2010, in which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Saudi private and charitable donors still "constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide" and that it remained "a critical financial support base for Al Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups". The cable adds that the Saudi authorities had promised to set up a charities committee to address the issue but had not yet delivered, and adds that "While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority."[167] Dr Eyal agreed that this was a problem, and told us that that there was "absolutely no doubt that a lot of the funding that came for various terrorist organisations came from various Saudi sources." However, he did not believe that this was government-sanctioned money, and said that the Saudis had realised that it was "a cancer to themselves". In this respect, he considered that Saudi Arabia was both "part of the problem and part of the solution", but he emphasised the importance of assuring the Saudi leadership that the UK supports the authorities and wanted to engage as a friend.[168]

84.  When asked about the consequences of Saudi support for radical religious groups, Mr Burt told the House in September 2013 that while he had discussed counter-terrorism efforts with his Saudi counterparts, he had not recently discussed the specific issue of Saudi Arabia's policies to discourage the growth of Jihadi Wahhabism, saying:

There are many reasons why individuals develop extremist views, and our understanding is continuing to evolve. Many countries have problems with domestic extremism and terrorism, and with their citizens travelling overseas to join jihadist groups.

Saudi Arabia has developed sophisticated and integrated prevention, rehabilitation and after-care counter-terrorism programmes. Saudi security forces continue to take action against terrorist groups and disrupt their plans and infrastructure, including through the prevention of travel overseas by extremists.[169]

85.  Saudi Arabia continues to be a vital but complicated counter-terrorism partner for the UK and wider international community. Counter-terrorism co-operation has proven to be of great and practical benefit to both sides and has been instrumental in protecting British lives and interests. However, Saudi Arabia is part of the problem as well as part of the solution. We recommend that the Government make it a priority to engage with its counter-terrorism partners in Saudi Arabia to improve the monitoring of the funding flowing from Saudi Arabia to organisations with an extremist message so that it can be more effectively disrupted. The Government should also encourage Saudi Arabia to ensure that its legitimate promotion of religious values does not inadvertently contribute to the furtherance of extremism, especially with regard to states in North Africa that have been particularly vulnerable to the influence of extremist groups, as well as in states in other regions such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

86.  The UK is also criticised by human rights organisations and campaigners for its intelligence and counter-terrorism co-operation with Saudi Arabia, as Saudi authorities are alleged to detain thousands of suspects without charge, hold detainees for prolonged periods of solitary confinement, and have unfair trial procedures.[170] In addition, NGOs have expressed concerns that government critics are labelled as 'terrorists' and prosecuted under this law. Amnesty International told us "torture and other ill-treatment remain rife, and are used extensively to extract forced "confessions", which are all too readily accepted by the courts."[171] The FCO's own report on Human Rights and Democracy 2012 noted that "Allegations of torture continue to be heard, in particular from political activists accused of terrorism offences".[172] In the light of these allegations, when asked about intelligence sharing, the Government affirmed that it was "very clear about what information cannot be accepted. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the United Kingdom cannot use any information that may have been produced by torture or anything like that."[173] The FCO has acknowledged concerns about Saudi Arabia's counter-terrorism programme, and told us that the FCO staff in Riyadh have "registered our concerns about arbitrary detentions… and have been permitted to attend a counter-terrorism trial in the future."[174] In July 2013, the Government confirmed that Embassy staff had not yet attended such a trial, in part because permission to attend trials is in the hands of each trial judge.[175] However, the Government argued that its counter-terrorism co-operation could serve to improve the human rights situation:

Our counter-terrorism partnership in recent years has also allowed us to promote our values and help improve human rights in Saudi Arabia. For example, giving the Saudi authorities greater forensic expertise will give them greater capability for evidence-based prosecutions, which will be admissible in court. […] we continue to believe that the UK's ability to influence reform and best practice will be most effective if we are cooperating on counter-terrorism.[176]

87.  Given that the Saudi government does not acknowledge that torture is ever used by its officials, we would welcome further information on the safeguards the UK government has put in place to ensure that intelligence shared by Saudi Arabia does not result from torture. Counter-terrorism is an area in which Saudi authorities appear to be willing to be innovative and to co-operate with international partners. The UK should build on this co-operation to support improvements in standards and best practice. The British Embassy in Riyadh should pursue the chance offered by Saudi authorities to attend a counter-terrorism trial and the Government should update the Committee in its response to this report.

Saudi Arabia as a foreign policy partner

88.  Saudi Arabia has a huge presence in a region that is very important to the UK's foreign policy interests. It is one of largest and wealthiest state in the region, with significant defence capability as well as religious leadership as the home of Islam's Two Holy Mosques. As such, it has enormous potential as a foreign policy partner to the UK. For its part, the Government considers Saudi Arabia to be a "key strategic partner" in the Middle East and the Arab world and common foreign policy interests were repeatedly raised by the Government as something on which Saudi Arabia and the UK work together, such as the containment of Iran; resolution of the Syrian crisis; stabilizing Yemen; supporting Arab states in transition (Egypt, Libya and Tunisia); counter-proliferation; and the Middle East Peace Process.[177]


89.  However, some of our witnesses cautioned that Saudi Arabia has not always lived up to its potential as a positive influence in the region. Dr Neil Partrick was sceptical about Saudi Arabia's foreign policy capability, calling it a "greatly overstated player" whose diplomats did not engage in "actively politicking". He argued that Saudi Arabia had not been able to deliver on the Middle East Process, and would not "substantively engage" with Iraq either. He concluded:

Part of this is about judgment but it is also about capacity. They do not have a significant policy-making capacity, so even under a younger leadership there are still problems about willingness to advance policy and follow it up. […] We share a lot of broad aspirations - they are more conservative, certainly, on the Iran side - but it is very hard to look to Saudi Arabia as an active partner in dealing with some of those questions.[178]

Other witnesses disagreed with this analysis. Sir Tom Phillips told us that Saudi Arabia had some very capable people, including an extremely experienced Foreign Minister (Prince Saud bin Faisal has been in office since 1975). He acknowledged that it was harder to engage at the lower levels as the "real competence was at the top" and senior Saudi figures conducted work via mobile phones rather than through institutions. However, he told us that Saudi Arabia has pursued a noticeably more active foreign policy in recent years, pointing to its active role with regard to Syria, Bahrain and Yemen as indicating an increasingly prominent role in regional foreign policy. In a recent speech to British Parliamentarians, Prince Turki al Faisal, a former head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency and former Ambassador to the UK and US, highlighted strengthening allies, maintaining stability, and conflict resolution as three overall goals of Saudi foreign policy over the next decade.[179]

90.  In this context, we note Saudi Arabia's rejection on 18 October 2013 of a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This marked the first time that Saudi Arabia had applied to be elected as a member, and it was due to take up a seat in January 2014 for a two year term. The announcement by Saudi Arabia that it was to renounce the UNSC seat was swift and apparently unexpected; The Economist said that the decision followed months of diligent preparation for taking up the place, including the training of several Saudi diplomats in order to be ready to support Saudi Arabia's membership.[180] Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry provided a statement that criticised the Security Council for failing to bring peace to the Middle East, particularly with regard to Palestine and Syria:

Saudi Arabia [...] is refraining from taking membership of the U.N. Security Council until it has reformed so it can effectively and practically perform its duties and discharge its responsibilities in maintaining international security and peace.[181]

91.  Analysts have speculated on the reasons for this decision and suggestions include that it might be down to a sense of frustration with the United States at its perceived failure to act in Syria and fear about a potential rapproachment with Iran; a concern that taking the seat would mean publicly adopting positions on major international issues, which Saudi Arabia has traditionally avoided; a desire to take a more assertive position on Syria and Iran than would be compatible with membership; or internal power struggles in the Kingdom.[182] Sir Tom Philips, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, wrote that the decision sent the West a "strong, and public, message about their feeling of betrayal."[183]

92.  We were surprised and disappointed by Saudi Arabia's decision to reject a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. We believe that Saudi Arabia's concerns are best expressed from a position on the Council within the UN system. The Government should encourage its counterparts in Saudi Arabia to re-engage with the UN Security Council on these important regional issues.


93.  Saudi Arabia is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Arab League,[184] and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC),[185] as well as OPEC.[186] The Government drew our attention to Saudi Arabia's action in these regional organisations; Alistair Burt said that there was "plenty of evidence" of Saudi Arabia exerting its influence in the region, telling us: "Saudi is looked to by its neighbours; there is no doubt about that. In both the GCC and, particularly, in the Arab League, it is a key player." He said Saudi Arabia had been "fully engaged" in securing Arab League support for the international military campaign in Libya in 2011, and highlighted its leadership with regard to Syria:

King Abdullah saw to it that the OIC convened an extraordinary summit in August 2012 in Mecca, which saw the OIC decide to suspend Syria's membership of the OIC due to the actions of the Assad regime.[187]

Our witnesses agreed with the Government that Saudi Arabia played a valuable role in regional organisations, and several noted in particular its role in securing regional support for the 2011 Libyan intervention.[188] The OIC is hosted by Saudi Arabia, and Sir Alan told that that Saudi Arabia had "on various occasions called it together in order to mediate and moderate Islamic fervour in international affairs", citing Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Rushdie affair as examples of its use.[189] Neil Partrick also noted that Saudi Arabia played an important role as "a reasonable, pragmatic player within OPEC" and ensures that the oil market remains stable.[190]

94.  Saudi Arabia's role in the region was also notable with regard to the recent developments in Egypt. Saudi Arabia had publicly expressed concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood and disquiet about the departure of former President Mubarak. Following the departure of former President Morsi, Saudi Arabia reportedly extended an aid package of over £5 billion and made public statements in support of the army's actions.[191]

95.  More broadly, Sir Alan Munro described Saudi Arabia's value as a foreign policy partner as one of broadly encouraging moderation in the region, supplemented by "specific instances" where the UK and Saudi Arabia have shared interests.[192] However, the contradictory approach highlighted in the above section on counter-terrorism is also reflected across Saudi Arabia's foreign policy. Saudi Arabia has enormous religious influence and authority across the Muslim world. This was mentioned by the FCO and by most of our witnesses only in a positive sense but, as noted in the above section, we have also heard significant concern that while Saudi Arabia is inherently conservative and in favour of the status quo, its export of radical Wahhabi teaching may be in the long term destabilising to states in the broader region.

96.  Saudi Arabia is an important regional partner, which is taking an increasingly active international role. It shares many of the UK's goals in the region and it is important to work closely with Saudi Arabia on these shared outcomes. However, the government should be vigilant with regard to where Saudi Arabia's promotion of religious values may have a destabilising effect in the long-term, and must take steps with its international partners to discourage this policy, or to mitigate its effects.


Middle East Peace Process and the Arab Peace Initiative

97.  The Government has made the Middle East Peace Process a focus of its work this year. In January 2013, the Foreign Secretary expressed UK support for what he hoped would become "a major effort by the United States on the Middle East peace process—the greatest effort since the Oslo peace accords".[193] At his joint press conference with the new Secretary of State John Kerry on 25 February 2013, the Foreign Secretary stated that "There is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians […] my promise to Secretary Kerry today was that the United Kingdom will make every effort to mobilise the European Union and Arab states behind decisive moves for peace."[194]

98.  With its combination of regional leadership, religious authority and significant wealth, Saudi Arabia has been considered an important partner in the Middle East Peace Process. Saudi Arabia's role was enhanced by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by then-Crown Prince, King Abdullah to the Arab League, which set out bold proposals to normalise relations between Israel and the Arab region, in exchange for a withdrawal from the Occupied Territories (including East Jerusalem), recognition of an independent Palestinian state, and a "just settlement" for the refugees. The Arab League unanimously endorsed the proposal, and re-adopted it in 2007 at its Riyadh summit. Although Israel rejected the proposal, it received significant international praise and support, including by many heads of state, the Quartet on the Middle East (UN, US, EU, and Russia) in 2003, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).[195] The API continues to be the subject of discussion and a basis for this year's initiative by the US.[196]

Saudi Arabia and Yemen

99.  The Government highlighted the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the UK over Yemen as an example of working together on shared interests. The Government has made Yemen a priority in UK foreign policy for counter-terrorism and humanitarian reasons, while Yemen's location on Saudi Arabia's southern border makes it a major foreign policy concern for the Saudi government. After the Yemeni government lost control of large parts of the country in 2011 amid fears of imminent state collapse, Saudi Arabia played a primary role in arranging the GCC-brokered initiative and UN agreement under which the long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh eventually agreed to step down and allow for a transition. The UK, Saudi Arabia and Yemen now co-chair the Friends of Yemen initiative, which aims to keep Yemen on the international agenda and coordinate fundraising and stabilization efforts. Saudi Arabia hosted a Donor Conference in September 2012 at which representatives from GCC countries, the World Bank and others made pledges totalling $6.4 billion towards an agreed list of priorities and funding mechanisms.[197] The Government of Yemen stated in March 2013 that of the total $7.9 billion pledged in 2012, $2.7 billion had been approved and $1.8 billion disbursed.[198]

100.  Although there is a long way still to go in bringing stability to Yemen, this is a good example of UK-Saudi co-operation to try to bring stabilization and to promote development in a country that is key to Saudi Arabia's interests. As such, it could act as a model of high-profile and substantial British support for locally-led solutions to regional problems.

Saudi Arabia and Iran

101.  As with Yemen, the UK and Saudi Arabia share concerns about Iran, considering it to be a security threat to other states in the region, to energy security, and to nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East. For Saudi Arabia, Iran is a long-standing rival for regional influence and power, and a source of genuine concern. Sir Tom Phillips warned:

Iran is Saudi Arabia's No.1 foreign policy strategic threat, and they do feel threatened, and encircled indeed, by what they think Iran is trying to do.[199]

102.  Alistair Burt told us that the UK's interests were aligned with regard to Iran:

Saudi Arabia is acutely aware of the presence of Iran […] and of the risks that both it and we believe Iran poses to the region through its nuclear file and other ways in which it has sought to interfere with its neighbours. […] It is clearly in our strategic interest that Iran does not become nuclear -capable, thus leading to the risk of proliferation in the region. In all such areas our interests are aligned.[200]

However, witnesses suggested that the UK and Saudi Arabia's motivations for concern, and perception about the seriousness of the threat and required response, may not always be in alignment. While our witnesses agreed that UK and Saudi security interests were aligned with respect to containing Iran's nuclear ambitions and countering its sponsorship of "proxy militias throughout the region",[201] they pointed out that the UK did not share in other causes of Saudi Arabia's long-standing rivalry with Iran. Jane Kinninmont highlighted that "there are ethnic and sectarian components of the Saudi policy that are not shared by Britain."[202] Dr Eyal saw a difference "on the degrees" to which Iran was considered a problem:

For instance, we would not see Shia as being necessarily impossible to accommodate in the structure of the Middle East as it is now. We accept that Iran is a big country in the region and deserves and has to have its secure place. Indeed, all the discussion with Iran is predicated on that. I do not think that we see eye to eye with Saudi Arabia on that; I think that their belief is that the weaker Iran is, the better.[203]

103.  Witnesses told us that Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States, are worried about the UK's commitment to preventing Iran from becoming a possible nuclear weapons state."[204] However, it is not clear how far Saudi Arabia and the GCC wish Western states to act. Witnesses referred us to the remarks attributed to Saudi King Abdullah in US documents published by Wikileaks, calling for US airstrikes against Iran, and urging the US to 'cut the head off the snake'.[205] Dr Eyal agreed that for Saudi Arabia a nuclear Iran would be "an absolute red line", however, he added that the Saudis "do not want a convulsion, if they could avoid it."[206] In the light of this, we note that Saudi Arabia has been willing to make some conciliatory gestures; in 2012, the then-President of Iran Mahmood Ahmedinejad visited Mecca at the invitation of Saudi Arabia for an OIC meeting and was asked to sit beside King Abdullah in what was interpreted as a gesture of reconciliation.[207] Following the 2013 election of Dr Rouhani as President of Iran, there have been hopes of progress in UK-Iran relations and a meeting has been scheduled at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2013.

104.  The UK and Saudi Arabia share immediate and critical concerns with regard to Iran's nuclear programme and its interference in states in the region. It will be important for the Government to work closely with Saudi Arabia on engaging with Iran as a more constructive regional player. Saudi Arabia provides vital support for international action via sanctions. Saudi Arabia's broader rivalry with Iran on ethnic and religious lines is a cause for concern, but the Saudi leadership has shown itself willing to act as a pragmatic and useful foreign policy partner in containing the Iranian threat to regional and international security.

Saudi Arabia and Syria

105.  Saudi Arabia has taken an unusually strong line in response to the Syrian civil war. King Abdullah publicly condemned the Assad regime after sustained military action began in 2011, and Saudi Arabia has called repeatedly for a greater international response to the crisis. Sir Tom Phillips described Saudi Arabia's leaders as "genuinely morally affronted by what Assad was doing".

106.  The Government considered Syria a shared interest and concern of Saudi Arabia and the UK, and the shared desire for a united response, telling us:

The [Saudi] Foreign Minister has expressed a wish for the violence to come to an end, and for the peaceful political solution being proposed through the Geneva process to be followed as a matter of great importance.[208]

The Government also welcomed Saudi Arabia's continuing support for international efforts to respond to the Syria crisis, including its support for a united response by the UN Security Council and its role in both the "core group" and wider membership of the Friends of Syria. Since the Minister gave evidence, Saudi Arabia is also reported to have been the driving force behind renewed efforts in September 2013 to secure an Arab League endorsement of international action on Syria.[209]

107.  Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has been stridently critical of the international community's failure to take more action, and Saudi Arabia is widely believed to have begun arming opposition groups itself.[210] Saudi Arabia has not confirmed this, but Prince Saud bin Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, said that

Saudi Arabia will do everything within its capacity, and we do believe that what is happening in Syria is a slaughter, a slaughter of innocents [...] We can't bring ourselves to remain quiet. Morally we have a duty.[211]

The prospect of arming rebel groups has contributed to fears that Syria will become a proxy conflict between armed groups funded by external Sunni and Shia regional powers. Alistair Burt emphasised that Saudi Arabia had not officially confirmed that it was arming opposition groups, though "they have certainly provided support to those seeking reform, who are under pressure, as the United Kingdom has". Mr Burt rejected suggestions that sectarian and strategic rivalry with Iran was motivating Saudi Arabia in Syria:

Saudi Arabia is working for a peaceful solution, and I do not believe that its concerns about Iran, which many share, in any way get in the way of trying to find the right and peaceful answer to what is happening in Syria.[212]

Sir Tom Phillips told us that Saudi Arabia's leaders had learned lessons about the dangers of arming groups in Afghanistan, and that if they were arming opposition groups they had taken time to reach a decision on arming rebels so that they could find "people whom they could work with and who are not people who will turn into the Al Qaeda threat down the pike."[213] Most observers agree with this assessment, though they note that while Saudi Arabia is not arming Al Qaeda, it may be arming hardline Salafist groups.[214]

108.  Saudi Arabia has been a strong voice in the Gulf and Arab world in support of international action on Syria. The UK and Saudi Arabia share a deep concern about the conflict, a desire for a political solution, and the requirement for an international multilateral response.

109.  We note the reported supply of arms by Saudi Arabia to groups in Syria; the Government should set out in its response to this report its assessment of the situation and the actions it is taking to monitor any groups that are receiving funding and arms from Saudi Arabia, and its efforts to engage with the Saudi authorities regarding any concerns about those groups.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

110.  As Bahrain's nearest and largest neighbour and main source of financial support, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence in Bahrain and a close relationship with its Sunni royal family. Dr Eyal described how the stability of Bahrain's government is also important to Saudi Arabia's stability and security, principally because if Bahrain's government were to collapse: it would be the first monarchy to do so; it would be seen as a victory for Iran; and it would result in a Shia-dominated government "smack-bang on the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, which has its own problem with Shias", all of which would be "really thoroughly bad news for the Saudis."[215]

111.  As such, Saudi Arabia provided increased support to Bahrain's rulers during its crisis in 2011. Most controversially, at the height of the protests Saudi Arabia took part in the GCC-mandated intervention, deploying around 1,000 troops with armoured support to secure institutions. Since then, it has provided considerable financial support to the ruling family in Bahrain, pledging to contribute $10 billion to Bahrain's stabilization and economic development over the next ten years.[216]

112.   Saudi Arabia is widely thought to have provided backing and support to 'hardliners' in the Bahraini royal family in 2011, and Sir Roger Tomkys said "I believe that the Saudis have made it quite clear that they do not intend to let radical change take place."[217] Robin Lamb agreed that Saudi Arabia would be willing to make its displeasure known, citing an example from 2004 when Saudi Arabia had cut off some oil income to Bahrain as a penalty for signing a Free Trade Agreement with the US.[218] Nevertheless, Sir Tom Phillips suggested that it was open to the political process:

What I experienced from my own direct dialogue with the Saudis on Bahrain was that they acknowledged from the start that there had to be a political process there. It was not something that you could control from a purely security perspective. So they were encouraging that political dialogue. I think the problem they have got is that they don't quite see what the end result is of the dialogue. What is the confessional balance you get to that does not mean it is, in some sense, a Shia-dominated risk? There is a bottom line there; that Bahrain does not become what they would see as an Iranian client state.[219]

Prince Turki Al Faisal confirmed this in his speech to a meeting in the House of Commons, in which he said:

King Hamad has continued to call for negotiations. We in Saudi Arabia continue to support that call. But let us be clear. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will never accept that Iran take power in Bahrain. This is a fantasy, if anyone, including the West, believes that such an eventuality can happen on Saudi Arabia's watch.[220]

113.  The Government did not mention Bahrain as a shared interest for the UK and Saudi Arabia, though when asked, Mr Burt acknowledged the "special relationship" between the close neighbours and argued that the UK and Saudi Arabia shared a desire for the national dialogue in Bahrain to succeed,[221] "thereby ending the violence and ensuring greater inclusion and delivery of the BICI recommendations."[222] However, he acknowledged that this was subject to certain limits on the Saudi side, which the UK accepted:

Saudi Arabia does not want to see a change in the monarchy in Bahrain and has made that plain. It believes that the governance of Bahrain is more secure under that umbrella. Anything else is for Bahrainis to decide. That is the United Kingdom's position. However, we do not see a reason to challenge the assumption made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[223]

114.  Robert Lacey was more provocative in his assessment of our shared interests, arguing that that the worldwide condemnation of Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain was "understandable, but hypocritical", adding:

The majority of the inhabitants of Bahrain are Shia Muslims whose loyalties - social, religious and political - look beyond Bahrain to Iran and Iraq, Iran's massive new US- and UK- liberated Shia ally. There is not a single western country, including Britain, which would welcome a pro-Iranian Shia government dominating Bahrain and its crucial US naval base. So, inasmuch as Saudi Arabia is helping to suppress the undoubted political rights of the undoubted Shia majority of Bahrainis, it is doing our dirty work.[224]

115.  Given the UK's close relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Government should engage with Saudi Arabia on the UK's efforts to promote the reform process in Bahrain and an inclusive and substantive National Dialogue.

Reform and human rights in Saudi Arabia: current situation


116.  Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Saud family, with no legislature or political parties. Robert Lacey described it as "a family creation, a family fiefdom and a family business".[225] At 161 out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2011, Saudi Arabia was ranked equal to Burma and even lower than Iran.[226] Constitutionally, the King rules in accordance with the Shari'a, the sacred law of Islam. He appoints and leads a Council of Ministers, which serves as the instrument of royal authority in both legislative and executive matters. A wider Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) was established in 1993 and acts somewhat like a parliament, reviewing laws and forming committees. However, the Council is entirely consultative, with members appointed by the King, and has no legislative or scrutiny power. Unlike Bahrain, for example, Saudi Arabia does not have any established political opposition because political parties are banned and anyone expressing public dissent risks punishment. Aside from occasional protests in the Eastern region, there appears to be no organised widespread political movement against the Saudi leadership.

117.  The FCO said that political participation in Saudi Arabia is limited, but noted that the King had appointed women to the Shura Council for the first time in 2013, and issued a decree allowing women to vote in the next municipal elections in 2015, which it considered a "significant development".[227] These municipal-level elections in Saudi towns and cities result in boards with little real power, but as the only official positions that are elected they have symbolic significance.


118.  Saudi Arabia has a very poor human rights record. Our witnesses and submissions drew our attention to many and serious human rights concerns, including the use of corporal punishment; capital punishment; torture; the absence of the rule of law; severe restrictions on women's rights, freedom of expression and assembly; and restrictions on the rights of minorities and migrant workers; as well as abuses related to Saudi Arabia's work in counter-terrorism and security operations in its Eastern Province. In addition, they noted that it is virtually impossible to register a human rights organization, and that activists have been prosecuted and imprisoned.[228] The FCO said many of its human rights concerns centred on punishments prescribed by Islamic Sharia law, and identified a number of main concerns regarding human rights in Saudi Arabia. These include the death penalty, women's rights and torture, as well as freedom of expression and assembly, religious freedom and the judicial system.[229]

Is Saudi Arabia reforming?

119.  Our witnesses were in agreement that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remained problematic. However, there was far less consensus as to their assessments of the progress so far, and whether Saudi Arabia was going in the right direction. Several of our witnesses gave a quite positive assessment of the situation, arguing that Saudi authorities are cautiously proceeding with reforms while dealing with a deeply religious and conservative society.[230] The FCO's submission states that "There are indications that the Saudi Government is slowly encouraging Saudi society to open up."[231] Witnesses, particularly the former diplomats, endorsed this position, and some went much further in their praise for the reforms so far: Sir Tom Phillips considered that King Abdullah "will go down in Saudi history as one of the great reforming kings."[232] Sir Alan Munro told us that "we are now seeing the regime, frankly, pushing at the doors of change with a force that I have not seen before."[233]

120.  Women's rights in particular were highlighted as an area in which the King was pressing for reform in the face of a more conservative society. Saudi Arabia was ranked at 127 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index in 2013 (a small rise from 131st of 135 in 2012), [234] and women's rights in Saudi Arabia are a focus of particular international concern, particularly with regard to the 'Guardianship' system, which treats women as minors and girls and women of all ages are forbidden from travelling, studying, or working without permission from their male guardians. Nevertheless, we were told by witnesses that the King had put women's rights at the top of the agenda, [235] and positive steps included the appointment in February 2013 of 30 women to the Shura Council, Saudi Arabia's consultative assembly; the announcement that women will be able to take part as voters and candidates in 2015's municipal election; the provision of ID cards, enabling women to hold bank accounts and open businesses; and the widening of the scope of jobs deemed suitable for women. Women now make up 60% of university graduates in Saudi Arabia, and women have taken high-profile roles in Saudi society, including as a higher education minister, and roles on the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Jeddah Economic Forum.[236]

121.  During our visit in March 2013 we observed a marked difference in women's rights in comparison to previous experiences in the Kingdom. Reporting on its visit to Saudi Arabia in 2006, our predecessor committee wrote:

We were particularly struck by the complete segregation of society, with Saudi women excluded from meetings. This was particularly evident at one meeting, then our female interlocutors observed us via a video link and were unable to participate themselves.[237]

By contrast, women took part in the majority of the meetings we held in Saudi Arabia. We observed female members of the Shura Council taking an active part in a debate in the Council chambers, and women members of the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Committees took an active part in our meetings with those committees. Of course, even with such changes the position of women in Saudi society is subject to enormous constraint and it was hard for us to judge how far the changes at the top of society have 'trickled down' to women at other levels of Saudi society. However, it appeared undeniable that there was much more acceptance of women taking a public role and space for women's rights to gradually improve in Saudi Arabia than there had been only seven years earlier. We were struck by the extent to which the women we spoke to felt that progress was being made. Since our visit, there have been further positive developments, including the Saudi cabinet passing a ban on domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women, making domestic violence a punishable crime for the first time.[238]

122.  Several of these witnesses considered that the extent to which Saudi Arabia has enacted reforms is not well-understood in the West, which tends to focus on the continuing problems and does not fully consider the "deeply conservative" context in which the Government is working. Sir Alan Munro described Saudi Arabia as a "diarchy" in which the monarchy must work with a powerful religious establishment, and told the Committee that over the last 20 years

Political reform, as being orchestrated under an ailing—long may he reign, as I see it—King Abdullah, has moved to a pitch that has never been seen before. But at every stage, given this deeply entrenched religious conservatism in that society, they have got to move at the pace that will carry the clerical establishment and the conservative constituency with it. That is a constant preoccupation. […] Within those constraints, [...]That is a welcome thing, but there are constraints.[239]

Robert Lacey told us that "The House of Saud has a generally retrograde image in Western media. Seen from the inside of a deeply conservative society, however, they often seem the very opposite - pioneering such innovations as women's education, the telephone, radio and television, the internet and social media in the face of fierce and sometimes violent fundamentalist opposition."

123.  In addition to praise for attempts to enact top-down reforms, witnesses also drew attention to longer-term trends in Saudi Arabia that they considered had set the conditions for future reform. These included the speedy rise in internet use and social media, which BBC journalist Frank Gardner has described as providing "a healthy explosion of free discussion, criticism and satire on the internet". Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing Twitter market in the world,[240] and Saudi Twitter users recorded 3,000% growth from 2011 to 2012, which is much higher than the global average.[241] Other witnesses pointed to the huge increase in educated youth: Saudi Arabia has spent enormous resources on education in the last two decades and 160,000 Saudis study abroad on King Abdullah scholarships each year, which has been regarded as a sign of inevitable change to come.[242]

124.  In contrast, NGOs and others were much more critical, describing a decidedly more "mixed picture" with regard to improvements in human rights and reform, drawing attention to Saudi Arabia's "unflinching repression" [243] in its Eastern Province where 14 people died in protests in 2011-12. David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch cautioned that while there had been "modest improvements" to women's rights, they should be recognised as starting from a very low base and the guardianship system remains in place "in all its essentials". [244] Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, highlighted instances which revealed more negative trends, such as an increased crackdown on activists and human rights defenders in recent months.[245]

125.  Despite some recent improvements, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains very poor. The absence of civil and political rights and the use of extreme punishments with inadequate judicial safeguards remain of deep concern, as do the rights of women and minorities. We recognise and welcome the significant steps that have been taken toward improved rights and freedoms, particularly with regard to women's rights, but this has started from a very low base.

How effectively is the UK supporting reform and human rights in Saudi Arabia?


126.  The then Minister with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, told us that the UK has "a frank and robust relationship with Saudi Arabia in terms of human rights".[246] The FCO's Human Rights and Democracy Report for 2011 explains the UK's strategy of engagement:

Our strategy remains to work with Saudi society, advocating reform within the existing constitutional framework, to build support for full application of human rights standards. In 2011, this involved organising visits and meetings with key Saudi Arabian interlocutors to deepen mutual understanding on human rights issues. The Foreign Secretary, Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, and our Ambassador engaged in dialogue with Saudi Arabian ministers, officials and human rights organisations to raise our concerns and understand Saudi perceptions of the issues and the pace of change.[247]

127.  The Government states that it raises human rights issues in public and in private with Saudi leaders and officials.[248] In public, Saudi Arabia has been a long-standing feature of the list of "countries of concern" in the FCO's human rights reports, and the FCO issues quarterly updates that monitor the human rights situation.[249] In addition, the UK makes public statements on human rights issues, and FCO ministers have issued five press releases concerning human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in 2013.[250] The Government also claims that it holds conversations about human rights when it meets officials and ministers in private. For example, the Deputy Head of Mission at the UK's Embassy in Riyadh discussed with the Deputy Chairman of the Saudi Human Rights Commission the section on Saudi Arabia in the FCO's Annual Human Rights Report 2012, and the head of the FCO's Human Rights and Democracy Department, Louise de Sousa, visited Saudi Arabia for discussions in May 2013.[251] Alistair Burt said that he and the Foreign Secretary had both discussed human rights and reform in their meetings with Saudi counterparts.[252]

128.  In its 2012 Human Rights Report, the FCO highlighted its efforts to cooperate on judicial reform and in April 2013 the Government said its officials were negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding in the Justice Sector, and that the UK was pressing to include a provision on the implementation of international obligations, particularly the human rights conventions. This would require pressing Saudi Arabia to ratify the CAT Optional Protocol, thus establishing a national preventive mechanism.[253] As of November 2013, the UK and Saudi Arabia are yet to sign this Memorandum of Understanding.[254]

129.  Our witnesses had mixed views of the Government's strategy. NGOs and human rights activists generally believed that the Government under-reported the level of human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia, and did not do enough to put pressure on its leadership for reform.[255]

130.  The Government's application of public and private pressure garnered considerable comment. While all witnesses broadly agreed that a combination of public and private pressure was required, there were a variety of different responses to the Government's assertion that it used both. At the most negative end of the scale, a number of witnesses were sceptical about how far the UK really does raise human rights and reform issues in private. Chris Doyle said:

I have spoken to diplomats and former diplomats, and I do not think that they would necessarily share the belief that, when it really comes down to, say, a British Prime Minister meeting with one of these major rulers, there are no no-go areas; I simply do not believe that that is true.[256]

Human Rights Watch said the Government "appears very reluctant to press the Saudi authorities on human rights issues and it rarely makes public statements of concern".[257] David Mepham argued that it seemed "a little too convenient that, where it might be embarrassing for them to press issues more publicly, they always prioritise and give more emphasis to the private route. Both are required to effect change."[258] He also argued that public criticism had the added benefit of "talking to the people of that country, so that when there are movements for change or people pressing for reform, you are saying, 'We show support and sympathy for your position.'"[259] Caroline Montagu agreed that public pressure could be useful, even going so far as to suggest that it would help the Saudi King: "The reform is top down, so he needs support.[..] I think that would definitely be welcomed by people such as King Abdullah, his daughter Princess Adilah and the many reforming members of the Al Saud family".[260]

131.  However, several witnesses, particularly former diplomats, supported the Government's argument that private pressure could be more productive. Robin Lamb told us that public criticism "goes down like a lead balloon",[261] and Sir Alan Munro argued that it could be counter-productive, warning of a "backlash factor" whereby British support for human rights issues makes the role of Saudi reformers more difficult.[262] Sir Tom Phillips agreed, arguing that:

the Saudi Government are making important steps forward. Yes, of course, from the point of view of our society we would like it to be more, faster and so on, but I believe it is a system that is trying to move in the right direction and that we get more traction by working with it and encouraging it, rather than banging from the outside.[263]

He told us that as an ambassador he had seen British ministers raise human rights issues with Saudi ministers, and he had done the same.[264] His preference was "absolutely" in favour of private pressure, stating "That is part of this engagement strategy. We are working with a friend and an ally."[265]

132.  Witnesses suggested several more measures that the UK should use to apply further pressure and support reforms. These included attending and monitoring trials and raising named individual cases in conversations with Saudi Ministers;[266] co-operation on institutional reform,[267] including reform of the judicial process as well as offering British expertise on Shari'a law developed by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal in the UK;[268] and encouraging the potential for Saudi Arabia's Shura Council to become a more empowered, perhaps even partly elected body. [269]

133.  Although we recognise and are concerned about the poor human rights record in Saudi Arabia, we are unconvinced that constant and severe public criticism by the UK Government would result in anything other than disengagement by the Saudi side. This would achieve none of the UK's goals and could result in a worsening situation in Saudi Arabia. However, it is important that the UK maintains credibility at home and abroad with regard to its human rights work.

134.  Democratic governments such as the UK face a challenge in trying to reconcile their liberal constituencies at home with the need to maintain relationships with undemocratic and conservative regimes that are important to our interests on a regional and global level. We understand that to encourage a Government such as that of Saudi Arabia toward reform, a combination of private and public pressure is required. By their very nature, private conversations are difficult to explain publicly. However, we are particularly concerned that some witnesses not only disagreed with UK policy but appeared to disbelieve the Government's account of its private conversations with Saudi Arabia on reform. The Government appears to have a credibility problem and must do more to explain its policies and consider where it can point to specific progress as a result of its human rights work. We recommend that the Government consider what confidence-building measures it could put in place, such as supporting access to Saudi Arabia for NGOs and journalists, and conduct a review of what information it is able to make available either to NGOs or in the public domain.

135.  The UK is well-placed to provide legal and judicial reform assistance and we recommend that the government make this constructive contribution a focus of its human rights work with Saudi Arabia. Despite the considerable challenges, promising steps appear to have been taken toward providing constructive assistance but these must be converted into solid and reportable programmes. The UK should also encourage the development of Saudi Arabia's consultative systems, and we particularly welcome initiatives such as parliamentary exchanges in this regard.

136.  At the multilateral level, the UK participates in the United Nations Human Rights Council, which conducts a peer-review examination of each country on a rolling four-yearly basis, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Saudi Arabia's UPR debate took place on 21 October 2013. In Saudi Arabia's last UPR in 2009, the UK recommended that Saudi Arabia guarantee the right to form civil-society organizations; abolish the guardianship system; and amend the Code of Criminal Practice to stipulate that only individuals aged over 18 will be tried as adults. In its 2012 Human Rights report, the FCO states that it is "committed to the success of the Universal Periodic Review process", but in June 2013 the Government told us that it had not yet determined its priorities for its recommendations in 2013. This was surprising, as we understand that the FCO usually prepares for UPRs some months in advance. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both made submissions to the UPR that were highly critical of Saudi Arabia's record, expressing disappointment that Saudi Arabia appears to have implemented none of the central recommendations made to it in its previous UPR in 2009.[270]

137.  At the UPR in October 2013, the UK Government raised written questions relating to freedom of expression; the establishment and operation of genuinely independent human rights organisations; measures to prevent individuals under the age of 18 years from facing the death penalty and those under 16 years from marrying; torture allegations and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT); and freedom to choose a religion.[271] In a statement, the Government said that it supports efforts made by the Saudi government to improve its human rights record, but is disappointed that Saudi Arabia has not fulfilled all the recommendations accepted under the last Universal Periodic Review. The UK made the following two recommendations:

1) First, that the Saudi government allows women to participate fully and equally in society by abolishing the guardianship system, appointing more women to positions of authority, and increasing freedom of movement;

2) Second, that the Saudi government codifies its criminal law to bring it into line with international law and standards, and ensures it is applied effectively by an independent and impartial judiciary. Saudi Arabia's justice system remains a concern; for example, prolonged pre-trial detention periods and the improper treatment of detainees. On women's rights, the UK remains concerned at the severe restrictions.[272]

138.  The UN provides an important forum for constructive discussion of Saudi Arabia's progress and continuing challenges. Saudi Arabia's Universal Periodic Review is an opportunity for the UK to make clear its concerns about and support for progress on reform and human rights in Saudi Arabia. Following Saudi Arabia's Universal Periodic Review in October, the government should encourage Saudi Arabia to engage constructively with the United Nations.

45   Q 87 Back

46   Also known as the Yom Kippur War Back

47   Q 87 Back

48   Ev 133-138 Back

49   "Foreign Secretary visits Saudi Arabia", FCO press release, 5 July 2011 Back

50   Q 206 Back

51   See, for example, speech by Foreign Secretary William Hague, 'Britain's values in a networked world', 15 September 2010 Back

52   An annual ministerial-level dialogue that ran between 2005 and 2011 (with some interruptions) Back

53   "Foreign Secretary visits Saudi Arabia", FCO press release, 5 July 2011 Back

54   Q 209 Back

55   UK-UAE Taskforce (est 2010); UK-Oman Joint Working Group (est. 2011); UK-Kuwait Joint Steering Group (est. 2012); and UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group (est. 2012) Back

56   Q 398 Back

57   Q 209 Back

58   Q 126 Back

59   "UK and Saudi Arabia drive forward bilateral trade", FCO press release, 24 June 2010  Back

60   Q 88 Back

61   Net level of trust calculated as : (strongly trust + tend to trust) - (strongly distrust + tend to distrust) Back

62   British Council, 'Trust Pays: How international cultural relationships build trust in the UK and underpin the success of the UK economy', 2012 Back

63   'Arab Youth Survey 2012', ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller, p.23. Percentages are based on the number of respondents who describe themselves as "very favourable" toward those  Back

64   'Arab Youth Survey 2012', ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller, p.4.  Back

65   'Hard Choices Ahead', Chatham House - YouGov Survey 2012, British attitudes toward the UK's international priorities, July 2012 Back

66   "Saudi Arabia's Image Falters among Middle East Neighbors", Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes Project, 17 October 2013 Back

67   Ev 106 Back

68   BBC Trust, A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC?s coverage of the events known as the "Arab Spring",, June 2012, p.57-58 Back

69   Ibid. Back

70   Q 236 Back

71   "British Embassy Riyadh's Photo Competition", FCO Press Release, 22 August 2013 Back

72   See, for example Sixth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2010-11, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849, Vol I Back

73   BBC Media centre, 'Record audiences for BBC's Arabic Services', 5 December 2011  Back

74   BBC World Service, Annual Review 2012/13, p.54 Back

75   Ev w121 Back

76   Ev w122 Back

77   Ev w123 Back

78   British Council, Trust Pays: How international cultural relationships build trust in the UK and underpin the success of the UK economy, 2012 Back

79   Q 2 Back

80   Q 96 Back

81   IMF Country Report No. 13/229, 'Saudi Arabia, 2013 Article IV Consultation', July 2013. The 'BRICS' countries are Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa; five states identified as large emerging markets. Back

82   IMF Country Report No. 13/230, 'Saudi Arabia: Selected Issues', July 2013 Back

83   "Saudis maintain high spending strategy", Financial Times, 2 Jan 2013 Back

84   Q 6 and Q 7 Back

85   'The haves and the have-nots', The Economist, 13 July 2013 Back

86   Deloitte Report, Major construction opportunities valued at US$ 500 billion in GCC, May 2012. See also: Keynote speech by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, 'Opportunity Arabia 8 Conference', London, 22 September 2011  Back

87   Q 115 Back

88   Q 115 and Q 124 Back

89   Ev 135 and UKTI, Doing Business in Saudi Arabia, 2012.  Back

90   Ev 135 Back

91   UKTI, Doing Business in Saudi Arabia, 2012. Back

92   "Prime Minister visits Saudi Arabia", Prime Minister's Office press release, 13 January 2012  Back

93   'Saudi Arabia', UKTI website, accessed November 2013,  Back

94   Ev 136 Back

95   Q 125 and Q 133 Back

96   Q 400 Back

97   Middle East Association, 'Opportunity Arabia 10' conference information for event on 4 October 2013. Accessed online November 2013,  Back

98   Q 120  Back

99   The Rt Hon Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean was also previously FCO Minister of State for the Middle East (2003-05) and Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (2001-03). Quotation from keynote speech by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, 'Opportunity Arabia 8 Conference', London, 22 September 2011  Back

100   'Saudi Arabia awards $22.5bn metro contracts', Financial Times, 29 July 2013 Back

101   "Massive boost to British industry in biggest ever petrochemical project", UKTI press release, 24 Jun 2013.  Back

102   Q 134. Mr Lloyd specifically did not mention the post in Al Khobar by name. Back

103   Q 145 Back

104   Q 401 Back

105   IbidBack

106   Ev 106 Back

107   Ibid. Back

108   Ev w121 Back

109   Q 154 and Q 155 Back

110   "Government continues to promote arms to Saudi Arabia as human rights deteriorate", Campaign Against Arms Trade press release, 21 May 2013 Back

111   The CAEC's annual report provides detailed lists of all the equipment licenced under these provisions. See: Committees on Arms Export Controls, First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills, Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees of Session 2013-14, Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Control (2013): Scrutiny of the Government's UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2011 published in July 2012, the Government's Quarterly Reports from October 2011 to September 2012, and the Government's policies on arms exports and international arms control issues, HC 205, 1 July 2013 Back

112   HC Deb, 27 June 2007, col 796W Back

113   Q 180 Back

114   "Revival of UK Saudi Defense Pact boosts sales", Aviation International News (AIN) online, 25 May 2012 Back

115   HC Deb, 13 December 2012, col 154WH and also oral evidence taken before the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence on 8 July 2013, HL (2013) Q43 [Lt General Simon Mayall CB] Back

116   HC Deb, 2 September 2013, col 15 Back

117   'David Cameron defends 'legitimate' arms deals during Gulf states tour', The Telegraph, 5 November 2012 Back

118   Ev 135 Back

119   Q 179 Back

120   See, for example, Q 175 and Q 214  Back

121   Ev 61 Back

122   Q 258 and Ev 115 Back

123   See, for example, Ev 135 and HC Deb, 13 December 2012, col 157WH Back

124   'Joint defence partnership between UK and the UAE announced', BBC News online, 6 November 2012 Back

125   'David Cameron arrives in Gulf on arms trade trip', Guardian, 5 November 2012 Back

126   Committees on Arms Export Controls, First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills, Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees of Session 2013-14 - Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Control (2013), Vol. II: Memorandum from the Chair of the Committees, para 430 Back

127   Government Response to Committees on Arms Export Controls, First Joint Report of Session 2012-13, Scrutiny of Arms Exports (2012): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2010, Quarterly Reports for July to December 2010 and January to September 2011, the Government's Review of arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa, and wider arms control issues, Cm 8441, page 33 Back

128   IbidBack

129   Q 215 Back

130   Q 173 Back

131   HC Deb, 15 May 2013, col 204W  Back

132   Q 183 Back

133   Q 11 Back

134   Transparency International, Corruption perceptions index 2012, Back

135   IbidBack

136   Q 68 Back

137   Ibid.  Back

138   Q 177 Back

139   Q 177 and Q182  Back

140   Q 179 Back

141   Q 171 Back

142   Q 171 and Q 177 Back

143   Ev 135 Back

144   Figures are as at April 2012,HC Deb 19 Dec 2012, Col 837W Back

145   According to government figures. The Campaign Against Arms Trade has published a more detailed recent breakdown obtained by email from MODSAP on 10 July 2013: According to this, as at l April 2013, there were 69 civilians and 44 military personnel based in the UK, and 31 civilians and 46 military personnel based in Saudi Arabia. Back

146   "Royal Navy Sailors share 500 years of seafaring knowledge with Saudi partners", Ministry of Defence press release, 28 February 2013  Back

147   The UK has 20 naval, 40 army and 30 air force personnel stationed in Oman. See HC Deb, 19 Dec 2012, Col 834W Back

148   HC Deb, 19 Dec 2012, Col 834W Back

149   HC Deb, 27 June 2007, Col 796W Back

150   HC Deb, 25 October 2012, col 983W Back

151   Q 361 Back

152   Q 206 Back

153   Ev w61 Back

154   Q 363 Back

155   Q 451 Back

156   Q 452 Back

157   Speech by Foreign Secretary William Hague, 'Countering terrorism overseas', 14 February 2013, at the Royal United Services Institute.  Back

158   Ev 134 Back

159   See, for example, the Statement by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency David H. Petraeus to Congress on 'The Terrorist Threat Ten Years After 9/11', 13 September 2011 Back

160   'Brennan nomination exposes criticism on targeted killings and secret Saudi base', Washington Post, 5 February 2013 Back

161   Ev 135 Back

162   Q 10, and see also Ev w88-91 [C.R.G. Murray] Back

163   Q 184 Back

164   IbidBack

165   Q 73 Back

166   Q 186. See also the Statement by Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Finance, 1 April 2008 Back

167   Saudi Arabia is 'biggest funder of terrorists', The Independent, 6 December 2010. See also 'US embassy cables: Hillary Clinton says Saudi Arabia 'a critical source of terrorist funding'', The Guardian, 5 December 2010 Back

168   Q 184-186 Back

169   HC Deb, 3 September 2013, col 322W Back

170   Ev w82 - 88 [Redress], Ev 114-119 [Amnesty International],Ev 111-14 [Human Rights Watch] Back

171   Ev 116 Back

172   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, April 2013, p211 Back

173   Q 403 Back

174   Ev 135 Back

175   Ev 141 Back

176   Ev 135-136 Back

177   Q 369 and Ev 133 Back

178   Q 30 Back

179   Speech by HRH Prince Turki al Faisal for the Henry Jackson Society at the House of Commons, 'A Saudi Perspective on a Changing Middle East', 12 September 2013.  Back

180   'Pique your partners', The Economist, 26 October 2013 Back

181   'Saudis reject Security Council seat, angry over Mideast inaction', Reuters, 18 October 2013,  Back

182   See, for example, 'Saudi Arabia and the UN: Why the snub?', The Economist, 21 October 2013 Back

183   'What's got into the Saudis?', Tom Phillips for CNN, 19 October 2013 Back

184   The Arab League, or League of Arab States, is an association of 22 Arabic-speaking countries (including Palestine, which it considers independent). Foreign Ministers usually meet twice a year to strengthen ties and coordinate policies.  Back

185   Formally the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the OIC was established to strengthen the solidarity and cooperation among its 57 Member States. Its secretariat is based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Back

186   The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental organisation of 12 states. Its objective is to co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices. Back

187   Q 426 Back

188   Q 248 and Q 426 Back

189   Q 102 Back

190   Q 2  Back

191   'Why Saudi Arabia is taking a risk by backing the Egyptian coup', The Guardian, 20 August 2013  Back

192   Q 102 Back

193   HC Deb, 22 January 2013, col 156 Back

194   'Foreign Secretary and US Secretary of State press conference', FCO news story, 25 February 2013.  Back

195   The OIC endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative at its summit in Beirut, Lebanon in March 2002 Back

196   'Netanyahu signals readiness to consider 2002 Arab peace plan' Reuters, 5 June 2013 Back

197   'Donors pledge $6.4bn in aid to Yemen', Financial Times, 4 September 2012 Back

198   HC Deb, 20 May 2013, col 518W Back

199   Q 253 Back

200   Q 427 Back

201   Q 187 Back

202   Q 30 Back

203   Q 187 Back

204   Q 30  Back

205   Q 253 Back

206   Q 189 Back

207   'Saudi king sits next to Iran's Ahmadinejad in goodwill gesture', Reuters, 14 August 2012  Back

208   Q 433 Back

209   See, for example, 'Arab League Endorses International Action', The New York Times, 1 September 2013  Back

210   See, for example, 'Saudi Arabia in secret deals to arm Syrian opposition', The Times, 27 February 2012; and ''Saudi weapons' seen at Syria rebel base', BBC News online, 8 October 2012  Back

211   'US and Saudi send warnings to Iran and Syria', Al Jazeera, 4 March 2013.  Back

212   Q 433 Back

213   Q 252 Back

214   See, for example, 'Syria's Secular and Islamist Rebels: Who Are the Saudis and the Qataris Arming?', Time Magazine, 18 September 2012; and 'Insight: Saudi Arabia boosts Salafist rivals to al Qaeda in Syria', Reuters, 1 October 2013 Back

215   Q 191 Back

216   "GCC Provides $20 billion in Support for Bahrain and Oman", Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC press release, 10 March 2011.  Back

217   Q 46, see also Jane Kinninmont: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse, Chatham House, June 2012 Back

218   Q 46 Back

219   Q 242 Back

220   Speech by HRH Prince Turki al Faisal for the Henry Jackson Society at the House of Commons, 'A Saudi Perspective on a Changing Middle East', 12 September 2013 Back

221   A new round of national dialogue talks began in Bahrain in February 2013 between representatives from 'loyalist' national societies, members of the parliament, opposition political societies, and three government ministers.  Back

222   Q 427. "BICI" refers to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Back

223   Q 427 Back

224   Ev 120 Back

225   Ev 115 Back

226   See Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2011. The EIU's Democracy Index 2012placed Saudi Arabia at 163 of 167 (which was ranked 158th) Back

227   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, April 2013, p210 Back

228   Ev 111-114 [Human Rights Watch], Ev 114-119 [Amnesty International], Ev 130-133 [Caroline Montagu], Ev w82-88 [Redress], Ev w6-7, Ev w75-77 [Index on Censorship] Back

229   Ev 136 and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, April 2013, pp 209-213  Back

230   See, for example, Q 96-98, Q 219, Ev 131 Back

231   Ev 136 Back

232   Q 207 Back

233   Q 99. See also Ev 130-133 and Ev w115-120 Back

234   World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2013,  Back

235   Q 99 Back

236   Ev 130 Back

237   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism, HC 573, para 132 Back

238   'Saudi Arabia cabinet passes ban on domestic violence', The Independent, 29 August 2013 Back

239   Q 99 Back

240   'Twitter usage is booming in Saudi Arabia', Global Web Index blog,  Back

241   'Through the Eyes of Twentysomethings-Murphy', book review, Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS).  Back

242   Ev w121-124, Q 206 and Q 219 Back

243   Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012, January 2012,  Back

244   Q 256 Back

245   Ibid.  Back

246   Q 410 Back

247   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, April 2012 Back

248   See, for example, Q 409 and HC Deb, 22 March 2013, col 874W Back

249   Latest update available September 2013, Back

250   Deduced from FCO website archive Back

251   HC Deb, 27 June 2013, col 380W Back

252   Q410 and HC Deb, 15 May 2013, c244W Back

253   HC Deb, 22 April 2013, Col 641W Back

254   See Appendix 1 for a list of extant MOUs and treaties, provided by the FCO. Back

255   Q 257, Q 278, Ev w82, Ev w77 Back

256   Q 76. See also Ev w7 Back

257   Ev 111 Back

258   Q 266 Back

259   IbidBack

260   Q 334 Back

261   Q 38 Back

262   Q 100 Back

263   Q 219 Back

264   Q 224 Back

265   Q 229. See also Ev w22-23 [Sir Harold Walker] Back

266   Q 262 Back

267   Q 337 Back

268   Q 329 Back

269   Q 16 Back

270   Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia: Unfulfilled Promises, Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, October-November 2013, p.3; Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia: UPR Submission September 2013, 30 September 2013,  Back

271   For a full list of the eight questions raised in advance by the UK, see United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 'Universal Periodic Review - Saudi Arabia' web page, "Additional advance questions to Saudi Arabia". The UK was one of nine states to raise written questions in advance. Back

272   "Seventeenth Session of Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group, Geneva, 21 October to 1 November 2013", FCO press release, 22 October 2013 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 22 November 2013