Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from Bharat Jashanmal

The Author

I am a Bahraini national who has business interests in Bahrain (and the wider GCC) and the UK. My family business (The Jashanmal Group), in which I am now a passive stakeholder, has business interests throughout the Gulf States, however, it is important to point out that it established a presence in Bahrain as far back as 1931. Subsequent to my departure from the family business in an operational capacity in 2004, I established an “advisory business” that focuses on identifying cross-border investment opportunities for its clients (both individual and institutional) that are based in Bahrain, the other Gulf States, the UK and India.

Summary of Evidence

This paper will address the SEVEN points on the FCO’s foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in the broader context of relations between the UK and the Gulf States. Given that the author has spent over forty years in Bahrain, this paper will principally address these points with particular reference to relations between the UK and Bahrain.


(i) The UK’s foreign policy priorities in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and how effectively the Government balances the UK’s interests in defence, commerce, energy security, counter-terrorism, and human rights:

On the assumption that the single most important priority of UK foreign policy in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (and the other Gulf States) is to ensure that regional stability continues to be maintained given how important the region is to the interests of the UK in the areas outlined above, it is clear that the UK Government and the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain need to continue to work together in ensuring that this stability is maintained. It is also clear that the UK Government’s priorities, given the socio-political developments that have taken place in the UK, may have resulted in a change of emphasis that may be placed from time-to-time on the UK’s foreign policy priorities. The Governments of Saudi Arabia, and that of Bahrain in particular, are more than aware of this “change of emphasis”, and will therefore work with the UK to address the evolution taking place, as witnessed by the recent public statements and actions by and of the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

(ii) The extent to which the FCO’s Gulf Initiative has met its objectives of improving relations with the Gulf States more generally and establishing the UK as a “key strategic partner” in the region as a whole:

Given the history of close relations that have existed between the UK and Bahrain and the Gulf States in particular (possibly less so with Saudi Arabia), the Government of the UK is better placed (possibly more so than some of the regions’ other “friends and allies”) to understand the pace and manner in which the Governments of the region are reacting and will continue to react to the macro social and political changes that have taken place, and will continue to take place in the region at large. This understanding by the FCO will play an important role in ensuring that the UK remains a key strategic partner in the region.

(iii) Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as foreign policy partners for the UK, particularly with regard to Iran and Syria and as members of international and regional organisations:

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (Bahrain in particular), have always been supportive foreign policy partners for the UK, with significant differences only in the area of a how a comprehensive Middle East peace treaty might be achieved. As far as Syria and Iran are concerned, there is no doubt that the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain share the view of the UK Government that Iran poses a considerable threat to the stability of the region, even in the absence of any perceived threats that may occur as a result of Iran joining the “nuclear club”. Iran is also the only country in the region that continues to support the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. And whilst the UK has been more “aggressive” recently in its support for the opponents of the Al-Assad regime, it has in fact been the Governments of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (Qatar in particular) that have led the way in condemning the Al-Assad regime and openly supporting groups that oppose the regime.

In 1998, Bahrain was the first Gulf State to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. In fact, Bahrain, since it joined the UN, has always been an active member of the UN, and in June 2006, partly in recognition of its active role, HE Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, was elected President of the 61st session of the General Assembly of the UN. Bahrain is also an active member of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and was the first Gulf State to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the UN, the IMF and the World Bank and has “Observer Status” at the OAS (Organisation of American States). Saudi Arabia has thus far however, tended to play a much more active role in ensuring the security and stability in the region and promoting cooperative relations with the other oil-producing countries through its active role within OPEC where it has played a key role in stabilising oil prices through maintaining crude oil production at high levels.

Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are founding members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).

(iv) The implications of the “Arab Spring” for UK foreign policy in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain:

Whilst the UK, in concert with its allies in the West (the United States and France in particular) has actively supported the changes that have come about as a result of the “Arab Spring”, most notably in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and more recently in Syria, it has also recognised that the “Arab Spring” has had a fundamental and direct effect on how the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (and the Gulf States in general) are now perceived in the “West”, a perception that might exert some pressure on the UK Government to make adjustments to its foreign policy vis-à-vis the region on matters such as accelerating political and social reforms. It does appear however, that the UK Government has recognised, as pointed out in Section (ii), that there are fundamental differences between the culture of the political establishments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Gulf States, and that of the former regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria, and that changes are indeed already taking place in the Gulf States.

(v) How the UK can encourage democratic and liberalising reforms in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, including its power to effect improvements:

As there are fundamental and structural differences between the countries of North Africa and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Gulf States, there are also fundamental differences in the pace of “democratisation and liberalisation” within the Gulf States. Whilst Kuwait was the first of the Gulf States to have a parliament, the electoral base was however very narrowly based. It is in fact Bahrain that has moved forward fastest with the democratisation process; all citizens over the age of 21 (male and female) are eligible to vote to elect members to the Lower House, and women are eligible to stand for election. There is a degree of criticism, with some justification possibly, that the wholly appointed (by the King) Upper House has equal or more power than the lower house (given that Ministers are also appointed by the King). By the same token, there is also however no doubt that the Government of Bahrain is wholly committed to continuing the democratisation process in Bahrain, as witnessed by the continuing efforts by the Government to bring about positive and lasting change in the political and human rights situation in Bahrain by its adoption and support for 145 recommendations fully and 13 partially after reviewing the 176 recommendations made during the second Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The UK Government has undoubtedly played an important role in encouraging the Government of Bahrain to move forward with this democratisation process, and whilst there might be some debate as to the speed with which the process is moving forward, the UK Government (and indeed the Governments of the many other allies of Bahrain) will continue to assist Bahrain with the implementation of this democratisation process, which in turn will assist in ensuring the on-going stability of the region.

(vi) The long term trends and scenarios in the region for which the FCO should prepare, and the extent to which it is doing so:

The Governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the other Gulf States all understand that the evolutionary processes in the region as far as the political and social landscape is concerned, will inevitably move far quicker over the next five years for example, compared to the speed with which this process has moved say as recently as two years ago. The “Arab Spring” has played its part, but more importantly, it is the aspirations of the peoples of the Gulf States, aspirations that to a large degree have been formed by the process of democratisation and liberalisation that these very same Governments started some years ago, that has also played a part in this evolutionary process. The FCO is undoubtedly aware and prepared as to how it should deal with these changes, given that it is in the mutual interests of all parties concerned to ensure the long term stability of the region.

(vii) The extent to which the FCO has the resources, personnel and capacities required for effective policy in the region:

One can only assume that given how strategically important it is to the Government of the UK to maintain stability in this region, that the FCO (in concert with its allies) will ensure that it does indeed possess the necessary resources, personnel and capacities required for effective policy in the region.

12 November 2012

Prepared 21st November 2013