Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from George Williams, Editor-in Chief of the Gulf Daily News

George Williams, Editor-in-Chief of the Gulf Daily News—Bahrain’s leading national English language newspaper. Has lived in Bahrain/Dubai for 34 years.

SUMMARY: UK policy towards Bahrain and the Gulf; Misleading UK media reports fueling bad feelings; Historic links and past mistakes; Religious meddling by Iran; Future direction.

See Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry report. Most recommendations already implemented. Full report in a few weeks.

1. As a member of Bahrain’s leading English language publishing house, I am writing about my observations and experience as a long-term resident.

2. England’s historic links with this country permeate deeply through the fabric of its society. So much so that Bahrain has embraced the English concept of thinking as a principle in life. Yet sometimes Bahrainis are puzzled by seemingly contradictory policies adopted by Whitehall and subsequently reported by the BBC or London’s national newspapers. Whenever this happens, Bahrain is placed in a very embarrassing position when considering Anglo relations.

3. Older Bahrainis particularly, mostly educated by British teachers, have always been encouraged to think in a broad, liberal way, and believe in gradual reforms which are sometimes patiently carried through over years or even generations. Whitehall mandarins appear to ignore these facts and behave in a puzzling manner when formulating policies. For instance, apparently backing fanatic religious moslems irrespective of whether Sunni or Shia, to the level of discreditiing their historic allies—not only in Bahrain, but the whole Gulf Co-operation Council.

4. How will Britain benefit from openly supporting backward-minded people who blindly obey the Ayatollah’s orders from Tehran, and incite street violence and instability?

5. Britain must not be seen as two-faced, for British interests lie with the traditional Arab Sheikhdoms, which, despite differences of opinion sometimes, still wish to enjoy the best of relations with Britain as their Number One ally. They view America with suspicion when maintaining relations with allies, because Washington is unclear, vague and intransigent.

6. This is the time for Britain to bolster its historic ties by assuring GCC leaders of its true allegiance and to erase uncertainties and doubts.

7. We regularly hear from leading personalities within the GCC : “Is Britain a true friend?” Indeed, until today, it is very much the super respected power in this region, whether through diplomats or British expatriates working here. They are the most reliable and welcomed.

8. As an indication, an overwhelming number of Gulf Arab families, and government authorities, send their youngsters to study in Britain—clear evidence of their respect and appreciation of our system of education.

9. One additional fact should be borne in mind—that these governments are truly honest and principled in their dealings with Britain. Yet Britain is always waving the banner of human rights, democracy and freedom in their faces, all of which ARE developing here. Such a brow-beating and sometimes patronising attitude, accompanied by endless statements, often resulting from an ignorance of street realities, creates doubts and damages the reputations and economies of GCC nations.

10. Whitehall mandarins need to seek the opinions of greater numbers of British expatriates living in GCC countries. They will discover how wrong many of their policies are—of seemingly embracing the Ayatollah’s stooges and other fundamentalists, describing them as “peaceful protesters”. Also sheltering them in Britain at the expense of taxpayers.

11. It is time for London’s top decision-makers to accept that GCC leaders and their law-abiding people are not fools! The UK should change its methods of dealing with them, adopting a more subtle, intelligent approach.

12. As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, King Abdullah is transparently doing his best to implement reforms, but these cannot be completed overnight. It can take a generation.

13. King Abdullah, compared to his predecessors, is an outstandingly progressive monarch. Remember also that he is still paying dearly for misguided policies enforced on Saudi Arabia years ago, during the Afghan-Russian war, when the west, including Britain, virtually ordered his country to send its Muhajedeen to fight against the then USSR. After the Russians withdrew, these brave men were left completely in the lurch and in limbo. As we know, this decision spawned Al Qaeda, which is now ensconced in Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

14. Wrong Western policies in the Middle East have been frequent and disastrous. Western-minded Arabs hope that past mistakes will not be repeated.

15. As a person living and working closely with many Bahrainis from all walks of life, I can sincerely confirm that the Ruling Family of this country has always had, and will always look forward to continuing excellent relations with Britain. This is not the result of today’s political situation, but a fact of history, that they are immensely proud of.

16. It is also worth noting that when unrest broke out in Bahrain 18 months ago, three British Airways evacuation flights returned to London from Bahrain empty!

12 November 2012

Prepared 21st November 2013