Hobnobbing with the oppressors in Bahrain

It's the "Great British Week" in Bahrain – an event designed to celebrate Britain's "friendship" with the repressive Gulf kingdom and secure some lucrative business deals.

Staying well away from the protests and teargas, a red London bus is touring the streets and Prince Andrew (the Queen's second son) is there to wave the British flag and shake a few hands.

Happily for Britain's arms manufacturers, this also coincides with the Bahrain Air Show which provides an ideal opportunity to display some of their wares. Britain is eager to sell Bahrain some Typhoon fighter jets, and is trying even harder now after a similar deal with the UAE collapsed last month.

Prince Andrew, of course, is well accustomed top hobnobbing with unsavoury regimes under the guise of promoting British businesses. 

In 2010 he was heavily criticised over his dealings with Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakhstan's president. Following the revolution in Tunisia, he also entertained Sakhr el-Materi, ex-president Ben Ali's corrupt son-in-law, to lunch at Buckingham Palace.

In private remarks during a visit to Kyrgyzstan (documented by WikiLeaks) the prince denounced the work of Britain's Serious Fraud Office and accused investigative journalists of "almost scuttling" the notorious al-Yamama arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Another aim of the "Great British Week" is to promote British fashion and according to the UK embassy a number of familiar high street firms are taking part, including Debenhams, Mothercare, River Island, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Evans, Wallis, Coast, Oasis, Warehouse and The Body Shop.

One of the "anchor activities" for the week, according to the embassy, is a "knowledge conference" supported by Brunel University in London. Bahrain's own efforts to promote "knowledge" have mainly focused on hiring expensive PR firms to improve the kingdom's sullied image and blocking visits by journalists who are likely to criticise.

Readers of this blog may also recall how Dr Kristian Ulrichsen of the London School of Economics was deported from the UAE (apparently at Bahrain's request) when he was scheduled to give a talk on "Bahrain’s Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives".

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch this week accused the British government of double standards in its approach to human rights in Bahrain. HRW points out, for example, that Britain has called for the release of high-profile activists in Burma but "has refused to call publicly for the release of prominent Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab or other political prisoners, convicted in manifestly unfair trials, on charges solely related to crimes of speech and peaceful assembly".
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Saturday, 18 January 2014