Belfast Telegraph

No matter how barbaric the Saudis are, let's show them lashings of love

Thick as thieves: Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz with David Cameron
Thick as thieves: Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz with David Cameron

By Mark Steel

It can be complicated to work out what to do with men of violence in the Middle East, with their medieval beliefs and love of beheadings. So the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, wanted to try a novel approach, which was to arrange a £5.9m deal with them so they could build a prison.

This shows the Conservative Party's soft-hearted centre, because no matter how barbarically the Saudi regime behaves, our Government is determined to show them love and understanding, presumably in the hope that they'll get in touch with their feminine side and cut down on the floggings.

Maybe they'll try a similar approach with young offenders here - so when a lad is convicted of burglary, instead of putting him in jail, they'll give him a £4.4bn arms deal with an offer on a fleet of Typhoon jets.

This was another of our "arrangements" with the Saudis, but there was a humanitarian reason for this trade: hopefully, the Saudis will use the jets to kill women convicted of adultery, because strafing them with machine-gun fire is so much kinder than killing them with a sword in a public square.

But it must be highly confusing for Isis, who struggle to keep up with Saudi Arabia in the beheadings league. The Saudis have carried out more than 100 in 2015 and Isis have managed just 66, so Isis needs to increase their production rapidly before the British start being friendly to them.

The prison deal has been cancelled, but Philip Hammond is apparently fuming. One of his supporters said: "Now is not the time to annoy Saudi Arabia by causing a diplomatic squabble."

This seems fair, although he doesn't say when is a good time to annoy a country by causing a diplomatic squabble. Obviously, it's not when they're beheading people, sentencing pensioners to being lashed for making wine, or stoning women to death for adultery.

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So, maybe the best time for a diplomatic squabble is when a country is not doing any of those things, and so it's time we broke off relations with Iceland for having too many puffins.

It has also turned out that Prime Minister David Cameron made an arrangement with the Saudis to ensure both Saudi Arabia and the UK got a place on the UN's Human Rights Council. Because everyone knows the Saudis are the ideal people to adjudicate on human rights.

Their first report will be on the shocking state of affairs in Norway, where perfectly innocent citizens are denied their human right to crucify someone for buying a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Cameron said the deal was struck because the British Government "has a relationship with Saudi Arabia". It's a pity there aren't more relationships like this, because we would read letters like this in problem pages: "Dear Virginia, my boyfriend and I have been going out for two years and he says he loves me, but whenever I suggest he sells me a Tornado bomber and builds me a prison to incarcerate anyone who mildly disagrees with me, he changes the subject. Is it worth persisting with him, or is he simply afraid of making a commitment?"

This relationship was at its most sentimental when Cameron was awarded the King Abdullah Decoration One, presented by the King himself. So if things go well and he one day sorts things out with Isis, maybe they'll present him with a Glorious Black Hood of the Caliphate which he can add to his collection.

Defenders of the relationship like to point out that the Saudi regime is becoming more liberal, and this is true, especially with its attitudes towards women. For example, Saudi Arabia is the only country where women receive no extra penalty if they are caught drinking and driving, as they get jailed for either, so they might as well do both at the same time.

One of the main reasons we went to war in Afghanistan was because of their dreadful stance on women's rights, so clearly our allies such as Saudi Arabia must have a marvellous record in this area, where it's just one feminist conference after another and the film Suffragette is shown on a huge screen every night in Riyadh's main square.

Rumour has it the film is being adapted into a musical starring King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, in drag.

Belfast Telegraph


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