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From the British Empire to ‘Global Britain’: How the UK enables human rights abuses in the UAE and the Gulf

25 20 6

During his most recent visit to Abu Dhabi, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hailed the United Arab Emirates as a beacon of tolerance. Barely four months earlier, the tone was somewhat different, with the Matthew Hedges “spying” debacle threatening to cause a serious rift in bilateral ties. News has now emerged that, far from prioritising Hedges’ freedom, Britain was, in fact, close to signing a memorandum of understanding with the UAE whilst the PhD student was still detained and facing life imprisonment. The UAE’s continued abuse of the rights of Emiratis and Yemenis, as well as UK citizens Ali Issa Ahmed and Andrew Neal, lays bare Britain’s failure to hold its historical ally to account.

Today the UAE acts with total impunity. This would not be possible if it were not for the key role outlined for the Gulf in the current British government’s post-Brexit vision of “Global Britain”. The seven Emirates which now constitute the UAE were once ruled as British protectorates known as the Trucial States alongside Bahrain and Qatar; both were initially set to join the UAE, but Saudi Arabia ensured that they did not. Although the UAE has become an important international political, economic and military actor, it remains heavily dependent on Britain, the USA, and France for its security and defence; all three maintain permanent military bases there.

Britain’s inertia regarding the UAE’s mounting human rights abuses is entirely unjustifiable but taken within the context of its colonial past it comes as no major surprise. In 1930, Lebanese journalist Ameen Rihani wrote: “Security and peace England has brought to the Arabs of the Gulf… But what is it costing the Arabs? The Gulf should be renamed: it is neither Persian nor Arabian, it is British.” Unwavering British support for their favoured rulers in the Gulf ensures British economic and strategic interests are protected, at the expense of the Khaleeji people.

Global Britain as advocated by Trade Minister Liam Fox and Defence Minister Gavin Williamson is steeped in imperial nostalgia for the East India Company and the British Raj. UK foreign policy is predominantly a tool to boost trade and protect British........

© Middle East Monitor