Jan 11

MPs debate Saudi violence in Yemen

Houthis rebels guard the west of Yemen.

Houthis rebels guard the west of Yemen.

MPs will debate the catastrophe of Yemen tomorrow (Thursday 12th January 2017).

According to the Parliament website, a fairly innocuous motion has been put down by Stephen Twigg (Labour) and Chris White (Conservative).

It says: “That this House notes the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the impact of the conflict on civilians; condemns any breach of International Humanitarian Law; and calls for an urgent independent investigation into reports of breaches of International Humanitarian Law on both sides of the conflict.”

Saudi Arabia bombed a funeral in Yemen

Al Jazeera's map shows the areas held by the Houthi rebels in green and the government in red.

Al Jazeera’s map shows the areas held by the Houthi rebels in green and those controlled by the government in red.

Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, control the west of the country  including the capital city of Sanaa.  Al Jazeera reports they have recently formed a government there.  The coastal city of Aden is still in the hands of the Sunni Muslim internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

It amounts to a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and neither side has been particularly scrupulous about observing human rights.

However, Saudi Arabia, which backs the government, has the advantage of air power.  There have been many well-documented instances of Saudi air strikes causing great devastation in the Houthi areas.  One of the more notorious caused 140 deaths at a funeral.  But the aircraft and arms used by Saudi Arabi are supplied by the US and the UK.  That makes the UK complicit.  For that reason, MP’s have been calling for over a year for arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be curtailed.

EDM’s call for an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia

In November 2015, Early Day Motion 665, tabled by Margaret Ferrier, called for an end to military exports to and military cooperation with Saudi Arabia.  The motion described it as ‘one of the most repressive regimes in the world’.  The motion has just thirty-three signatories to date.  No Conservative has signed.

The Saudi attack on a funeral in Sanaa left 140 dead.

The Saudi attack on a funeral in Sanaa left 140 dead.

On 1st March last year (2016) Tom Brake tabled Early Day Motion 1170, again calling for an ’embargo’ on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  It also asked for the UK government to condemn the use of cluster munitions against the Huthi rebels.  These were sold to the Saudis by the UK in the 1980s (see below).  This motion has 59 signatories, again drawn solely from the ranks of Labour, LIbDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party’s MP.

In February 2016, the International Development Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development, who was Rt Hon Justine Greening MP at the time.  They too asked the government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, noting these were worth £3 billion since the start of the conflict.

(The actual figure, according to Middle East Eye, is £3.3 billion during the first twelve months of the Yemen conflict.)

Opposition called debate on Yemen last year

Emily Thornberry MP

Emily Thornberry MP

This is not the first debate in the House of Commons on Yemen.  On Wednesday 26th October 2016 the Opposition tabled a debate.  They called for a ‘UN-led investigation … into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen’.  Labour’s Emily Thornberry also called ‘on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations’.

Naturally the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, objected to all of that and tabled an anodyne amendment.  This was carried, according to the Hansard record of the debate, by 283 votes to 193.

Labour tabled the debate, as Peter Oborne reported in Middle East Eye, ‘ in the wake of a recent Saudi coalition attack on a funeral in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, which killed more than 140 mourners’.

UK does not know where arms end up

In answer to a Freedom of Information request by Christian Voice, the Department for International Trade admitted it does not know how many armaments sold to Saudi Arabia have been passed on by the Saudis to their client jihadis in Syria.  These include Al-Nusra Front (as was) and of course Islamic State.

CAAT's Andrew Smith spoke at this conference on Yemen last year. It is not just the US which supplies Saudi Arabia. The UK sold them £3.3 billion worth of arms in the first year of the Yemen conflict. Thses have been used against the Houthi rebels.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith spoke at this conference on Yemen last year. It is not just the US which supplies Saudi Arabia. The UK sold them £3.3 billion worth of arms in the first year of the Yemen conflict. These have been used against civilians in Houthi rebel-held areas.

Legal action is being taken by the Campaign against the Arms Trade to have the UK’s sales of arms to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful.  This appears timely and with the political prevailing wind.

The sale of arms is worth staggering amounts of money to the UK’s manufacturers.  One year ago, the Independent reported CAAT’s figures that since David Cameron came to power in 2010, licenses worth £5.6 billion had been granted for arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  They are our biggest armaments customer worldwide.

It is legitimate to ask if the UK should be supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and other despots.  In practical terms, if we do not know and cannot control where they end up, they could be used against us.  But we can also ask if these are the actions of a constitutionally Christian nation.

We should remember Judah’s king Jehoshaphat was condemned for forming a military alliance with the Ahab regime in Israel:

2Chron 19:2 And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD

Under Margaret Thatcher’s administration, from 1986 to 1989, the UK sold cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.  In 2010, one hundred nation states agreed to a Convention on Cluster Munitions which prohibited their use or production.  The UK is a signatory.  Saudi Arabia is not.

Can the UK stop meddling?

Meanwhile, the House of Commons International Relations Committee is taking evidence today.  They are asking witnesses ‘How can the UK assist political reforms and stability across the Middle East?’  Many of our readers would respond: ‘By ending ‘Responsibility to Protect’, stop destabilising sovereign states, cease activities aimed at ‘regime change’ and spend the money on the NHS or Transport, or Broadband.  Or anything else at home.’

It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia was, for most of the twentieth century, a client state of the United Kingdom.  The UK financially supported the Saud family.  (Please remember when pronouncing Arabic that each vowel is enunciated separately.)  The UK set up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The discovery of oil in 1938 altered the dynamics of the relationship somewhat.  But how do matters stand today?  Is the House of Saud merely an ally of the UK?  Dan Glazebrook suggests it goes further than that.  He claims Saudi Arabia does the Middle Eastern dirty work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Christ Church Aden during reconstruction in 1994/1996.

Christ Church Aden during reconstruction in 1994/1996. Sadly, as a result of the violence, the church is now closed again.

Christians in Yemen

Whatever the truth of the UK/Saudi relationship, life for the estimated 40,000 Christians in Yemen is now particularly harsh, with the Sunni jihadists and Islamic State elements who are active in the south and east of the country taking a particularly hard line.  Christian books including Bibles are being burned and churches have been damaged or destroyed.

The fine Anglican church of Christ Church in Aden is closed again.  It was only twenty years ago that a member of Christian Voice directed its restoration and set up the Ras Morbat Clinic alongside, providing healthcare for the poorest Yemeni patients.

Pray for today’s Committee meeting, tomorrow’s debate, for an end to arms sales to anti-Christian despots, for CAAT’s court case and for the UK to stand up for Christians in Yemen and across the world.


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  1. Rox

    A lot of this makes sense.

    It doesn’t seem to mention what denomination of Islam the population of Sana’a favours. This must have some relevance as to whether Shiite rebels have any business there or not.
    (Please remember that the apostrophe in San’a represents an Arabic consonant, and should not be left out. )

    Of course, in an ideal world nobody should be making, selling or buying any weapons, in case somebody gets hurt by them.

    I have finally replied to Georgia on the subject of “extremist” and “moderate” Muslims. Please see the article posted on 13 December. It would be nice if the website made older articles (and it’s only a month old, with much more recent comments) easier to find.

    1. Stephen

      I don’t put an apostrophe in Sanaa (Sana’a) because I am encouraging us all to pronounce all Arabic words and names by enunciating each vowel, Sa’udi Arabi’a being a good example. The town itself is definitely in the Shia area.

      1. Rox

        But there is a consonant between the last two vowels of Sana’a , as real as the tt of butter. If you consider how some Londoners pronounce “butter”, that is very approximately the kind of consonant it is.

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