Human rights activists have reacted angrily to Britain’s invitation of Mohammed Bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia‘s Crown Prince, to the Queen’s funeral.
According to a declassified CIA report, the crown prince gave the go-ahead for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Although the Saudi crown prince and his administration denied this, he has since been shunned in the West and hasn’t visited Britain, until now.
A Saudi Embassy spokesman confirmed that the prince, known as “MBS”, would be coming to London this weekend, but it was unclear if he would attend the actual funeral on Monday.
Hatice Gengiz, the fiancée of the murdered Saudi journalist, said the invitation was a stain on the memory of Queen Elizabeth II. She called for him to be arrested when he lands in London, although she doubted this would happen.
The pressure group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has accused Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies of using the Queen’s funeral as a way to – in their words – “whitewash” their human rights records.
The group estimates that since the start of the disastrous war in Yemen eight years ago, Britain has sold the Saudi-led coalition fighting there more than $23bn worth of arms.
Scant political freedoms have also disappeared completely since MBS became crown prince in 2017, with hefty prison sentences handed down to critics of the government, even just for social media posts.
At the same time, paradoxically, the crown prince has embarked on a massive programme of social liberalization. Cinemas and public entertainment, long banned in the Kingdom for being deemed “un-Islamic”, have reopened.
On MBS’s orders, women are now allowed to drive and the desert kingdom has played host to international sporting and music events, including a concert by the DJ David Guetta.
Saudi Arabia, despite its heavily-criticized human rights record, remains a staunch ally of Britain in the Gulf, where it is seen by the West as a bulwark against Iran’s aggressive expansionism.
It buys western weapons, employs thousands of expatriate workers, hosts the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and helps to steady the oil price. All of these partly explain why international criticism of the crown prince is muted at most.