There was a time when Great Britain was the undisputed ruler of the Middle East. Britannia’s ships ruled the waves in the Mediterranean and Indian oceans. Those lands it did not directly occupy were ruled by its subservient vassals like King Farooq of Egypt who would humble themselves in front of the lowly consular officials to receive their instructions.
This is a far cry from the situation today. The British establishment may hark back to the days of empire with the unfounded belief that Britain can be great again. However, British Prime Minister Theresa May, the beleaguered PM of the United Kingdom, sneaks into Iraq like a thief under the cover of darkness. This is due to the terror and chaos unleashed by Britain’s actions, even after decades of occupation marketed as nation building, the situation is still not stable enough for an announced visit. It is this terror that eventually finds its way back to the British Isles where it originated.
On the other hand, Britain still retains vestiges of the influence it used to enjoy in the Middle East. This is unlike the formal and often more superficial institutional relationships of the United States -the colonial power that has replaced her. The relationships consist of more informal but deeper rooted relations fostered by consular officials through the decades and centuries of British colonial intrigue in this strategic area.
From the whiskey swirling Ba’athists in Iraq to snivelling royalists in Saudi and Jordan, the affinity they had with their colonial masters was deep and the affection that they had for them was great. Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner in Iraq in the 1920s describes the scene of the Sultan of Najd, Abdel Aziz al-Saud bowing his head before him. His voice quavering, and begging with humiliation: “Your grace are my father and you are my mother. I can never forget the debt I owe you. You made me and you held my hand, you elevated me and lifted me. I am prepared, at your beckoning, to give up for you now half of my kingdom…no, by Allah, I will give up all of my kingdom, if your grace commands me!” These relationships continue to give Britain influence second only to the US in the Middle East and continue to foster economic, diplomatic and political links. After all is said and done, Britain still has enough political and diplomatic clout in Saudi Arabia to maintain business interest totalling £4.7 billion, and the Middle East is not an area where there is a dichotomy between economic and political power, contracts are won by influence in high places and not the quality of the service or product.
There is no hiding the fact that the recent arrests in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the Sandhurst educated Anglophiles from the Saudi elite have disproportionately found themselves facing the wrath of the very US leaning crown prince.
What Theresa May and the British establishment need to understand is that, the so called Arab Spring is very much work in progress. The Middle East and the wider Islamic world is in search of an ideological base to establish the new order for the coming centuries, and the irony and the hypocrisy of Britain’s stance is not lost upon the inhabitants of the them.
Whilst lamenting the starvation caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen, she readily provides the billions of dollars worth of weapons and bombs that are used to enforce the blockade.
Whilst lecturing on about the sanctity of human rights, to gain some economic advantage she happily ignores the many abuses committed by the Saudi and Iraqi regimes. Most of all, the ludicrous assertion that a partnership with Britain can bring prosperity to any nation, when Britain itself is suffering the largest decline in living standards for more than half a century is laughable to say the least.
- H.R.P. Dickson, Kuwait and her neighbours, part 1, p.282