And the West wonders why the Arab world regards its calls for democracy as hollow as Netanyahu’s love of freedom for Palestinians:
David Cameron‘s efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East by becoming the first foreign leader to visit Cairo were overshadowed as it emerged that he will spend the next three days touring undemocratic Gulf states with eight of Britain’s leading defence manufacturers.
After a hastily convened stopover in Egypt, where he spoke of being “inspired” by protesters, the PM began a long-scheduled trade mission by landing in Kuwait, a key military ally. Britain has approved 1,155 arms export licences for Kuwait since 2003, worth a total of £102.3m, according the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
Key deals on the table this week include the sale of Eurofighters to the Gulf.
Meanwhile Gerald Howarth, a British defence minister, was also attending the region’s largest arms fair, in Abu Dhabi, where a further 93 British companies are promoting their wares. They included companies selling rubber bullets and CS gas for crowd control as well as heavily armoured riot vans.
The marketing drive aimed at military and police buyers was backed by a 15-strong delegation from UKTI, the trade promotion wing of the department for business which is co-hosting a British pavilion with ADS, the UK arms trade association.
Critics rounded on Cameron for continuing with his trip despite the crackdown on protesters across the region. Kevan Jones, the shadow defence minister, said: “The defence industry is crucially important to Britain but many people will be surprised that the prime minister in this week of all weeks may be considering bolstering arms sales to the Middle East.”
Denis Macshane MP, a former foreign office minister, added: “It shows insensitivity and crassness of a high order for the prime minister to take arms salesmen with him on his Middle East trip.”
Britain faced embarrassment over the weekend when it was forced to revoke arms export licences to Bahrain and Libya amid fears that British arms may have been used in the violent crackdown on protesters. Cameron, who is seeking assurances that no British arms were used against protesters, insisted that Britain has some of the toughest rules on arms exports in the world. But he admitted that the system had failed in Libya and Bahrain.