Just days after the British government pledged $181 million in grants and loans to foster economically viable democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, a disclosure made under the U.K. Freedom of Information Act confirmed that British military personnel are training the same Saudi security forces that were used to crush recent popular uprisings in Bahrain.
Speaking on the G-8 summit’s opening day last Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered lip service to those demanding freedom and democracy in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, saying: “ ... We are on your side. ... We’ll help you build your democracies; we’ll help you build your economies; we’ll help you with trade; we’ll help you in all the ways that we can, because the alternative to successful democracies is more of the poisonous extremism that has done so much damage in our world.” —ARK
Britain is training Saudi Arabia’s national guard—the elite security force deployed during the recent protests in Bahrain—in public order enforcement measures and the use of sniper rifles. The revelation has outraged human rights groups, which point out that the Foreign Office recognises that the kingdom’s human rights record is “a major concern”.
In response to questions made under the Freedom of Information Act, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that British personnel regularly run courses for the national guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”. The courses are organised through the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, an obscure unit that consists of 11 British army personnel under the command of a brigadier.
... The MoD’s response was made in 2006, but when questioned this week it confirmed Britain has been providing training for the Saudi national guard to improve their “internal security and counter-terrorism” capabilities since 1964 and continues to do so. Members of the guard, which was established by the kingdom’s royal family because it feared its regular army would not support it in the event of a popular uprising, are also provided places on flagship UK military courses at Sandhurst and Dartmouth. In Saudi Arabia, Britain continues to train the guard in “urban sharpshooter” programmes, the MoD confirmed.
Flickr / Al-Jazeera English
Saudi special forces march in a military parade in 2009.