Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Time for the sycophancy to end in our relations with Saudi Arabia

13th December 2007

Strasbourg, 13th December 2007 -- The West shares business and strategic foreign policy interests with Saudi Arabia but should not claim that it shares the values of what is a harsh and medieval regime, Conservative MEP Charles Tannock said today.

Dr Tannock's remarks - a reference to a claim by Foreign Office minister Kim Howells last month during King Abdullah's state visit to the UK that Britain and Saudi Arabia could unite around 'shared values' - came during a speech on a European Parliament resolution on women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

The resolution, which Dr Tannock co-authored, represented a show of unity by MEPs at the horrendous case of a teenage gang-raped victim whose initial punishment of 100 lashes for travelling in a vehicle without a male family member was doubled.

In his speech, Dr Tannock acknowledged the importance of commercial links and the need to engage Saudi Arabia on matters of regional stability.

However, he said that Saudi Arabia's absolutist government, lack of human rights - particularly gender discrimination - and a harsh criminal justice system compounded by a poorly-trained judiciary could not be further removed from the EU's values of democracy, human rights and equality before the law.

Dr Tannock, Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, also expressed concern at Saudi Arabia's export of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam to Europe, and highlighted the case of hate-filled textbooks in a Saudi-funded school in Ealing in his London constituency.

The resolution calls on Saudi Arabia to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations conventions on ending gender discrimination, torture and cruel and degrading punishments.

Dr Tannock said:

"The EU and Saudi Arabia share vital foreign policy interests. The Saudis are key allies in advancing the Middle East peace process, and as Sunni Muslims containing expansionist Shia Iran. The West, in turn, needs to support Saudi Arabia's fight against Al Qaeda, many of whose adherents come from the country.

"Saudi Arabia is an absolutist monarchy in which the internationally accepted concept of human rights does not exist. It is contrary to a universal sense of natural justice that a victim of a horrendous gang-rape can be punished.

"The Saudis must fulfil their obligations under various UN conventions that they have ratified to remove discrimination against women who, unlike men, are not permitted to drive cars or vote in the very limited local elections.

"Let's not kid ourselves that we share values with this fundamentalist and medieval regime."