Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia

Delivered in Plenary - 13th December 2007

Madam President

Recently King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was afforded a controversial state visit to the United Kingdom. Our Deputy Foreign Minister praised the shared values of the UK and Saudi Arabia. I found this sycophancy absurd, as my values of democracy, human rights and gender equality are alien to Saudi tradition.

Of course, the EU’s relationship with the House of Saud is based on regional stability and on important commercial ties, in particular oil and arms trading. In fact, the relationship is so important that a three-year UK inquiry into alleged bribes paid to Saudi ministers by an arms contractor was killed by orders of Prime Minister Tony Blair on the grounds of national security.

Worryingly, Saudi Arabia’s brand of fundamentalism, Wahabi Islam, is being exported globally. In London – my constituency – textbooks at a Saudi-funded school were found to contain hate-filled passages about Christians and Jews.

This case of the Qatif gang-raped woman sentenced to 200 lashings has horrified the world. Parliament’s joint motion for a resolution expresses revulsion and repudiation of the Kingdom’s values. Twenty years ago a British TV documentary similarly recounted a story of a Saudi princess who was publicly executed for adultery.

The EU and Saudi Arabia have shared vital foreign policy interests, such as supporting the Middle Eastern peace process, encouraging the Saudis as Sunni Muslims to contain expansionist Shia Iran and supporting the Saudi fight against al-Qa’ida, many of whose adherents, unfortunately, come from Saudi Arabia originally.

But we also need to hold the Saudis to their UN Convention obligations to remove discrimination against women, who cannot even drive a car or vote in their limited local elections. But let us not kid ourselves that we share values with this fundamentalist and medieval regime.