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REVEALED: Both sides of Gulf crisis listed as 'priority markets' for UK arms export push

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have both been identified as key targets for exports on the eve of the world's largest arms fair in London next week
The UK hopes to boost sales of the BAE Typhoon fighter aircraft, which has already been sold to Saudi Arabia and Oman (AFP)

The UK government is being accused of fanning the flames of the Gulf crisis after it included both sides of the dispute in a newly published list of countries identified by officials as “priority markets” for the UK’s £12bn defence industry, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain are listed alongside regional rival Qatar on a list of 46 nations highlighted by Whitehall officials as potentially lucrative markets for weapons.

The list, which has been seen by MEE, comes on the eve of the world’s largest arms fair in London next week. It signals a dramatic expansion in efforts to boost arms sales to the Middle East in the wake of the Brexit vote.

In addition to including both sides of the Gulf crisis, which has divided the region for three months, the list of countries to be to be targeted for sales by officials of the Department for International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation includes a string of Middle East states on the UK government’s own “human rights priority registers”.

Concern for human rights?

Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all been named priority arms export markets by the Department for International Trade despite being listed by the Foreign Office as a “human rights priority”.

Bahrain has been listed as a key market despite a deteriorating human rights situation, while Turkey, a key Nato ally, has also been listed despite accusations that democracy is under attack in the country.

Andrew Smith, spokesperson of Campaign Against Arms Trade told MEE: "The fact that, despite current tensions, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both on the list tells us everything we need to know."

"Both regimes are threatening each other and accusing one another of funding terrorism, and yet the UK has made clear that it will pull out all stops to sell arms to both of them.

The emergence of the expanded list for 2017-2018 - 35 countries were listed last year - comes as the UK government has been accused of inviting a “roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers” to next week’s Defence and Security International Exhibition (DSEI) in east London next week.

Saudi Arabia, and its allies Bahrain, and UAE and Qatar, are at the centre of a bitter diplomatic and economic dispute over allegations that Qatar supports terrorism, and despite making noises publically to calm the dispute, the UK government has invited official delegations from the countries to attend the contraversial event.

Saudi Arabia is also leading a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen, where its air force has been accused by international observers of using UK-made weaponry in a conflict which has killed up to 10,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. The UK has continued to supply arms worth £3.3bn to Saudi throughout the conflict, which started in 2015.

Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, who asked a parliamentary question revealing the attendees at the event, said: “DSEI is a dark stain on our country’s already tarnished reputation. It’s time that this festival of violence was shut down for good – and for the UK to engage in peacebuilding rather than trying to cement itself as the world’s weapons dealer.”

Stun guns and shackles

The run-up to DSEI has seen daily protests outside the Excel Centre in Docklands where the event is due to be held.

Blockades have been taking place daily in a move by anti-arms trade campaigner to block the arrival of military equipment. Around 3,000 VIP delegates, including the UK defence minister Michael Fallon and military officials from the Middle East are expected to attend the event, which shows everything from advanced attack helicopters to small arms.

In 2013 the event faced criticism after it allowed the display and sale of equipment that could be used in torture, including shackles and electric stun weapons.

Smith said: “This list [of countries] includes a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. They will be greeted by civil servants and Government Ministers who are there for one reason only: to promote weapons. It’s impossible to promote human rights and democracy while arming and supporting authoritarian regimes and tyrants.”

A spokesperson at the Department for International Trade told MEE that "The government undertakes a stringent process of scrutiny and approval before issuing any invitations to foreign governments to attend a major UK defence exhibition like DSEI.

"Respect for human rights is a mandatory consideration in the process and a country would not be invited where that would contradict the UK's international obligations. Invitations are reviewed if the situation in any one country changes."

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