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Mat Nashed

Trudeau and Macron give Saudi crown prince a licence to kill

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is one of France's biggest clients

Date of publication: 16 May, 2018

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Comment: The two leaders have cast themselves as advocates of human rights, but when it comes to arms deals, their neoliberal values reign supreme, writes Mat Nashed.
Emmanuel Jean-Macron and Justin Trudeau, the respective leaders of France and Canada, are widely portrayed as young liberal icons in an increasingly illiberal age.  

The two men boast a similar profile; they claim to champion the environment and are self-declared feminists.

But they are also hypocrites for selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a country that is largely responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.

The ultra-conservative kingdom first entered the quagmire after the Iranian backed Houthis - a Zaidi Shia rebel group - forced interim president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee the capital Sanaa in January 2015.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has assembled a coalition to defeat the Houthis and reinstall Hadi to power. More than three years later, civilians have suffered the brunt of the war while the Houthis still control the capital.

At least 10,000 people have been killed, though the real number is suspected to be higher. Coalition bombs have hit funerals and weddings, as well as Yemen's only sea-water desalination plant which was destroyed in January 2016.

This incident resulted in widespread water contamination, leading to the worst recorded 
cholera outbreak in the modern era. Worst still, a Saudi-imposed blockade has caused famine throughout the country and stopped life-saving aid from reaching civilians.

The message they are sending is clear: Defending human rights is fashionable until money is at stake

Amid the bloodshed, Macron and Trudeau have justified their arms deals while claiming to espouse liberal values. The message they are sending is clear: Defending human rights is fashionable, until money is at stake.

'Keeping our Word'

As the catastrophe in Yemen worsens, Canadian civil society continues to pressure the government to review and suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Trudeau's liberal government, they argue, should have never approved $12 billion worth of light armored vehicles (LAVs); each one equipped with a machine gun and anti-tank cannons.

They are right. Though the deal was first signed in 2014 by Canada's former prime minister Stephen Harper - leader of the conservative party - Trudeau went ahead with the deal as soon as he was elected.

The prime minister justified the deal by claiming that Canada had to keep its word vis-a-vis its ally. That's noble enough, except when your ally is responsible for destroying a country's entire medical infrastructure and putting the lives of 150,000 children at risk.

Doubling down on his decision, Trudeau's government later claimed that there was no evidence that Canadian arms were being used unlawfully in Yemen.

Such reasoning makes the liberal government look naive at best, and criminal at worst. The fact is that the Saudi-led coalition is committing grave human rights abuses in Yemen with all the weapons they can get their hands on.

It is Trudeau's responsibility to do his part to prevent the Saudis from committing more war crimes, rather than waiting until it's too late.

The lack of common sense doesn't end there. Trudeau's government has donated $65 million in aid and recently eased the process for Yemeni asylum seekers, something the liberal government proudly advertises. The paradox, of course, is that Canada is arming Saudi Arabia, exacerbating the crisis causing Yemenis to flee.

'A deadly relationship'

Last year, Macron told his ambassadors that it was possible to remain pragmatic while championing human rights, especially when dealing with nations such as Russia, China and Turkey.

Read more: The quiet collapse of Yemen's economy

Oddly enough, Macron didn't mention Saudi Arabia. Perhaps because France enjoys a very 
profitable relationship with the kingdom. The former constitutes the third largest arms exporter in the world, while the latter is the second largest importer. Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is one of France's biggest clients.

In recent years, Riyadh has purchased French tanks, armoured vehicles, munitions and artillery. The UAE, one of Saudi Arabia's coalition partners, has also bought French fighter jets.

The French public has expressed outrage at these deals, with 74 percent of the country calling for them to be suspended.

Droit Solidarite, a legal NGO, and Aser, which specialises in armament issues, are taking on the French government to ensure that happens. They recently took their case to France's highest legal court, arguing that Macron is violating its international obligations by dealing with the Saudis.

The two groups have a valid case. For starters, arms sales in France have no parliamentary oversight, but are approved by a committee that is headed by the prime minister. Droit Solidarite and Aser are merely advocating for more checks and balances to ensure that France abides by the Arms Trade Treaty which it ratified in 2014.

Both leaders should cancel all arms shipments until the kingdom adopts genuine human rights reforms

Like Macron, Trudeau should also suspend arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition until it lifts the blockade and stops targeting civilians.

Better yet, both leaders should cancel all arms shipments until the kingdom adopts genuine human rights reforms' perhaps unlikely with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the helm.

Trudeau and Macron are effectively giving the crown prince a license to kill. Both men, after all, are caricatures of everything that is wrong with the neo-liberal 'left', where PR stunts and cute soundbites often stand in for any real moral conscience.

Mat Nashed is a Lebanon-based journalist covering displacement and exile. 

Follow him on Twitter: @matnashed

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.


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