UK gets the wealthy but impotent Arab statelets it wants

February 20, 2014
Sarah Benton

The first part of Nu’man Abd al-Wahid’s article is concerned with the history of British imperialism since Elizabethan times, concentrating on India, Africa and the slave trade. We take it up when the writer turns to the UK’s interventions in Arab countries. Click the headline below to read the whole article.

Great Britain’s 100 year war on the Arab world

By Nu’man Abd al-Wahid, Mondoweiss
February 19, 2014

The British Empire had been encroaching on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf since the 1870s. However, the opportunity to invade the Arab World did not arise until the first World War. Some leading Arabs had wanted to secede from the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire, after its face to face military trouncing and defeat at Gallipoli, looked to undermine the Ottoman Empire by attacking its underbelly. Herein lies the main origin of the so-called “Arab Revolt.” The British successfully led a main Arab leader, the Sheriff of Hijaz, Hussain bin Ali,[22] to believe that if he assisted the British Empire against the Ottomans, then a united Arabia would ensue. The British dispatched their agent, T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) to assist in the so-called “Arab Revolt.”

Obviously, the Empire had other ideas than a united Arabia. A British Lord in the India office spelt them out:

What we want is not a United Arabia but a weak and disunited Arabia, split up into principalities so far as possible under our suzerainty – but incapable of coordinated action against us…[23]

Not only did the Empire want a fractured Arabia but also a different people, Zionist Jews, to settle in Arab-Palestine. So the British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The main reason for this is that the “trade” coming through the nearby British owned Suez Canal was mostly British. Therefore, it wanted a population it perceived it could trust in Palestine, in case the indigenous Arabs in Palestine and Egypt joined forces to establish independent sovereignty or colluded with other powers to establish sovereignty. The Jewish population at the time of the Arab revolt was 80,000. Palestinians were refused democracy and representative government and therefore had no say on settler-immigration to their country. By the time the Empire officially withdrew in 1948 there were at least an additional three hundred thousand Jewish settlers. [24]

1917 also officially heralded what can be seen as Great Britain’s almost hundred year war on Arabs in order to keep them fractured and divided. This is largely because an immense amount of oil exists on the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula. The British, probably more than any other major western country, are dependent on the oil profits and financial benefits making its way back to London and ‘subsidising’ the British economy–the way Africans and Asians ‘subsidised’ them in previous centuries. Harold Macmillan, a [later*] British Prime Minister, alluded to this during the 1950s Suez Crisis when he said without the oil of the Arabian peninsula the British nation would be “lost” and the whole structure of the British “economy would collapse.” Furthermore, “without oil,” Macmillan noted, “and without the profits from oil” the UK will not be able to survive.[25]

To stabilise its geo-political order, the British have bombed and waged war on Arabs for almost hundred years. The Empire oppressed Palestine and Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s. Military aeroplanes dropping gas bombs on Iraqis was introduced in the 1930’s as well as the rigged 99% democratic victory election. After T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) failed to cajole Sharif Hussain of Hijaz with a 80,000 rupee bribe and threats to “unleash” Ibn Saud’s Wahhabis, in order to accept Britain’s Zionist project in Palestine, they gave the Wahhabis the green light to invade Mecca and Medina.[26]

Lawrence also travelled to South Arabia and Yemen to inform their leaders that Ibn Saud and his Wahhabi fanatics are at the “back and call” of London, if they did not comply with the Empire’s interests.[27] The Empire taught Zionist forces how to militar[il]y oppress Palestinians during the latter’s uprising against British-Zionist colonialism in the 1930s.

Iraq was attacked again in the 1940s within the context of World War 2. Egypt in the 1950s was invaded and attacked after the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. Great Britain was also very much involved in North and South Yemen in the 1960s. In North Yemen, Great Britain revived the use of mercenaries after the practise had been extinct in warfare for centuries.[28] In the 1970s Britain took the lead in waging war against Omani revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow their British puppet. Within the context of the war in Oman, Britain ‘secretly’ used and dropped more bombs on South Yemen than it did during the entire Falklands War. In the 1980’s Britain assisted the United States in bombing Libya. In the 1990s, Britain and the United States attacked Iraq to remove the latter’s army from Kuwait and then led the way in imposing a UN sanctioned embargo which led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. The 2003 British-American led invasion and destruction of Iraq led to the deaths of up to a million people and millions became internally and externally displaced.

By concocting small states (or principalities) on the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, it allowed the resources therein to be separated from the Arabian hinterland and legally siphoned off to Britain via the veneer of puppet states such as “Kuwait”, “Qatar”, “United Arab Emirates” (UAE), etc. The total number of Arabs in the region is at least 300 million. But the total number of indigenous Arabs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries minus Saudi Arabia is … around ten million.

An undated handout image released on 12 September 2012 by BAE Systems showing their company stand at their Farnborough aerospace centre. Buyers of their products are almost always state departments at home and abroad, involving government negotiations.  PM Tony Blair intervened to stop a Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE paying bribes to secure a Saudi Arabian contract. See Notes and links. Photo by EPA

Britain’s leading weapons manufacturer British Aerospace (BAE) is heavily dependent on contracts from the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. Billions have poured into the coffers of British Aerospace from the Gulf monarchical despots. Most infamously is the corrupt multi-billion pound Yamamah deal between the British and the Saudis, which in turn also meant employment for British companies supplying parts to BAE as well as tax revenue for the state.

BAE recently supplied the Omani despot, who was placed in power after the British got rid of his father during the counter-insurgency operations in the 1970s, with military aeroplanes worth £2.5 million. BAE currently has its order books full until 2022 largely due to orders from the dictators of the Gulf.

The construction company Carillion is also heavily dependent on contracts from the Gulf States. Amongst many other projects, it has recently built the parliament for the Omani dictator. Carillion awarded the contract to supply construction tools and equipment such as cement mixers, chisels, saws and screws to a British company, Speedy Hire, because obviously Omanis don’t have the ability for constructing their own buildings or know how to mix cement.

Qatar, an Arab principality with a population of no more than three hundred thousand indigenous Arabs, is in a league of its own in “investing” in the UK economy. Harrods and the £1.5bn Shard building in central London is owned by these Gulf despots. The opulence and waste behind the Shard was partly justified as “confidence” in London’s economy. Sainsbury’s, the national supermarket chain, and Barclays bank have been kept afloat by the ruling al-Thani family. London’s Olympic Village is supposedly under Qatari ownership after a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Recently, £10billion has been invested by Qatar in British infrastructure projects. Qatar also helps to guarantee UK’s energy security with its gas supply to the latter.

Kuwait, a statelet created by Britain by [cleaving] it out of Iraq’s southern province, Basra, in the late nineteenth century, is also a large investor in the British economy. The Kuwaiti royal family, through its sovereign fund, propped up British infrastructure with a $5 billion pound investment. This was reported as a Kuwaiti “commitment” to the British economy during the financial crises.

The Gulf states have also invested heavily in British sports events through sponsorship and even purchasing football clubs such as Manchester City or Nottingham Forrest. UAE helped to build Arsenal F.C.’s football stadium. UAE and Qatar’s ruling families also have a soft spot for British race horses, spending millions on these animals while the Arabs of the hinterland scrape a living and Palestinians continue to endure occupation, theft and ethnic cleansing.

Recently, the ‘Little Chef’, a roadside diner, was bailed out by a Kuwaiti company and the British lingerie retailer ‘La Senza’ was saved from bankruptcy by another Kuwaiti company. Cricket stadiums built by British companies, a sport which has little traction for Arabs, are multiplying in the Gulf.

Qatar and UAE have a combined 35% stake in the London Stock Exchange. When Barclays Bank was on the verge of collapse during the recent financial crises, its Chief Executive successfully travelled to Qatar for financial assistance.

It’s no contradiction that the main supporters of the factional jihadis and al-Qaeda in the current Syrian civil war are the same despots who are bankrolling British finance, bailing out failed British businesses and building useless opulent buildings in London.

Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for one of the nine new stadiums that will be built by immigrant labour in Qatar. This one is said to be inspired by the Arab dhow, but is nicknamed ‘the vagina’.

Furthermore, the Gulf states are now providing an outlet for surplus British manpower, following in the footsteps of North America, Canada, Australia and South Africa. This comes at the expense of the indigenous Arabs as a whole. A Daily Mail article in 2008 claimed, with reference to the UAE, that “Young Emiratis may be first in line for civil service positions, but the plethora of perk-laden, tax-free jobs in the new foreign businesses in places such as Media City and Internet City routinely go to candidates from London, Birmingham and Manchester.” The author refers to the British presence in the UAE as a “modern form of colonisation.”[29] No one knows the exact figures for British ex-pats in the entire Gulf, but it must run into the hundreds of thousands.

Dubai’s main shopping mall – crowded with British tourists and ex-pats. 

Needless to say, Arab puppet despots propping up the British economy is nothing new. In the early to mid 1970s, the Saudi Arabian ruling clan “invested” £9.3 billion, (with £800 million going to the public sector) in the United Kingdom, which today would be equivalent to £20 billion.[30]

What the British managed to economically achieve through the enslavement of Africans and the direct imperial rule and colonisation of India is now being achieved in Arabia with divide and rule as well as indirect rule, i.e. the use of Arab puppet dictators. What underpinned the British Empire’s trade in Africa, India (and many other parts of the world) is what now underpins British foreign policy in Arabia: unabashed military violence. Whereas in the past the British Empire nakedly, violently and relentlessly enslaved, pillaged and looted nations and their peoples, today imperialistically concocted British principalities in the Persian Gulf endow “confidence” and/or are “committed” to the British economy.

Leaders of the 6-monarchy Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in Kuwait to arrange setting up their own ‘security’ force, 2009. They fear domestic uprisings (though funding for Al Qaeda come from Gulf billionaires.)

In a speech delivered soon after he became Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron claimed that the world did not owe Great Britain a living. He exclaimed that a country with a prosperous past is not entitled to prosperity in the future. Fair point, but he forgot to add that it was the world, especially the darker shades of the world, were violently held to ransom and ransacked on a global scale by superior British military might, which allowed Great Britain to be prosperous in the past. On a personal level, Cameron’s family ancestors were involved and benefited from the slave trade.

The current hundred year war on Arabs, the latest manifestation of which was in Libya in 2011, must be seen or can only be really understood as part of, and integral to Great Britain’s rapacious four hundred year war on mankind. And once the British have finish with exploiting Arab resources in the Gulf, Great Britain will no doubt move to another part of the world to bestow “responsibility.”

In conclusion, and to return to Tony Blair, responsibility is–from what can be historically and contemporarily deduced–clearly that which enriches, props up or subsidises the British economy. Responsibility is also that which secures a future for British businesses, saves them from financial bankruptcy, oblivion and also provides British people with employment, especially in this era when its venal capitalist system collapsed in London in 2008 and required government financial crutches and bailouts to continue.

The alternative to this “responsibility” can be ascertained from the media reports surrounding British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to China promoting British businesses. China, unlike Arabia, is an independent, strong and united nation which has developed its own indigenous manufacturing and construction industry. Therefore, Cameron and his business delegation were limited to touting business for the education sector, elaborately decorated crockery, Burberry clothing, Jaguar cars, chicken feet and pig trotters. In other words, Great Britain has no choice but to advocate and extol other world leaders in the Global South to be “responsible” with their nations’ natural resources.

[22] Hijaz is the western part of the Arabian peninsula.

[23] Gary Troeller, “The Birth Saudi Arabia: Britain and the rise of the House of Saud” (London: Frank Crass, 1976), pg.95

[24] Nu’man Abd al-Wahid, “Britain’s denial of Democracy and the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, Mondoweiss, 20th June 2011. Accessed at on 5th February 2014.

[25] Alistair Horne, “Macmillan 1894-1956 Volume 1 of the Official Biography” (London: Macmillan, 1988) pg.411,422 and 429 respectively.

[26] Askar H. al-Enazy, “the Creation of Saudi Arabia: Ibn Saud and British Imperial Policy, 1914-1927”, (London: Routledge, 2013), pg. 109-111; “unleash” was actually Winston Churchill’s word, ibid., pg.107

[27] ibid. pg.111

[28] Stephen Mercenaries, “War Plc, The Rise of the New Corporate Mercenary”, (London: Faber & Faber, 2008), pg. 17-18.

[29] David Jones, “The Degenerates of Dubai”, Daily Mail, 19th July 2008, pg. 10-11.

[30] Mark Curtis, “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2010), pg 118.

Notes and links

* Anthony Eden was the Conservative Prime Minister during the Suez crisis. Harold Macmillan was Chancellor of the Exchequer but:
‘Macmillan wrote in his diary:
“If Nasser ‘gets away with it’, we are done for. The whole Arab world will despise us … Nuri [es-Said, British-backed prime minister of Iraq] and our friends will fall. It may well be the end of British influence and strength forever. So, in the last resort, we must use force and defy opinion, here and overseas”.
Macmillan was heavily involved in the secret planning of the invasion with France and Israel. It was he who first suggested collusion with Israel.’ from Harold Macmillan, Wikipedia

British Aerospace
from BBC news, 2009

The firm is the UK’s largest manufacturer – making everything from British Army kit to warships and planes. It has about 105,000 employees worldwide, including about 32,000 in the UK with customers in more than 100 countries.

A year-long independent review of practices at BAE urged bosses to adopt stronger anti-bribery measures and a global ethical code of conduct. The proposals were among 23 recommendations made by a committee headed by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf.”BAE either becomes an ethical company, which involves refusing to get involved in some contracts, or it does not become a fully ethical company reaching the gold standard that we have identified,” Lord Woolf said when the report was published in May last year.
“There are contracts that are not worth having and that will do long-term damage to the company, and the company has to accept that.”

How Blair put pressure on Goldsmith to end BAE investigation, Guardian, December 2007

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a UK based freelance Yemeni-English writer specialising in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World. His focus is on how the United Kingdom has historically maintained its interests in the the Middle East. A collection of articles are posted at

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