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31st Oct 2020

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

  • While Khashoggi's financee was making plea for justice, centre-right MEPs held a closed door talk with Saudi ambassadors (Photo: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

On a late Tuesday morning in early 2019, French centre-right MEP Michele Alliot-Marie addressed the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking to a group of MEPs in the human rights sub-committee, Alliot-Marie mused about the need to defend freedoms.

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  • Khashoggi: "Such actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community." (Photo: pomed.org)

She lavished praise on Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a woman whose life was turned upside four months prior.

Cengiz would never see Khashoggi again after he had entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, where he had been murdered.

"I would like to personally convey to you today, the extent of our support for you," said Alliot-Marie, noting a European Parliament resolution had been adopted to shine a light on Khashoggi's killing.

Less than an hour earlier, Alliot-Marie had herself met with a half dozen Saudi ambassadors in a closed door meeting with other centre-right MEPs down the hall.

She made no mention of it.

Nor did she mention that she had voted against a call to impose an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia just two weeks after Khashoggi's death.

The same year the Saudis had dismembered and dissolved Khashoggi's body in acid, French weapons sales to the regime was booming, doubling to about €1bn.

Alliot-Marie had also voted down a proposal to slap an export ban on surveillance systems used by the Saudis as a means of repression. She did the same again in a separate European Parliament resolution on women rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

Up until becoming an MEP, she had been France's minister of defence, then interior and finally foreign affairs.

Cengiz was left demanding justice from the MEPs - having no idea some of them were actively undermining those efforts with their votes.

"We were planning, we were putting together our life for the future," she said of her loss.

Cengiz pointed out that the United States had failed to condemn the murder, given contracts for weapons' sales to the Saudis.

"They were more important than defending human rights, than defending the rule of law," she said.

Alliot-Marie kept silent. But the apparent contradiction between words and action is not unique to the former French defence minister.

Voting records over the years by the centre-right, conservatives and far-right MEPs on Gulf states reveals a pattern of support for regimes known to abuse, kill, and torture dissidents.

At the same time, they tend to condemn widespread repression of corrupted leftists regimes in Venezuela in what appears to be a politicised double-standard.

The support for the Gulf states comes on the back of wider regional security worries, with some MEPs backing any regime that declares itself an enemy of political Islam.

Khashoggi and Saudi weapons exports

A European Parliament report on arms exports in July included a call to follow Denmark, Finland and Germany's lead in restricting arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi's death.

But some 100 centre-right MEPs voted against the Khashoggi call in a September plenary, including the chair of the European Parliament's development committee, Tomas Tobe, and former parliament president Jerzy Buzek.

Others, like Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski, a former journalist himself, also voted against. Sikorski was Poland's foreign affairs minister and defence minister before becoming an MEP.

Asked to comment on his vote, Sikorski has yet to respond.

His wife Anne Applebaum is an outspoken American journalist who sat on the board of the Washington Post, the same paper Khashoggi wrote a column for.

In his last column for the paper, published posthumously, Khashoggi accused the international community for not speaking out against the abuses by the regime, like the five-year prison sentence for a fellow Saudi-writer.

"Such actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community," he wrote. "Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence."

It didn't end there.

Gambling with human rights

The centre-right EPP group had demanded a whole series of separate votes on statements in a move designed to get them pulled from the arms report.

Although they lost, the efforts shine light into a group that appears to play human rights against geo-politics.

Aside from refusing to support extra restrictions on Saudi weapons exports, they also widely opposed sale bans to the United Arab Emirates and the Yemeni government.

Other proposals to halt exports of arms and surveillance technology used by the Egyptians against human rights defenders were also shot down by numerous centre-right MEPs.

Spanish centre-right MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White said the EPP had opposed the statements because there "is a long tradition in the group against the practice of 'naming and shaming'."

"I believe there is something hypocritical and flawed to mention some countries but abstain from referring to others," he said, in an email.

Yet earlier this year, he helped table a resolution on behalf of the EPP where they named and shamed Venezuela for fraudulent elections. The EPP resolution had "strongly condemned" the regime under Nicolás Maduro.

López-Istúriz White is also the current president of the EU Friendship Group with the United Arab Emirates. Friendship groups are controversial because they are an unregulated body sometimes used by MEPs to allow regimes to gain a foothold within the European Parliament under the pretext of expanding social and cultural understandings.

An outlier among most liberal MEPs in the Renew Europe group, French MEP Nathalie Loiseau had also voted against efforts to stem repressive surveillance equipment to Egypt.

She also opposed a statement citing European arms export complicity in crimes committed by the Saudi's in Yemen.

Loiseau was also a French minister before becoming an MEP, where she now chairs the parliament's committee on security and defence.

A report from the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, details how French surveillance technology is being used by Egypt as a tool of wide-spread repression.

It too had noted French arms exports to Egypt amounted to some 10 percent of all its global sales between 2012 and 2016.

Meanwhile, Hatice Cengiz is left making impassioned pleas.

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on the anniversary of her late fiancee's death, she demanded global leaders boycott a G20 summit to be held in Riyadh this November.

The headline her to the column "We have been deprived of Jamal Khashoggi's voice. But his silence says it all", echoed Khashoggi's final written call for justice shortly after his death.

His body was never recovered.

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