Tuesday

24th Nov 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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.

Investigation

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

EPP to oppose Saudi Arabia human rights resolution

The European Parliament plenary on Thursday is set to vote on a joint resolution on "the situation of Ethiopian migrants in detention centres in Saudi Arabia." The largest political group, the EPP, is against a common position.

Investigation

Exposed: French complicity in Yemen and Libya

French defence companies are providing training to Saudis on weapons that France's own military intelligence says puts almost 500,000 people in Yemen at risk. Meanwhile, new evidence has emerged of the French-built Mirage fighter jet being used in Libya.

EU parliament calls for feminist foreign policy

The European Parliament has called for gender-equal foreign and security policy. Sweden already has one. But will other EU institutions or member states follow their lead?

Deal reached on linking EU funds to rule of law

The deal means MEPs and the German EU presidency unblocked a major political hurdle to agreeing on the €1.8 trillion long-term EU budget and coronavirus recovery package.

Feature

EU Parliament: Strasbourg, or the climate?

A report of the European Parliament's environmental management unit proposes a treaty change to move the European Parliament's headquarters from Strasbourg to Brussels - in order for the institution to become climate-neutral by 2030.

Opinion

German presidency's broken promises on 'fair tax'

At the start of the German presidency of the EU Council it committed itself to a "fair taxation" agenda. But as we enter the final leg of its six-month term, time is running out to make good on this promise.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. There is 'no Russia-Turkey alliance'
  2. EU air quality improves, but pollution levels still high
  3. 'Golden Passports': Malta takes 67 days to respond to EU
  4. Covid-19: Romania's rural kids hit hardest by pandemic
  5. 'We call on the EU to appoint a Horn of Africa envoy'
  6. Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2020
  7. EU stands by anti-Covid drug, despite WHO doubts
  8. Russia is 'pre-eminent naval power' in Mediterranean

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us