Political unease over King’s visit to Saudi Arabia

The photo shows Felipe, the then Prince of Asturias, with the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and the Crown Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz in Barcelona in November 2010.

The photo shows Felipe, the then Prince of Asturias, with the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and the Crown Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz in Barcelona in November 2010.

Politicians have expressed their unease at King Felipe’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, with Podemos condemning it outright and Ciudadanos demanding that the topic of human rights be raised.

Podemos parliamentary spokeswoman Irene Montero vehemently denounced Felipe VI’s forthcoming coming visit to Saudi Arabia, saying that her party was “ashamed” that he would “have his photo taken with dictators”. “We should all be ashamed that the King, who represents the image of our whole country, would have his photo taken with dictators,” she said.

It is hoped that the King’s trip to the Middle Eastern state this weekend will confirm a contract for the Spanish company Navantia to build five small warships for the Saudi armed forces, a contract that will guarantee work for the Ferrol shipyard in A Coruña and the San Fernando shipyard in Cadiz for the next five years.

Íñigo Errejón, the parliamentary spokesman for Unidos Podemos, also expressed his dismay at the decision in parliament yesterday, saying that Saudi Arabia was “not the most appropriate” destination for the King, adding that “more care should be taken over which countries we give the nod to”. He also expressed his hope that the new head of the Spanish diplomatic service, Alfonso Dastis, would “take a stand” against the Human Rights violations occurring in the country.

For his part, the leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, did not openly object to the visit, but made it clear that the government and not the Royal Household should use this opportunity to denounce human rights abuses in the gulf state. Rivera pointed out that like Saudi Arabia, there are many other countries which do not respect human rights, but which Spanish representatives also visit and with which commercial relations are maintained, for example Iran, Venezuela and China. “One thing is diplomacy,” he said, “and another is not defending your own position.”

Ciudadanos’ spokesperson Juan Carlos Girauta, added that in his opinion it is entirely acceptable to balance the defence of human rights in Saudi Arabia with the defence of economic interests in Spain. He suggested Spain try to “maintain the kind of privileged relationship” that allow it to seal commercial contracts with the Arab state, especially for “such a battered sector like shipbuilding”.

Girauta also added that the mayors of both the implicated towns, Jorge Suárez (Ferrol en Común) and Patricia Cavada (PSOE), are “in favour of this contract and the benefits it will bring to the local economy”.

The PSOE defended the trip as necessary for Spain’s commercial prosperity and foreign relations, with their spokesperson, Antonio Hernando, stating “nobody can doubt our head of state’s commitment to human rights”, alluding, in passing, to the King’s recent appearance at the United Nations General Assembly.

Rafael Hernando, spokesperson for the PP also defended the King’s decision to make the trip, underlining the fact that Saudi Arabia is “undoubtedly” aware that both the King and the Spanish government are firm defenders of human rights, but that the Gulf state has “projects that are of enormous economic interest” to this country, and which affect the employment of “many Spaniards and many different companies”. He also pointed out that the choice to make a trade visit to one country or another is not automatically dictated by whether there are “shared political convictions” with the form of government in the other country. If this were the case, he remarked, “economic, cultural and political activity would be severely limited” and consequently “external commerce for Spanish companies” would also be limited.

Published Think Spain10 November 2016

Return to Daily News