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Western governments 'enable' Arab regimes to spy on citizens, speakers at intl. arms conference say

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file picture, protesters hold up pro-Yemeni placards as they demonstrate against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the visit of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside Downing Street, in central London on March 7, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Speakers at an international conference on the human rights implications of arms trade have argued that Western nations and arms companies are complicit in aiding repressive Arab regimes in the Middle East region to spy on their citizens.

Participants at Selling Death: Why the International Arms Trade Must be Controlled conference decried what they described as a “corrupt” arms trade that brought in huge profits for the “global military-industrial complex.”

Egyptian human rights activist Sherif Mansour spoke of “the quiet war,” which he said takes place every day across the Middle East whereby “governments use violence against their own population to build the fear barrier to stop them from ever dreaming to be free like they did 10 years ago in the Arab Spring.”

He went on to highlight that much of what happens is “enabled by Western capitals through the software arms trade, the surveillance industry.”

The conference, organized by independent advocacy and research platform Egypt Watch, took place on Saturday in London in collaboration with the Project for Peace and Justice, founded by British politician and former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn.

The Peace and Justice Project campaigns to “bring people together for social and economic justice, peace, and human rights” and to build “solidarity and hope for a more decent world,” according to its website.

“The international arms trade is extremely profitable for the global military-industrial complex,” Osama Gaweesh, editor-in-chief at Egypt Watch, said in his opening remarks at the conference.

He added, “It is riddled with bribery and corruption which has been known to be a main source for arms co-operations.”

Abdullah Alaoudh, the director for the Gulf at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy, also addressed the conference.

“Despite the wide-ranging concerns in the US and the United Kingdom about Saudi Arabia military intervention in Yemen, both Washington and London continued their support and continued to export arms to Saudi Arabia from 2015 to 2019 during the Yemen war,” Alaoudh said.

“These are the major democratic countries that are calling for democracy, for stabilizing the region for protecting the interests of the people for supporting democratic values. Nonetheless, you see these arms sales to most brutal authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in the Middle East,” he added.

Richard Burgon, the Labour MP for Leeds East, pointed to Britain’s involvement in arms trade deals, specifically in relation to Palestine and Israel.

“The British government continues to authorize arms sales to Israel despite clear evidence that the weapons of the types authorized for sale have been used in violation of international war. This means the UK is providing material support for Israel’s illegal use of force,” Burgon said.

Corbyn closed the conference by highlighting the hypocrisy of the British government. 

“We are subsiding the destruction of Yemen and then patting ourselves on the back for giving money to Yemen in order to provide replacement water supplies, housing schools, hospitals, and all the other things being destroyed in the war in the first place,” he said. 

Corbyn also called for action to stop the international arms trade.

“There’s no point complaining about the effects of war, of human rights abuses, of children dying of cholera in Yemen or peoples homes being destroyed in various places around the world if we don’t do something to stop the sales of arms that is being used to destroy those people’s lives,” he said in his final comments.

Earlier this week, a new investigation revealed that Britain has exported around three times as much weaponry and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a devastating military aggression against Yemen, than previously believed.

According to a report published by British online newspaper The Independent, the British government’s official figures state that British ministers have signed off 6.7 billion pounds (9.28 US dollars) worth of arms, such as bombs, missiles, and aircraft, to the oil-rich kingdom ever since it started its bombardment campaign of neighboring Yemen back in March 2015.

However, researchers say the actual figure is likely to be close to £20 billion (over $27 billion) because the official numbers do not entail sales carried out under an obscure “open license” system.

Earlier this month, Italy lifted a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after previous concerns that weapons sold to them could be used to kill civilians in Yemen. 

Government sources in Italy told Reuters news agency that the decision to loosen restrictions was aimed at easing diplomatic tensions with the two Persian Gulf countries. 

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