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Fightback No. 112 (November 2017)


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truedeau lavThe government of Canada has come under scrutiny for a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia is increasingly cited for human rights violations, the new federal Liberal government has refused to back down from the agreement, despite being very critical when it was signed by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

While Prime Minister Trudeau has claimed that the transaction was limited to “jeeps”, it is clear that the deal is much broader and includes weaponized armoured vehicles from General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario. The Liberal party top brass slammed the deal in 2014 when it was signed by the Harper government, with Trudeau quipping “principled foreign policy indeed”, and promised to cancel the deal if elected.

Now that the Liberals have formed government, these principles do not seem to come into play. The government’s argument rests primarily on Saudi Arabia’s assurance that the weapons “will not be used against civilians.” Given Saudi Arabia's recent military interventions in Bahrain and Yemen, you would have to be very naive to believe any such assurances. Indeed, it is unlikely that the Liberals themselves even believe this.

Where will the weapons go?

Saudi Arabia’s war on northern Yemen is reported to have killed almost six thousand people since it began in March last year. While the Saudis were expecting a speedy victory, they have spent billions on the war, and are strapped for arms as the Al-Saud regime continues their attempt to assert themselves as a regional power. The deal with Canada – among others with NATO states – represents a convenient opportunity to replenish their war machine.

The war has also destabilized the situation inside Saudi Arabia. Despite the ‘El Dorado’ level of riches enjoyed by the Al-Saud regime sitting on a majority of the world’s known oil reserves, the regime’s politics is based on a very extreme (and once very marginal) form of political Islam known as Wahhabism. Some of the now well-known characteristics of the regime include the rampant oppression of women along with religious and sexual minorities.

The majority of the workforce in Saudi Arabia is foreign and lives in almost slave like conditions – many having their passports confiscated by their bosses upon arriving. Those deemed to have simply offended a Saudi citizen face lashings or death by hanging. The same punishment is also visited upon women who are raped or refuse to wear religious headdress. The Shia population is also heavily repressed with one of the principal leaders of their community being beheaded recently along with 46 others. This led to a demonstration of more than 30,000 mostly Shias across the country, who used the slogan “Down with Al-Saud”.

This and similar demonstrations are heavily repressed by the kingdom’s interior security, where the Canadian vehicles are reportedly headed. The reactionary policies of Saudi Arabia do not stop within the Arabian Peninsula. The regime has a program for building Wahhabi schools all across the region, and is also a known sponsor of ISIS, along with other reactionary militant groups and political parties in the Middle East.

Canada not the only culprit

When pressed on the subject, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion insisted that Canada is not the only country to have weapon’s deals in place with Saudi Arabia, and Dion is correct. British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently had to reluctantly defend security cooperation with the Saudis on the basis of the absurd reasoning that the Saudis are “fighting radicalism” in the region. Dion's predecessor, John Baird, echoed a similar absurdity when questioned on the deal recently. The fact is, that almost all of the NATO countries have some sort of trade deal with Saudi Arabia.

It is clearly not this supposed ‘world security’ that the Saudis provide to the region that gives them the support of NATO countries. It is simply the fact they are sitting on the largest oil reserve in the world and thus, enjoy significant geopolitical power. In fact, on the question of security, the US has recently been forced to start working with Iran in the region, due to its interests in Iraq being compromised by ISIS. This has caused the Al-Saud regime much displeasure.

Traditionally there has been an interdependence between Saudi Arabia and the major imperialist powers, that goes back to the birth of the nation. The Al-Saud tribe – along with the formerly very marginal Wahhabi politics – were able to win power in the region due to British support. Now with the stability of the regime under threat from its own oppressed masses, it is NATO-countries who are lending a hand in the interest of the fledgling regime’s preservation.

The revolutionary climate will escalate not only among the Shia, but amongst the foreign workers, as well as the citizens who are now feeling the largest austerity measures ever imposed by the government, in an attempt to address the skyrocketing national deficit largely caused by the plummeting price of oil and the bombing of Yemen.

It cannot be understated what kind of effect the fall of the Saudi regime would have in inspiring democratic, socialist and anti-imperialist movements not only in the Middle East, but all across the world. The regime is using bloody repression to keep the masses down, and will need as many arms shipments as they can in order to hang on to power.

Where is the opposition?

Given all of this, you would think that the Canadian labour movement and the NDP would be at the forefront of the fight against selling arms to this reactionary regime. Unfortunately, there has been an eerie silence on this issue coming from the federal NDP leadership. This silence directly contradicts Thomas Mulcair who promised that the NDP would be the “progressive opposition”, following the election of the Trudeau Liberals last fall. What more of a progressive issue could there be than opposing selling arms to a regime that regularly beheads its own citizens?

The argument used to justify this deal is that it will provide $15 billion of “investment” for Unifor-organized workers at a London, Ontario manufacturing plant. Indeed, during the federal election, a local union leader told the NDP to “shut up” about the deal, before in turn being told to shut up about shutting up by the union tops. Accepting this blood money is no way to build solidarity amongst workers. In the long run the conditions of workers in Canada, not to mention Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East, will be far better protected by the overthrow of the rotten House of Saud. Rejecting the blood money will weaken pro-imperialist right-wing corporate interests and increase workers’ unity and militancy in Canada. That is the way to save jobs! “Business-union” policies merely weaken the movement and pit worker against worker. They must be rejected.

This failure to speak out is another reason why Mulcair needs to resign as the leader of the federal NDP. His attempt to brand himself as a “progressive opposition” is a sham. Following the humiliating defeat of the NDP in last fall’s federal election, you would think that Mulcair and Co. would have learned from this experience. The complete inability of Mulcair to take a position on something as simple as selling arms to a blood soaked monarchy, demonstrates more clearly than ever that Mulcair must be removed as leader and that the party must adopt socialist policies. People are not looking for secret back room deals – we need an internationalist and working-class based foreign policy to expose the Trudeau government and galvanize support.