Report: UK ‘secretly’ doubles funding to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain

The UK government’s funding for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has more than doubled this year through Persian Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF) for unknown reasons, according to a report.

GSF spending for Saudi Arabia increased from £813,605 to £1.8m and from £710,028 to £1.8m for Bahrain in 2021-2022, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) disclosed in response to Freedom of Information requests made by Middle East Eye.

“The UK works with partners around the world to improve their human rights records, including in the Persian Gulf,” FCDO claimed in response to MEE.

“All cooperation through the Persian Gulf Strategy Fund is subject to rigorous risk assessments to ensure all work meets our human rights obligations and values,” it added.

Scottish National Party MP Brendan O’Hara, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Persian Gulf, told MEE that despite previous concerns raised by the APPG about the fund, the increase in funding to the two Arab countries is “astounding.”

He reiterated a call he made last year to suspend the fund, saying the Select Committee should investigate the fund’s activities “as a matter of urgency.”

“The fact that the UK government has chosen to spend millions more pounds of taxpayers’ money on projects in the Persian Gulf during a cost-of-living crisis is astounding,” he said.

“I will be writing urgently to the foreign secretary to raise my concerns regarding this alleged funding increase, and to ask for a breakdown of where and to whom this funding has been allocated.”

The report comes as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remain close allies of the UK despite widespread criticisms leveled against the two Persian Gulf countries over their human rights violations.

A Saudi court recently sentenced Salma al-Shehab, a Ph.D. candidate at Leeds University and mother of two children, to 34 years in prison and a 34-year travel ban due to tweets that were critical of Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has also been leading an all-out war and economic siege against Yemen for many years in cooperation with some Arab and Western countries.

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