Over the last two weeks, the new leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has used both his introductory article in the Guardian and his keynote speech to the Labour Party to attack Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He called on Britain to “oppose Saudi bombs falling on Yemen and the Bahraini dictatorship murdering its democracy movement, armed by us”
In his 29 October speech at the Labour Party Conference, he claimed that Bahrain and Saudi Arabia “abuse their own citizens and repress democratic rights”. Corbyn warned that Britain should halt its “fawning and uncritical support” for these countries.
In the case of Bahrain, these comments reflect Corbyn’s complete ignorance at the distance Bahrain has travelled on the reform and democratization process, as a mature Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. Elected parliamentarians are at the centre of political life in Bahrain and the country enjoys one of the most enlightened and tolerant political systems in the region – making it seem bizarre as to why Jeremy Corbyn would chose to continue to single out Bahrain in his rhetoric. Indeed, these strange and unwarranted attacks, calculated to damage Britain’s relations with its GCC allies, strangely mirror recent comments by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and members of Iran’s political leadership, attacking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
It may come as a surprise to some that this left-wing leader used his first public addresses to attack two of Britain’s key strategic allies. However, when one looks at Corbyn’s parliamentary record, it can be seen that this is totally in character:
Corbyn has a long history of uncomfortably close relationships with militants in the Bahrain opposition, having joined them for protests outside the Bahrain Embassy on occasions and demonstrated with them outside Parliament.
Corbyn is also one of the major sponsors of a number of draft parliamentary bills attacking Bahrain, most of which never gained much attention. He also used several parliamentary questions to ask ministers about British policies towards Bahrain and has attended and spoken at numerous Bahrain opposition events.
The British media has recently given a lot of attention to Corbyn’s uncomfortably close relations with extremists from Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical groups, describing them as his “friends”. However, Corbyn’s unduly close relationship with Bahrain and GCC opposition groups, like the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement (funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran) have been less-well documented.
Corbyn’s populist left-wing policies earned him a lot of support with disaffected British voters. However, there has been less discussion of the impact of his leadership on Britain’s foreign policy and relations with key allies in the Middle East region and specifically the GCC.
Corbyn’s strange position on the Ukraine issue and Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy have caused him to be described in the media as one of “Putin’s useful idiots”.
Regarding Iran, Corbyn is one of the oldest exponents of ending sanctions on Iran and welcoming Iran back into the international community. In 2014 he went as far as joining a delegation to visit Iran and supporting Iran’s inclusion in Syria peace negotiations. Corbyn has also adopted a pro-Iran position with regard to Yemen, condemning the Saudi-led Coalition’s military and humanitarian campaign.
This suggests a naïve and dangerous attitude of appeasement towards the aggressive regional policies of Iran; and a sympathy towards the side which – along with Russia – has bankrolled and armed Bashar al-Assad’s genocide against the Syrian people.
In short, Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions are potentially catastrophic for Britain’s approach towards the Middle East, putting the UK at odds with its natural strategic allies like the GCC nations, and seeking better ties with Iran and its proxy groups like Hezbollah.
It is sometimes said that with leadership comes responsibility. We can only hope that Corbyn’s sudden rise to frontline politics forces him to reappraise his approach to the Middle East and Britain’s strategic alliances.