British politicians to be quizzed over Middle East arms deals

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United Kingdom Foreign Minister William Hague

United Kingdom Foreign Minister William Hague

Two British politicians are to be questioned in the UK parliament today amid suspicion that Middle East arms deals helped put down Arab Spring uprisings in Bahrain and Egypt, according to media reports. 

Cabinet ministers Vince Cable and William Hague will be challenged by their counterparts over the sales of British weapons worth more than £12m to the region in just three months last year, according to the Independent newspaper.

"There is a real concern that some exports to parts of the Middle East could end up in the suppression of internal dissent," Labour MP Richard Burden told the daily.

He also called for more action to assess the risk of weapons sent to countries where they could be later used to suppress demonstrations.

Fears that the UK could have indirectly assisted in the crackdown of Arab Spring protesters were sparked following high value weapons sales to the region last year.

Between July and September, the country is thought to have licensed £2.2m worth of arms exports to Bahrain, with weapons including gun silencers and naval guns. According to reports, £1.3m worth of those weapons were designed specifically for military use.

During the same timeframe, £8.9m-worth of arms were sold to oil-rich Gulf state Saudi Arabia. This included parts for combat aircraft, army vehicles and machine vehicles, of which £4.5m worth was for the military.

At least 35 people are thought to have died in Bahrain during last year’s protests, when demonstrators, mainly from Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, took to the streets in a bid to end the long rule of the Al Khalifa family.

The Sunni-Muslim monarchy imposed martial law and brought in troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to quell the uprisings.

The tiny island state has since received international condemnation for its bloody crackdown, and been accused of using excessive force and against protesters by an inquiry panel.

Also during the July-September period, Egypt received £1.6m worth of arms from Britain, with parts for combat vehicles and radar among the products sold. Some £1m was for military use.

Ahead of the session, Cable is expected announce initiatives which will make defence contracts more transparent and permit temporary embargos on troubled areas.

He will also propose measures compelling arms producers and the government to report on and publish details of sales.

However, MPs will argue that the Middle East arms trade continues to flourish, irrespective of a previous government pledge to prohibit sales to countries dealing with internal unrest.

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