Saudi Arabia signs warplane deal with UK during crown prince visit

Saudi Arabia's crown prince has wrapped up a three-day visit to the UK by signing a deal to buy 48 warplanes. The jet deal immediately came under criticism from human rights groups.

Britain on Friday signed a multi-billion-pound preliminary order for Saudi Arabia to purchase 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, despite its criticism of the kingdom's war in Yemen.

The "memorandum of intent" to buy the jets came on the last day of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's three-day visit to the UK.

"The Crown Prince's visit has opened a new chapter in our two countries' historic relationship," British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

"We have taken a vital step towards finalizing another order for Typhoon jets that will increase security in the Middle East and boost British industry and jobs in our unrivalled aerospace sector," he said.

Read more: Saudi Arabia: The crown prince and the generation gap

The crown prince's visit was marked by protests against the kingdom's role in Yemen

'Shameful deal'

Military equipment maker BAE Systems will carry out the potentially lucrative deal, which has been under discussion for several years.

A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015, with rights groups accusing both sides of carrying out possible war crimes.

Read more: Yemen faces 'catastrophic' conditions, says UN

Yemen's forgotten war: Locals tell their stories

"If agreed, this shameful deal will be celebrated in the palaces of Riyadh and by the arms companies who will profit from it, but it will mean even greater destruction for the people of Yemen," said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

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Human Rights Watch, which has documented multiple instances of Saudi warplanes bombing civilian targets and infrastructure in Yemen, slammed the jet sale.

"UK shamelessly selling Saudi 48 Typhoon jets, while Saudi air force continues to rain death and misery on Yemen," tweeted Philippe Bolopion, the deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Formation of an anti-corruption committee

Dozens of princes, former ministers and prominent businessmen have been detained across Saudi Arabia in an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign. The arrests happened after King Salman ordered the creation of an anti-corruption committee, headed by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Reforming the country or silencing potential rivals?

The newly formed committee possesses wide ranging powers, including the ability to issue arrest warrants, freeze assets and impose travel bans. Saudi Arabia's crown prince has vowed to fight corruption in the world's top oil exporter. Thirty-two-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud is widely regarded as the driving force behind opening up the ultra-conservative country.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

One of Middle East’s richest in hot waters

One of the arrested, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is a billionaire and business tycoon who has extensive investments in Western companies such as Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Citigroup, the Four Seasons hotel chains and the ride sharing service Lyft. One of the Middle East's richest persons, Prince Alwaleed, is also known for being one of the most outspoken Saudi royals.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

'Homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted'

The detainees include ex-finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf and former head of the royal court Khaled al-Tuwaijri. Three former state officials were also sacked earlier before being detained. "The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable," said a royal degree connected to the arrests.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Too much happening too quickly

In other developments, the Saudi monarch removed the prominent prince in charge of the National Guard. The development followed the resignation of a close ally, Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri. These political developments further shake up Saudi Arabia and the greater Middle East as regional conflicts rage on the kingdom's borders.

Rebranding the Kingdom

Prince Mohammed, who may rule Saudi Arabia for decades when the king dies, has sought to re-brand the image of the conservative monarchy.

But the war he launched in Yemen has tarnished his image as a reformer and moderate.

His visit to the UK was marred by street protests against arms sales to the kingdom.

Yemen was a topic of discussion at a private dinner inside May's country residence on Thursday night.

Germany earlier this year halted arms sales to the parties involved in the Yemen conflict, prompting Saudi Arabia to say it would find weapons elsewhere.

cw/aw (AFP, Reuters)