David Cameron has made his first visit to Saudi Arabia since becoming Prime Minister.
There was no fanfare to the trip – but there was a lot of controversy.
Cameron travelled with no reporters, unusual for a foreign trip. But not surprising. As the Arab spring topples one dictator after another. It’s become harder for the UK to publicly defend its close commercial and economic ties with countries like Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without political parties or elections and a ban on women driving. It’s also the UK’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East with bilateral trade worth £15bn a year and Saudi investment in the UK worth more than 62bn.
Between 2006 and 2010, Riyadh accounted for a fifth of all British arms exports. On this trip Cameron was trying to persuade the Saudis to buy Typhoon Euro fighters after their success in the Libyan war.
As he was shaking hands with King Abdullah a British parliamentary committee was questioning why the government is still supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, despite a crackdown taking place there.
A crackdown that cost more lives on the same day Cameron was visiting.
The UK government sees strong relations with the Saudis as vital to advancing its interests in the region. Up for discussion on this one day trip were Syria, Iran, Yemen and Somalia.
David Cameron will be coming home to more controversy than usual over his trip to Saudi Arabia and to questioning from parliament over Britain arms deals with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is cracking down on protests at home – and abroad in Bahrain making it increasingly difficult to justify the close relationship with the monarchy.