Theresa May Hopes To Be A Role Model For Marginalised Saudi Women

Illustration courtesy Stratfor

Saudi Arabia is a major customer for British defense companies, an ally in countering terrorism and a wealthy oil-producing nation that May's government hopes to win over after launching Brexit talks late last month.

With British exports of goods and services to Saudi topping 6.5 billion pounds ($8.1 billion) in 2015, the kingdom is Britain's largest Mideast trading partner, reports The Associated Press.

May insisted human rights would be a topic of discussion when she meets Saudi leaders.

Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Saudi Arabia in order to strengthen her country's ties with the Arab country.

We are firm supporters of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, an ambitious blueprint for internal reform that aims to deliver greater inclusivity for all Saudi citizens, something we agree is essential to Saudi Arabia's long-term stability and success.

She kicked off her Riyadh visit by meeting with Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism czar, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also Interior Minister overseeing a vast array of security forces.

The Prime Minister has faced repeated calls to suspend arms sales following claims of breaches of worldwide law in Yemen under the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign.

The Saudis back the war-torn country's internationally recognised government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

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Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an end to arms sales from Britain and the United States to Saudi Arabia over the coalition s actions in the Arabian Peninsula state. "The most important thing is that [Theresa May] can not ignore the country's human rights record", Ann Clwyd MP, a Member of the Foreign Affairs select committee and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Human Rights told the BBC.

"We have no difficulty in raising hard issues with those that we meet with, be it in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere around the world", she said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's main opposition Labour Party, demanded that May raise concerns about "the dictatorial Saudi monarchy's shocking human rights record".

"I hope also that people see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions, " she said.

May explained she plans to talk to her about "the role that she plays, and generally we do encourage people to look at a woman's role in society".

She also defended the drive to strike new trade links, saying the United Kingdom had "long-term and historic relationships" with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

May has made a point of meeting with Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, a princess of the House of Saud and one of the few women to hold public office in the country.