Western support for the slave trade

February 24, 2013

The historical Arab slave trade, which began in the 7th century and lasted for than a millennium, brought millions of East Africans to the Persian Gulf to work as laborers, servants, and sex slaves. While it ended officially in the 19th century, something strikingly similar continues to the present day. Each year a global network of recruiters carries thousands of men and women from developing countries in East Asia and Africa to work as housemaids, waitresses, and construction workers. Paid a pittance for their work, often abused by their employers, denied basic rights, and housed in squalid compounds, these laborers are proof that the slave trade is still alive and well in the Persian Gulf.

In an interesting article entitled Arab Slave Traders Supporting Democracy in Syria? Finian Cunningham describes this modern-day slave trade and asks a good question: How can these countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which tolerate such gross violations of human rights in their own countries, seriously claim to be supporting Western governments in their calls for democratic reforms in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.  The question is rhetorical and the answer is that these calls for democratic reforms don’t even rise to the level of hypocrisy. They can’t be taken seriously.

What *is* hypocritical however is the military support Western governments provide for these Arab countries, for in the West slavery really was abolished and it is widely and genuinely recognized now as a moral abomination. So it is hypocritical indeed for westerners to condemn slavery, champion human rights, and then arm those countries in which slavery is routinely practiced and human rights routinely denied.

And to what extent are western countries supplying these Arab states with weapons? The graphs below show (a) that the US is by far the largest supplier of military weapons in the world, and (b) that Saudi Arabia has emerged as the top recipient of US arms (the UAE is third). Moreover, the hypocrisy is not limited to the US. As this article from a UAE newspaper makes clear, Saudi Arabia is also the top recipient for German weapons. 


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Arms sales




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