Prince Charles has opened the first section of a new British naval base in Bahrain.
The base represents the first permanent military presence in the kingdom since 1971. It will be used by Britain’s Royal Navy alongside the US’ own large naval base.
The new Royal Navy base is currently being constructed at a cost of £30m by the Bahrain Defence Force, in an arrangement which the Ministry of Defence described a “gift” from Bahrain to the UK. The UK is expected to be contribute around £7.5m towards the base, the cost of which has ballooned in size from the originally announced £15m total figure.
The Bahraini ambassador to the UK wrote in the Telegraph on Thursday that the Naval Support Facility (NSF) in Manama was just the latest expression of a long alliance between the two nations.
Fawaz bin Mohamed bin Khalifa said: “With the region continuing to face difficult times, the British return to East of Suez is a reassuring sign that our countries remain steadfast friends and allies, with strong diplomatic, military and trade relations,”
He said the move would only help to buttress the two nations’ shared trade and security interests.
“Prince Charles’ visit is an auspicious moment marking two centuries of respect and cooperation, and the Kingdom of Bahrain is steadfast in its commitment to further strengthening these relations long into the future,” Al Khalifa said.
In April, a report for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee blasted Bahrain’s record on human rights abuses, not least during the violent crushing of Arab Spring protests with the direct support of another controversial UK ally, Saudi Arabia.
The report also argued that human rights had effectively been downgraded by the UK government in a bid to shore up relations with the authoritarian state, which enjoys arms trading and security arrangements with Britain.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have been on a tour of the Gulf region this week, visiting Oman, the UAE and Bahrain.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), in a letter to the Prince of Wales last month, said that “given the recent intensification of human rights violations by the Government of Bahrain”, a royal visit now to promote commerce and arms trade will “enable those continuing violations.”
The campaign group urged the Prince of Wales to cancel his trip, arguing: “By cancelling your visit you will be upholding and representing the freedoms enjoyed in the United Kingdom: freedom of speech, religion, movement, assembly and freedom of the press.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “Bahrain will see Prince Charles’ visit as a green light for their repression and use him to whitewash their terrible record, at a time when the repression is intensifying and the government is eliminating its critics. Prince Charles should take this opportunity to meet the jailed defender Nabeel Rajab, who is fighting for democracy and human rights, not dining with the architects of injustice.”