By Daily News Egypt
German Vice Chancellor and Minister for Energy and Economics visited Saudi Arabia on Sunday for talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and other government representatives.
Gabriel’s Saudi visit comes as part of a wider visit to the GCC, where he will also travel to the UAE on Monday, concluding his trip with a visit to Qatar on Tuesday.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Gabriel expressed criticism concerning the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is currently imprisoned for allegedly making remarks against Islam. Badawi faces 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes, in addition to a fine as a result.
Gabriel tackled the issue head on, telling reporters that “the punishment[…] is something that is for us unimaginable and something that weighs on our relationship”. Gabriel also announced that he had raised the topic in his meeting with the King.
Another sensitive topic for discussion involved German exports, particularly arms exports, to the Kingdom. Germany is the third largest source overall for Saudi imports, and still sells military equipment and weapons to countries frequently accused of committing human rights violations, like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Egypt.
Though Gabriel’s new stance on weapon exports, restricting heavy weapon deals like tank sales to critical regions like the Middle East, has been applauded by some commentators, there is still severe criticism. This comes especially from the political left, concerning the export of small arms and other weapon systems to countries where they might be used against the population itself.
This comes amongst a report by IHS Jane’s defence analysts on Sunday that Saudi Arabia rose to become the world’s largest importer of weapon systems in 2014. The country’s arms spending is likely to increase even more in 2015. At the same time Germany is the fifth largest exporter of defence systems.
Yet Gabriel partially avoided the critical topic of arms sales by excluding the arms industry from his delegation, which included 80 German industry representatives, while putting an emphasis on renewable energy and infrastructure.