THE Queen was accused of making a catastrophic error of judgment yesterday after she welcomed and dined with the king of Bahrain, whose regime is accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses.
The monarch and her family sat down to lunch with the Middle East ruler and other controversial foreign royals as they celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.
The event was supposed to be a rare meeting of monarchs to celebrate the 60-year milestone, but it has been overshadowed by strong criticism from campaigners about those invited to the Windsor Castle event.Members of the British royal family attending the lunch included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke of York and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The King of Bahrain was joined by his wife Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa and, at the reception held before lunch, she was seen talking to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Guests from controversial regimes included Swaziland’s King Mswati III, former prime minister of Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Sabah, who stepped down over a corruption row, and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain.
The anti-monarchy group Republic, along with human rights groups, has accused Bahrain’s government, dominated by members of its royal family, of orchestrating the violent suppression of pro-democracy protesters last year.
When the country’s King Hamad Al-Khalifa arrived at the castle, he was personally greeted by the Queen, who smiled as she shook his hand.
Republic’s chief executive Graham Smith said: “The Queen cannot hide behind protocol and precedent – this is a crisis of her own making.
“The British people strongly support the struggle for democracy in the Middle East and around the world. This is a catastrophic error of judgment that has already prompted a fierce backlash.
“The Queen owes a personal apology to all those fighting for freedom in those countries and to the families of those who have died doing so.
“The Queen’s decision to personally invite these tyrants to lunch sends an appalling message to the world, and seriously damages Britain’s reputation.”
The popular uprisings that toppled a succession of dictators across the Middle East last year failed to ignite significant protests in the Arab Peninsula.
But there were major demonstrations in Bahrain, with protesters calling for a greater say in government. These were violently put down by Saudi forces called in by the regime.
Bahrain has said it aims to improve its human rights record after its officials held an inquiry into the handling of last year’s protests.
Meanwhile, King Mswati is accused of having a lavish lifestyle while his people starve. Protests were held outside his exclusive London hotel earlier this week.
Denis MacShane, a former Foreign Office minister, was another vocal critic of the guest list and laid the blame at the door of the Foreign Office. Speaking about the king of Bahrain, he said: “Given the amount of blood on the hands of the royal regime in Bahrain, it’s a shame he will stain the white linen of Windsor Castle at this event.
“It’s the responsibility of the Foreign Office to decide who comes, it’s nothing to do with Her Majesty.”