Skip to main content

UK's Boris Johnson apologises for egg attack on Saudi general

Foreign secretary called Saudi defence minister to 'express regret' after Ahmed Asiri was hit by an egg in London as activists tried to arrest him
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir speaks with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in March 2017 (AFP)

The UK has apologised to Saudi Arabia for what it called "an aggression" against Saudi Major General Ahmed Asiri, who was hit by an egg thrown by activists trying to perform a citizen's arrest in London on Thursday, the Saudi press agency SPA said. 

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi defence minister, to officially "express his regret for the attack" and "stress his interest in the results of the investigation," the Saudi government reported. 

General Asiri is the spokesperson for the two-year-long war against the Houthi movement in Yemen and an adviser to the Saudi defence ministry. He was in London to speak at an event organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, when peace activists tried to put him under citizen's arrest for war crimes in Yemen.

An activist can be seen throwing an egg against Asiri in a video of the scene. 

The Saudis called the attempted citizen's arrest an "attack" against a representative of their government. The Bahraini government, a close ally of the government of Riyad and a country accused of severe human rights abuses, called it a "barbaric assault" by a "group of terrorists".  

Andrew Smith of UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said: "This was a peaceful attempt at a citizen's arrest by a lifelong pacifist against a general who represents one of the most repressive and abhorrent regimes in the world."

"The apology Boris Johnson should be making is for the devastating impact UK fighter jets and bombs have had on Yemen, and for his complicity in it," Smith said.

"If Johnson wants to help the people of Yemen then be must end the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and stop supporting the bombardment," he added.

Sam Walton, who attempted the citizen's arrest - which is an arrest carried out by a regular citizen and not a law-enforcement official - said that Asiri should not be welcomed in the UK.

"Asiri represents a regime that has killed thousands in Yemen and shown a total contempt for international law.

"Asiri shouldn't be welcomed and treated like a dignitary, he should be arrested and investigated for war crimes."

The Saudi general arrived at what was billed as a private roundtable with egg stains on his suit. He told the seminar he was delayed by "people who did not differentiate between protesting and attacking".

The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen acknowledged that only a political solution would resolve the brutal two-year war, and said that what he called a "temporary" solution would not be enough. He denied accusations of war-crimes in Yemen.

"We can't accept Yemen divided into two parts under the militias and under the government. We need a unified Yemen until the umbrella of the Yemeni government, under the umbrella of the United Nations, respecting the international law, acting with the countries as a state, not as militias," Asiri said.

The UK is trying to improve its relationship with the Saudi government and the Gulf countries in the wake of Brexit

Since the war in Yemen began, the UK has licensed $4.1bn worth of arms to the Saudi government, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade

Smith of CAAT had said that Asiri "is a mouthpiece for a devastating bombing campaign that has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed vital infrastructure" and as such "should not be getting invited to address parliamentarians and think tanks to whitewash the atrocities that are taking place".

"The voices that need to be heard are those of Yemeni people who are victims of a humanitarian catastrophe - not those that are inflicting it. If the UK is to play a positive role in bringing peace then it must end its complicity and end the arms sales."

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.