World's Largest Arms Fair Sees U.K. Open Its Doors to Authoritarian Regimes

A number of authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Qatar and Pakistan have been invited by the U.K. government to send military delegations to the world's largest arms fair, according to an FOI request submitted by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). The event opened in London on Tuesday and will give delegates the chance to sample the military hardware of over 1,500 companies.

The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, held at London's ExCel Centre, comes at a time when the British government is attempting to increase its military sales to Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt. In July, Newsweek revealed that Britain had quietly increased its arms sales with Sisi's regime by £47.2 million ($72.5 million) for the first three months of 2015 compared with the same period of the previous year, despite Egypt's human rights record. In total, two-thirds of Britain's current arms exports are sent to the Middle East, the most major buyer being Saudi Arabia.

Symon Hill, spokesperson for the U.K.-based anti-arms trade group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), says the arms bazaar will give arms companies the opportunity to strike deals with some of the world's "nastiest regimes."

"The guest list includes a string of human rights abusers: Bahrain, whose government turns weapons on peaceful demonstrators; Saudi Arabia, which locks people up for their beliefs and has doubled executions in the last year; Egypt, where Sisi's military dictatorship is so trigger-happy that they recently fired on innocent tourists," he says.

"As well as making hard sales, the arms fair is a place where such people can meet over coffee for conversations that are likely to lead to deals in the future," adds Hill.

Other countries to be invited by the British government include Oman, Nigeria, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Angola, Jordan, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Kuwait. A total of 61 countries were invited to send delegations to the exhibition. Russia was not invited however because of sanctions placed on the country by the West following the conflict in Ukraine.

Companies that will be showing off their hardware include defence giants Boeing, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems. 40 foreign governments also have pavilions at the fair to exhibit their technologies and weapons for sale, including Israel.

Human rights group Amnesty International has documented that illegal equipment that could be used in torture has been exhibited at the fair in recent years, including cluster bombs, legs iron, electric shock batons and stun guns. The group published a video on Monday which sought to highlight the potential human rights impact of such weapons sales.

The arms fair is organised by U.K.-based events company Clarion Events, whose website say it arranges defence and security events, "which provide industry leaders, government officials and technical experts with a forum to share ideas, conduct business, develop partnerships, network and access export and growth markets."

New poll figures released by CAAT and conducted by U.K.-based online market research agency Opinium LLP, show that 70 percent of British adults believe the U.K. should not "promote arms sales" to governments that abuse human rights and 60 percent believe the U.K. should not "promote arms sales" to countries that are not democracies.