Arms sales to Arab countries have been a gold mine for the Dutch government, but now it seems the Netherlands is regretting its choice of trading partners; Dutch armed vehicles may have been used against protesters in the recent uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain.

Over the last two decades, the Netherlands has sold 730 million euros worth of surplus arms and material to the Arab world. In addition to Egypt and Bahrain, customers have included Morocco, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The merchandise has consisted of armored personnel carriers (APCs), navy frigates, F-16 fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, radar systems and self-propelled howitzers.

The Egyptian and Bahraini armies reportedly used the Dutch APCs against their own people. The vehicles were recognized on photographs made by news channels during the recent protests. The Dutch foreign ministry denies this, saying that it’s not clear whether the APCs in the photographs were actually supplied by the Netherlands.

Sold off
APCs, developed for the Dutch army in the 1970s, saw service in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan before being replaced and subsequently sold off to other countries. Figures provided by the Swedish research institute SIPRI show that Egypt and Bahrain bought 1,042 and 63 Dutch APCs respectively.

The foreign ministry granted permission for these exports, as is required for sales to non-NATO member states. Arms sales to countries which use weapons or military materiel to oppress their own people or violate human rights are banned. At the time of these exports, Egypt and Bahrain were seen as stable nations. And as loyal allies of the West, they were also suitable buyers.

No more licenses
Today, the situation is completely different. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said: “At the moment, nobody in the Western world – including the Netherlands – is thinking about selling weapons to Arab countries.”

On Wednesday, during an emergency debate in parliament, the minister said that, for the time being, no export licenses would be issued for weapons sales to Libya. Brussels is currently discussing imposing an arms embargo.