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MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: ‘Does Britain have a Strategy in its Middle East Relations?’ by Chris Doyle

Chris Doyle, Director of the Council for Advanced Arab British Understanding (CAABU)

Chris Doyle, Director of the Council for Advanced Arab British Understanding (CAABU), delivered a powerful, intelligent and thought-provoking lecture on Britain’s strategy with regard to the Middle East. The lecture, followed by a good number of questions and a lively discussion, attracted a large audience with only ‘standing-room’ left for late arrivals.

Chris traced the history of Britain’s relationship with the region, from the first official meeting with the Al Saud; the promises to Sharif Hussein of Mecca; the Sykes Picot agreement; the 1917 Balfour Declaration; the promises, and the consequences which the Middle East lives with today. He questioned the consistency of British support for democracy in the region but also highlighted the scale of the challenges facing his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He discussed the impressive British donations to Syria and Palestine balancing this against the lack of drive for solutions that would decrease the need for aid.

Is there more that the UK can do? Chris suggested that much more effort needs to be made on working with Muslim communities at home in the UK as well as abroad in Syria and Iraq where we fail to win over communities that could restrict the growth of ISIS. He suggested that Britain needed to work harder on conflict resolution; talk to those we disagree with, and avoid inflammatory rhetoric. He believes we should promote consensus politics and narrow ‘the significant gap between the rhetoric of Britain and its partners, and the reality of the situation on the ground’. In response to a question from the audience, Chris spoke of the beneficial effect that more frequent employment of ‘soft diplomacy’ might have, citing the BBC World Service and the British Council as real assets in this area.

Chris Doyle’s final comment was his hope that, after the general election in May, ‘a long hard rethink of how Britain goes forward’ will take place, as there will be some difficult choices to make.

For more of Chris Doyle’s lecture, please go to our YouTube channel at:

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