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FAC launch inquiry into UK’s engagement with the Middle East and North Africa

31 July 2023

Today the Foreign Affairs Committee launches a new inquiry into the UK’s engagement with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The UK has a long history of involvement in the Middle East and North Africa. While there are positive opportunities for the UK to engage with MENA countries, it is a region that also faces significant challenges. Threats to stability in the region include geopolitical rivalries, climate change and internal socio-political complexities.

This inquiry will examine the main medium and long-term challenges facing countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It will ask whether there are key countries that the UK should focus its efforts on within the region. The work will explore the balance of engaging with countries who have little respect for human rights and ask whether there is a trade off between establishing democracy and maintaining political stability.

The inquiry will look at the influence of external state actors, such as Russia, China, Turkey and India, in the region. The Committee will explore the conflict between Israel and Palestine and ask what can be done to engage all parties in seeking a peaceful resolution.

Chair's comment

Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Alicia Kearns MP, said:

“The Middle East and North Africa is a diverse and culturally rich region, the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions and the cradle of civilisation. The UK enjoys strong bilateral relations with many of its countries and has enduring ties to the region.

“While there is good potential for cooperation between the UK and MENA countries, the region faces challenges. Some of the most extreme effects of climate change will be felt in the Middle East and in North Africa, where water and food are already scarce and temperatures already high.

“In some Middle Eastern countries, human rights abuses are commonplace – including the use of capital punishment and the widespread oppression of women and LGBTQ+ people. Relations between countries in the MENA region can be fraught, with tensions risking bubbling up into full-blown conflict.

“The Government’s Integrated Review acknowledges the importance of the region to the UK but is light on the details of how it intends to grow relationships, or its strategic ambitions, in the region. This inquiry will ask what main challenges there are in the region, and what impact these have on UK foreign policy. It will identify where the UK can best help reduce fragility, ask which countries the UK should focus its diplomatic efforts on, and how we balance concerns around human rights abuses with engagement."

Terms of reference

The Committee welcomes written evidence on the following:

  • What are the key challenges facing the countries of the Middle East and North Africa in the medium and long term and what implications do these have for UK foreign policy?
  • What are the main countries in which the UK should focus its efforts within the region?
  • What is the viability of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and how can the UK engage with all the parties involved to help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict?
  • How can the UK best perform its role as UN Security Council Penholder for Libya and for Yemen to achieve UN objectives for these two countries?
  • How can the UK work with its allies to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and deter Iran from supporting terrorist groups and other hostile actions in the region?
  • How can and should the UK engage with countries whose regimes do not respect human rights but who may be important for our resilience strategy, counter-terrorism efforts, economic growth and green-energy transition, or who may need humanitarian assistance?
  • To what extent are terrorism and malign Private Military Companies affecting stability in the region?
  • To what extent should the UK prioritise political stability over the advancement of democracy in its relations with countries in the region?
  • How should the UK respond to the growing engagement of major powers like Russia, China, Turkey and India in the region?
  • What are the prospects for the UK’s cooperation with allies such as the US and France in MENA? And for working with international organisations?

Visit the inquiry page on the Committee’s website to submit written evidence.

Further information

Image: FCO