Islamic Relief has teamed-up with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) to host a high-profile event at Westminster, United Kingdom. HRH Prince Elhassan Bin Talal of Jordan, and Sir Alan Duncan, former UK Minister of International Development, joined us to discuss the key hopes and challenges facing the Middle East.

Political editor of the Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hassan, chaired the event.

Political editor of the Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hassan, chaired the event.

The dinner and discussion – held at Church House on Monday – was chaired by political editor of the Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hassan. It took place as the Middle East grapples with its worst humanitarian crises yet. Over 29 million people required humanitarian assistance last year, as conflict escalated in Palestine, and fighting continued in Iraq and Syria.

Addressing political and humanitarian challenges

The evening, titled Key Political and Humanitarian Challenges in the Middle East, included keynote speeches from Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, Sir Alan Duncan, Islamic Relief’s CEO Dr. Mohammed Ashmawey, and Chris Doyle, Director of Caabu.

Following on from the speeches was an open question and answers session, chaired by Mehdi Hassan with Prince Elhassan and Sir Alan Duncan. It bought together friends of both Islamic Relief and Caabu, academics, community leaders and activists.

Dr Mohamed Ashmawey was one of the first to address the audience and highlighted Islamic Relief’s work in the region, saying: “Islamic Relief works in war-torn Syria and Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East.

“Our staff bear witness to acute suffering and deprivation in all these places, and risk their lives to deliver humanitarian aid in the most inhospitable and hard-to-reach areas.

“Much more needs to be done to improve humanitarian access, to protect civilians and to make diplomatic progress towards ending conflict – because ultimately there are no lasting humanitarian solutions to political problems.”

Sir Alan Duncan focussed on issues surrounding Palestine.

Sir Alan Duncan focussed on issues surrounding Palestine.

A united society and political progress is vital

Sir Alan Duncan followed and spoke passionately about the need to challenge all forms of extremism across the globe, and argued the greatest weapon against terrorism is a united society in the UK. His focus for the evening was on issues surrounding Palestine, which he described as “a thread of grievance running through the Muslim world” that needs to be addressed.

He argued: “Our failure to support Palestinian recognition is regrettable, and my strong view is that we should row in behind them should they re-present their motion to the UN.

“Recognition for Palestine is a cause – one of basic justice – which unites Muslims everywhere, as it also does fair-minded people in the UK and beyond.”

The evening also included a speech from Chris Doyle of Caabu, who urged political progress to address humanitarian concerns in the Middle East.

Restoring respect for human dignity

Prince Elhassan emphasised the importance of living without discriminating groups in society.

Prince Elhassan emphasised the importance of living without discriminating groups in society.

The highlight of the evening was a heart-felt talk by Prince Elhassan, who is also the Honorary President of the Jordan Hashemite Charitable Organisation (JHCO) and has previously met with Islamic Relief to discuss strategies to alleviate poverty and suffering in the Middle East.

He reflected on his years of experience in the region, and stated the importance of living without discriminating groups in society.

“Anthropolitics, or a politics of humanity, must take centre stage in the Middle East to restore respect for human dignity,” he said.

“We must galvanise efforts to ensure that policies are put in place that ensure and promote the role of communities and end-users in natural resources management.”

Prince Elhassan talked about how Syrians now make up eight per cent of Lebanon’s population, and the need to be aware of the situation in the Middle East, where over 45 million people in Iraq are threatened by drought. He urged us to think openly about access to national boundaries and the relationship between marginalised groups.

The Islamic Relief UK and Caabu event bought together friends of both Islamic Relief and Caabu, academics, community leaders and activists.

The Islamic Relief UK and Caabu event bought together friends of both Islamic Relief and Caabu, academics, community leaders and activists.

The question and answer session to close the event was lively, with questions from the floor on the future of the Millennium Development Goals, women working in international development and further questions about the future of the Middle East. Prince Elhassan delivered a timely reminder that “this is not about us or money. It’s about people who are suffering.”

We look forward to continuing and improving our work in the Middle East with support from our partners, as the region faces some of its most difficult challenges yet.

For more information on the evening, take a look at the Twitter hashtag #MidEastHope