King Charles likely to be a friend of the Middle East
As the longest-serving heir to the throne in British history, King Charles III had a great deal of time to set out his thoughts. He wrote books and made speeches on a number of subjects and they give a real insight into his mind.
Some of the things he discussed were ordinary and domestic. He has unique views on horticulture and architecture, for example, which are of little importance internationally. He likes England’s rich history of orchestral and choral music, something one does not necessarily need to hear about in this region.
But on another subject, the king’s views are relevant to the entire Muslim world — not least because they are unusual among British sovereigns. King Charles is, and has long been, a declared friend of Muslims and Islam.
This is a long-standing interest and is motivated by Charles’s fascination with other cultures and respect for difference. He indicated — some time ago — that, when crowned, he could take an alternative title to the one assumed by English and later British monarchs. They were each a “Defender of the Faith,” meaning Anglican Christianity, which is the state religion of Britain. Instead, Charles has said he might be called a “defender of faith” in abstract, or perhaps “faiths,” meaning all religions and denominations.
This is a significant point. It means that, rather than being a pro forma monarch expected to carry out duties as supreme head of the Anglican Church, Charles will see himself as a champion of other religions and identities. What this means in practice is difficult to predict, but what it says in sentiment and sympathy is notable.
One episode from more than 15 years ago explains Charles’s fascination and sympathy. He was long a patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, which is associated with Oxford University. When the Prince of Wales, as he was then, visited the center in 2005, Prof. Mohammed Talib spoke to him. “His Royal Highness talked about bridge-building between Islam and the West, the dialogue between the two cultures. He has a deep understanding of Islamic art and architecture,” Talib said afterward.
Charles’s intention is always for dialogue and cooperation between Britain and Muslim countries.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
This is a view the new king has long held and is a product of his fascination and sympathy with Islam. But this is not purely an academic exercise. It has real political and diplomatic implications.
Charles’s intention is always for dialogue and cooperation between Britain and Muslim countries, joined together by religious feeling and respect. His Middle East tour in 2021 was undertaken in pursuit of tolerance and understanding. He visited the West Bank in 2020 and expressed sympathy for Palestinian conditions. This was a significant moment and was the furthest a member of the British royal family had ever gone toward supporting the Palestinian cause.
Although he will be bound as king by the traditions of restraint of a constitutional monarchy, it can be assumed that Charles will be a sympathetic listener to his fellow heads of state in the Middle East, as well as being a friend to Britain’s Muslims.
This matters because time has not diminished the challenges facing Middle Eastern and European societies. Each still faces difficulties with radicalization and extremism, no less than in the previous decade. This will mean extensive cooperation between governments to find and fight those willing to commit terrorist atrocities. But it will also require subtlety and knowledge. Charles has long been prepared to speak to government ministers with frankness and insight on those subjects.
He has extensive ties to the Gulf and has spent much time in the region. He will be — if he so chooses — an asset in the close diplomatic relations between Britain and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
In his many visits to the region, Charles will have been told — and will have learned — that the challenges of regional extremism cannot be overlooked from London. He will know that many Arab states ask for and need assistance from the world in their tackling of this problem. And he will also know that, just as they can be his friends and hosts, they can also be partners in the endeavor of defeating extremism.
Charles has not yet been formally crowned and much is unknown about how he will reign. Will he remain, like his mother, a monarch bound by convention to be less a determiner of policy and more an informed companion of those who shape it? We do not know. But however Charles decides to rule, his understanding of the Middle East and his friendship with Muslims will no doubt come to the fore.
- Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington D.C. and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim