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Charles and Camilla to make official trip to the Middle East

Published 20/09/2016

Charles and Camilla on a previous visit to Oman
Charles and Camilla on a previous visit to Oman

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will make an official trip to the Middle East this autumn on behalf of the Government, Clarence House has announced.

Charles and Camilla will travel to Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates in November.

Bahrain's government, dominated by members of its royal family, has in the past been accused by campaigning groups of human rights abuses since pro-democracy protesters were violently suppressed during the Arab Spring of 2011.

Clarence House said in a statement: "On behalf of the British Government, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will undertake official visits to the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates in November 2016.

"The tour will help to strengthen the United Kingdom's warm bilateral relations with key partners in the region."

The British Government's relationship with Bahrain was criticised in a report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee published in April.

MPs said there was ''plainly a perception'' that the issue of human rights had been downgraded in the Government's dealings with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain.

The then foreign secretary Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond defended his department, saying: " Improving human rights is a core function of the Foreign Office and is the responsibility of every British diplomat around the world."

The royal family has a strong and close relationship with many Middle Eastern countries that are ruled by Arab royalty.

Friendships have built up over many decades and the UK's ability to interact with nations like Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman - royal to royal - is likely to be seen as an asset by the Foreign Office.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has known the Queen's family for many years, and met her at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May.

He also chatted to the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York there, where his son Sheikh Nasser was competing, and was a guest in the royal box at an equestrian themed show celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday.

The UK's ambassador to Bahrain Simon Martin said of the forthcoming visit: "I am absolutely delighted that this important and historic visit is crowning a year in which we are celebrating the 200th-year anniversary of UK-Bahrain relations.

"This gives us a wonderful opportunity to showcase the deep and wide-ranging relationship between our two countries".

The campaigning organisation Human Rights Watch has described Bahrain's human rights climate as remaining "highly problematic" on its website.

It added: "The country's courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations.

"There is evidence that the security forces continue to use disproportionate force to quell unrest. Human rights activists and members of the political opposition face arrest and prosecution and dozens have been stripped of their citizenship."

Charles and Camilla last visited Bahrain and the UAE together in 2007, and Oman in 2013, but the prince has made numerous solo trips to all three countries on the schedule. He toured the UAE last year and in 2014 and that year also visited Bahrain by himself.

Oman's ruler and head of state Sultan Qaboos bin Said returned from Germany earlier this year where he spent eight months receiving medical treatment, reportedly for bowel cancer.

Oman has been transformed since the sultan seized power in a bloodless coup against his father, Said bin Taimur, in 1970.

Despite his lack of a democratic government, the ruler's policies have proved popular and he has used the wealth generated by the country's oil reserves to develop its infrastructure and other services.

Britain has close links with the UAE, which is one of its largest trading partners in the Gulf region, and the nation's Sheikh Mansour is owner of the Premier League leaders Manchester City.

The UAE was created in 1971 by the Trucial States which had gained their independence from the UK.

It is formed of seven states - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain - which are governed by a supreme council of rulers made up of the seven emirs, who appoint the prime minister and the cabinet, its president is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The UAE is famed for its extravagant property developments, like the man-made palm islands at Dubai and the seemingly endless skyscrapers that emerge from the sands.

The prince's visits to UAE and Bahrain in 2014 and 2015 were very brief, with the heir to the throne spending just hours in the nations visiting senior figures.

In 2014 in Abu Dhabi, he called on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

While in the capital of Bahrain, Manama, he was welcomed by Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, also during 2014 - and then called on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

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