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Sat 26 Feb 2011 02:43 PM

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Some Middle East rulers use Israel as distraction, Cameron says

British Prime Minister says Palestinian problem is an easy excuse for Arab regimes

Some Middle East rulers use Israel as distraction, Cameron says
British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives to hold a joint press conference with Qatari Premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al Thani in Doha on February 23 (Getty Images)

UK prime minister David Cameron told students in Qatar that
some Middle Eastern rulers were using the Israel-Palestine conflict as a
distraction from their own oppressive regimes.

“In too many countries in the Middle East, some rulers say
to their people ‘be angry about that, don’t be angry about the fact that you
live in a non-open society,’” Cameron told his audience at Qatar University in
the capital, Doha.

The prime minister is on a tour of the region that has so
far taken in Egypt and Kuwait. In both countries he said rulers in the Middle
East and North Africa should respond to the waves of protest by offering more
economic and political openness. He’s also pushing the European Union to tie
its aid program to commitments on greater democracy.

Describing himself to the students as “a liberal
Conservative, not a neo-conservative,” Cameron said he didn’t believe it was
Britain’s role to “point our finger and say this leader has to go and that
leader has to go.”

In a speech on Tuesday to Kuwait’s parliament, Cameron said
he saw grounds for “cautious optimism” in the political protest that is
sweeping the region from Algeria to the Arabian Gulf. He said political and
economic change are essential for stability.

The prime minister used his speech to tell his audience they
should welcome the demonstrations springing up across the region. He said young
people, protesting “peacefully and bravely,” are showing that there were other
alternatives than “repression and extremism.”

This week, Cameron became the first Western leader to visit
Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11. He urged the
country’s new military rulers to bring opposition leaders into the government
and end a state of emergency to demonstrate their desire to move toward
democracy.

At Qatar University, Cameron condemned attempts by the
Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, to use force to crush an uprising against his
rule.

“We should send a very clear warning to Colonel Qaddafi and
to the Libyan armed forces that what they’re doing is against the law,” the
prime minister said.

Future aid to the region must be conditional on more
political openness, Cameron said at a press conference in Doha.

“Europe has given a huge amount to these countries. It
hasn’t really insisted on proper conditions,” Cameron said. “We have seen far
too much money disappearing into a great big black hole. This is a wake-up call
for the European Union to look at the aid that it gives. It’s not acceptable
that this money has gone and no particular reform has happened in return.”

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