Saudi Arabia has been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey has said.
His remarks come a day after the government published a brief summary of a Home Office-commissioned report into the funding of extremism in the UK. The full report is not being published for security reasons.
“The Saudis [have] not quite appreciated the impact their funding of a certain brand of Islam is having in the countries in which they do it – it is not just Britain and Europe.
“That is a dialogue we need to have. They are not funding terrorism. They are funding something else, which may down the road lead to individuals being radicalised and becoming fodder for terrorism.”
Patey said the Saudis “find it every easy to back off the idea that they are funding terrorism because they are not.
“What the World Association [sic] of Muslim Youth and the Muslim World League are doing is funding mosques and promoting an ideology – the Salifist Wahhabist ideology.”
He called for clarity on the definition of funding terrorism and “a grownup dialogue with the Gulf about what we think”. There were also “individual Gulf citizens that defied their governments to fund terrorism,” Patey added.
Patey, who was the UK ambassador to Riyadh from 2006 to 2010 and previously head of the Foreign Office Middle East desk, also questioned whether Saudi Arabia and its allies had worked out the implications of their bitter dispute with Qatar.
Three Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – along with Egypt, have sought to isolate Qatar diplomatically and economically, citing its support for terrorism and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This has all the hallmarks of a policy that has not been thought through. It does not smack of a considered strategy,” Patey said at roundtable discussion in London organised by the Conservative Middle East Council.
The boycott had backfired, he argued and far from leading to a coup in Qatar, a cult had developed around the newly popular emir. “The Qataris are rallying round their leadership,” Patey said.
He said he believed the true motive for the dispute was not Qatar’s funding of terrorism, but a wider difference in political vision. “This is about the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a battle for the future of the Middle East,” he said.
Patey also questioned whether all the emirates within the UAE were united behind the boycott. “This is about Abu Dhabi asserting its dominance in foreign policy issues, because this is not in Dubai’s interest,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute Qatar desk, said the Gulf row may lead to an intractable dispute that could prompt investors to think seriously about disinvesting across the Gulf.
“We are now facing five weeks of the conflict when most people thought it would last 72 hours,” he said, calling for a series of de-escalatory measures leading to a joint agreement to fight extremism.
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