Cameron urges reform in Middle East

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Prime Minister David Cameron meets Mohammed, 15, during a walk through the streets around Tahrir Square in Cairo

David Cameron is set to express “cautious optimism” that uprisings across the Middle East will result in non-extremist regimes – and hail that outcome as vital to the UK’s trade and security interests.

The Prime Minister will use a speech in Kuwait – where he is on the first leg of a tour of Gulf states – amid ongoing turmoil and confusion over the future of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.

On Monday, as he made the first visit to Cairo by a world leader since mass protests swept president Hosni Mubarak from power, Mr Cameron condemned the brutal repression of the Libyan uprising.

He is pressing a message that politics in the region is too often seen as a “false choice” between repression or extremism and call on states to recognise their people’s calls for democracy.

The recent turbulence has forced Mr Cameron to shift the emphasis of his foreign policy agenda away from what he has called a “messianic” push to bolster trade towards political reform. But, with 36 business leaders accompanying him on the trip, he will insist that the two – along with security – are closely linked.

“Yes, ours is a partnership based on a shared economic future as we need our economies to grow and diversify in this challenging globalised world,” he will say. And yes, ours is a partnership to deliver shared security interests not least as we confront the terrorist threat we face from extremists.

“But crucially, far from running counter to these vital interests of prosperity and security, I believe that political and economic reform in the Arab world is essential not just in advancing these vital shared interests but as a long-term guarantor of the stability needed for both our societies to flourish.”

During his visit to Cairo, Mr Cameron held talks with the interim military leadership and civilian politicians as well as human rights activists and others at the forefront of the protests.

He did not meet at all with the Muslim Brotherhood – by far the best organised of the opposition groups – arguing that to do so could encourage a move to Islamist extremism.

Mr Cameron said Kuwait – which has a directly-elected parliament but is a constitutional monarchy where the ruling emir exercises considerable power – had “set down the path” of political change.

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