Middle East Association

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The Middle East Association (MEA) is a corporate lobby group promoting British business interests in the Middle East and North Africa. According to MEA President Sir James Craig: “The Middle East Association aims to be the most effective and respected private sector membership organization in the UK promoting trade and investment between Britain and the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan; and the preferred partner for the British and Middle East governments in this field.”

Origins and History

MEA was formed as a limited company on 2 March 1961. On its formation The Times reported that:

The association is a company limited by guarantee without share capital and sponsored by 50 leading banks and industrial companies, including British Petroleum, I.C.I., Shell and Unilever. The Bank of England is also a sponsor.

The purpose of the company, whose formation was suggested over a year ago by the semi-governmental advisory council on Middle East trade, is to promote closer trade relationships between representatives of Middle East countries and this country[…]The chairman of the association is to be Sir Neville Gass, and the secretary is also from British Petroleum, Mr. R. H. Arnold.[1]

Activities and membership

The MEA lobbies on behalf of 400 British companies with business interests in the region. According to its website, MEA members "cover all sectors of industry and commerce including; Banking, Finance and Consultancy, and are responsible for about 75% of all UK trade and investment with the region."[2] The group's 'Business Support Services' include organising 'trade missions', providing business intelligence on the region, cultural advice, networking and 'matchmaking'.[3]

The group also organises events at their London premises, a former Hotel at Bury House, St. James's, London. On its website MEA boasts that:

The reception hall that can now hold up to 100 visitors is air-conditioned and fitted with the latest IT presentation equipment. In house caterers can provide food and beverages for any occasion from discussion groups for visiting Saudi Arabian ministers and princes to receptions for Lebanese businessmen and from seminars for Anglo Arabian interest groups to lunches for British security organisations and bankers![4]


  • Sir David Blatherwick, Chairman: Sir David Blatherwick, a former career diplomat, retired from HM Diplomatic Service in 1999. His career took him to Kuwait, New York, Ireland and Egypt. He has long experience of Irish affairs. Sir David is currently Chairman of the British Egyptian Chamber of Commerce. British Joint Chairman of Encounter, established in 1983 by the British and Irish Governments ‘to contribute to the improvement of relations between their peoples. Born in 1941, educated at Lincoln School and Wadham College, Oxford University. Joined Foreign Office 1964. Counsellor, UK Mission to UN, New York 1986-89; Principal Finance Officer and Chief Inspector 1989-91; Ambassador to Ireland 1991-95; Ambassador to Egypt 1995-99.
  • Sir James Craig, President: graduated in Oriental langauges (Arabic and Persian) at Oxford and became Lecturer in Arabic at Durham University. In 1955 he was seconded to the Foreign Office as Principal Instructor at the Middle East Center for Arab Studies (MECAS) in Shelman. He joined the Foreign Office substantively in 1956, serving as HM Political Agent in the Trucial States, First Secretary, Beruit, Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Jeddah and Head of Near East and North Africa Department, foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. He was Ambassador to - Syria between 1976 and 1979, and to Saudi arabia from 1979 to 1984. On retirement, he became Visiting Professor in Arabic at Oxford, Director-General (and subsequently President) of the Middle East Association (MEA), President of the British Society for the Middle East Studies (BRISMES), chairman of the Anglo-Arab Association, and several other committees and conferences connected with the Middle East, such as the Middle East International magazine.[5]
  • Brian Constant, Treasurer: British Syrian Society, trustee Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Constant was Director General of the Middle East Association from June 1997 to June 2003, having spent a career in banking. He served with the Ottoman Bank in Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, Sudan and Abu Dhabi. He retired from Lloyds Bank in 1996 where he held a variety of appointments in the International Division. His final appointment was as Corporate Banking Director responsible for the Far East, Middle East and European branches, and as Managing Director of the Trade and Project Finance Department.Constant is a board member of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, of Middle East International, of Bank Sepah International Plc, a Trustee of the Arab British Centre and of the British Syrian Societyalong with Wafic Said and Sir Andrew Green, Richard Spring (Westminster Foundation for Democracy). The British Syrian Society operate out of the same address as the MEA, Bury House 33 Bury Street, London SW1Y 6AX.

Former members


MEA's Website lists the following organisations under a section entitled 'strategic links':


  1. ‘Middle East Trade Group Formed’, The Times, Thursday, Mar 09, 1961; pg. 20; Issue 55025; col G
  2. MEA Website, Who We Are (accessed 24 September 2008)
  3. MEA Website, Business Support Services (accessed 24 September 2008)
  4. MEA Website, Brief History of Bury House (accessed 24 September 2008)
  5. http://www.meionline.com/about/49.shtml