Tony Blair backs Egypt's government and criticises Brotherhood
Former British PM says Muslim Brotherhood was stealing Egypt's revolution and army intervention has put it on right path.Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Thursday 30 January 2014 12.47 GMT
Tony Blair said the army had intervened after the Brotherhood tried to take Egypt 'away from its basic values of hope and progress'. Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA
Tony Blair has given staunch backing to Egypt's government following a meeting on Wednesday with its army leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
In a television interview on Thursday morning, Britain's former prime minister said Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had stolen Egypt's revolution, and the army who deposed him last July had put the country back on the path to democracy.
"This is what I say to my colleagues in the west," said Blair, visiting Egypt as a representative of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia in their attempts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "The fact is, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army
have intervened, at the will of the people, but in order to take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic. We should be supporting the new government in doing that."
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was removed by Sisi following days of mass protests. His many critics said Morsi had authoritarian leanings and that his removal was essential to prevent Egypt from eventually turning into an autocratic theocracy.
Rights groups say the government that replaced him has been anything but democratic – with more than a thousand dissidents killed, thousands more arrested, and the right to free assembly and free speech severely curbed. The day before Blair's comments were aired, 20 journalists were referred to court on terrorism allegations – charges a leading rights lawyer said returned Egypt to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.
Blair's office did not respond to a query about how the west could promote democracy without criticising lapses in democratic values.
In his television interview, he said: "Right here in Egypt I think it is fundamental that the new government succeeds, that we give it support in bringing in this new era for the people of Egypt. And, you know, we can debate the past and it's probably not very fruitful to do so, but right now I think it's important the whole of
the international community gets behind the leadership here and helps."
Blair's comments are in keeping with his previous comments on the region. In the past, he has been supportive of autocratic rulers toppled during the 2011 revolutions such as Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. His comments drew criticism from other British-based Middle East specialists.
"The Middle East is a huge region and cannot be broken down into simplistic black-and-white realities, into blocks of good and evil, or as one picture as Tony Blair continually promotes," said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.
"Too often the peoples in the region are presented a false choice between religious-based parties such as the Brotherhood and secular dictatorship. We should reject that. For sure the Muslim Brotherhood under Morsi failed to deliver but neither are the current Egyptian authorities [delivering].
"Dangerously, Blair and others are turning a blind eye to the suppression of human rights, the widespread arrests, the crackdown on freedom of media and the absence of rule of law. These bear the hallmarks of the security state dictatorship under Mubarak, a man Blair described in 2011 as a 'force for good' even as
his [the former dictator's] security forces were killing Egyptians in the streets."
At the time of Mubarak's overthrow in 2011, Blair warned that his removal would lead to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood: "They are extremely well organised and well funded whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them will be extremely well intentioned people but they're not organised in political parties yet."
Thursday 30 January 2014
If only Tony Blair could grasp the truth about Field Marshal Sisi
It was, of course, utterly inevitable that Tony Blair would back Egypt’s new authoritarian leaders.Do the British people love Blair? Do they eat Blair chocolates, and wear Blair pyjamas?
After all, can you imagine Blair – our very own Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara – stepping forth to offer his courageous, unstinting support to a democratically elected President overthrown in a military coup d’état? Can you imagine him condemning a General – no, I forget, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has just been made a Field Marshal – whose men have gunned down 1,000 protesters since last summer and who has now put the elected President on trial for his life as a “terrorist”? Ye Gods, if such bravery burned within the heart of Lord Blair, we would all suffer immediate cardiac arrest.
So it was that the man who brought us victory in Afghanistan and glory in Iraq – and who has always fearlessly condemned the Israeli colonisation of the West Bank – yesterday threw his entire reputation and honour behind Field Marshal Sisi, Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Deputy Prime Minister of the Egyptian Arab Republic and Minister of Defence. The Egyptian army had “ intervened” and had done so “at the will of the people”. Thus quoth Lord Blair. And Field Marshal Sisi saw that it was good, and smiled upon him. But I have to admit – let’s be fair – that Field Marshal Sisi really doesn’t deserve this frivolous “peace envoy”. Unlike some of the dictators with whom Blair frolics, al-Sisi is a personally uncorrupt man. He comes from a conservative, decent family. His uncle was himself a Muslim Brother. Field Marshal Sisi spent months serving poor old Mohamed Morsi as a loyal minister before chucking him out. He even warned Morsi, faithful servant of state that he was, that a coup was on the cards. Sure, Sisi’s comrades killed hundreds of Egyptian protesters – but the Field Marshal doesn’t have the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on his hands. Besides, the Egyptian people love Sisi. Why else should Cairo be awash with Sisi chocolates and Sisi T-shirts and Sisi pyjamas? Do the British people love Blair? Do they eat Blair chocolates and wear Blair pyjamas?
Of course, for a man who said of Saddam that “he has used gas against his own people”, it must have been difficult for Lord Blair to resist the phrase – on arrival in Cairo to meet another military autocrat – that “he has used live bullets against his own people”. Neither did he mention the lads of Al Jazeera banged up in
the Tora jail for “terrorism” (ho hum) – why, isn’t that just what Blair should have done with his own country’s treacherous journos when they failed to back his and George W’s crusade against World Evil?
Blair, a prosaic man, thus concentrated on the banal. Egypt had “ an ancient civilisation”, he said. Egyptians were “a great people” with “great energy and determination” – this was positively colonial in approach – and we should support these people who wanted an “open-minded society”. And that, announced Lord Blair, “ means we support the government here in Egypt”.
If he could have grasped a mere semblance of the truth, Blair would have understood the irony of the words he used of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, he said, “tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress”. But isn’t that exactly what Blair did to his own country? Didn’t Blair – with his mendacious wars – take Britain from its basic values of hope and progress? It almost makes you wish that Sisi could have brought his chaps over to London in early 2003 to do a spot of “intervention” with the support of millions of Britons.
But Blair waffled away, apparently unaware that armies have been “intervening” rather a lot in modern history. Let’s forget for a moment that the Soviets also said that their army had “intervened” in Central Asia in 1979. But I was thinking of someone else. Austria? Czechoslovakia? Small man. Moustache. Used to be a corporal. No matter. Just comfort yourself with the thought of Lord Blair taking off his Sisi T-shirt tonight, pulling on his Sisi pyjamas and sucking away at his Sisi chocolates.