Rod Liddle

Only Tony Blair can unite the Middle East. There, everyone hates him

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

As if the poor Egyptians didn’t have enough on their plate, into the arena marches the man to sort it all out, the world’s ‘Middle East Envoy’, Tony Blair. Lucky world. Give the man his due, the Middle East is a monumentally fractious, fissiparous, disputatious neck of the woods and they all seem to hate each other. But mention the name ‘Blair’ and suddenly Maronite and Shia, Ashkenazi and Hamas, Druze and Sunni, men with long sideburns and men with long beards are united in an hysterical cackling. It is not often this column seeks an elucidatory comment from the Hamas spokesman Mohammed Shtayyeh, but his succinct verdict on Blair — ‘useless, useless, useless’ — would, I suspect, find accord at all points from Essaouira to Kabul.

Tony has been divesting himself of opinions about both Syria and Egypt. On the vexed question of Syria, he said that we had to intervene, because not to intervene is a decision just like intervening is a decision, a philosophical point which he clearly believes has eluded the rest of us. He seemed mildly surprised that the Syrian civil war had occasioned even more deaths than the war he and George kicked off in Iraq — and this, it seemed, was one justification for prolonging the conflict by doling out weapons to the jihadi rebels. His logic seemed to me demented.

We should take the side of the rebels because other people are intervening on the side of Assad, seemed to be another inference. I don’t understand how this makes the remotest sense. Does he think that if we hamper Assad and help the rebels fewer people will be killed? I would have thought precisely the reverse. He did not address the question of whether or not the rebels were decent, fair-minded democrats. The ‘intervention’ in Iraq seemed to have been predicated on the liberal evangelistic belief that given the opportunity, everybody would turn out to be sort of New Labour in their thinking, wishing for nothing more than a polite secular democracy. This was, I think we would all agree, a mistaken belief.

On Egypt, Tone was still more bizarre. Having, one supposes, supported the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak as an expression of people power and liberty, Tone now thinks it was correct of the military to stage a coup to remove the democratically elected President Morsi and his legions of bearded maniacs from the government of the country. His rationale for this apparent volte-face is that lots of people turned out to demonstrate against Morsi. Large-scale public demonstrations never seemed to make much of an impression on Blair during the time he was in office; I suspect he would have cavilled if, following the anti-Iraq war protests in Trafalgar Square, the army had locked him up in the tower and installed Clare Short in his place. More to the point, if the protests against Morsi justified his removal, why do the even larger protests at his incarceration not justify his reinstallation? This question he did not address.

The thing is, for a liberal evangelist, Tony Blair’s commitment to democracy is a terribly thin and tenuous thing. If people vote the wrong way — as they did in the first Palestinian elections when, as most sane people predicted, the public went for Hamas over Al Fatah — Tony enjoins them to have another vote and see if they can get it right this time.

Still, at least on the subject of Egypt, Tony Blair is not alone in his floundering and lack of logic; it has afflicted our current government too. I am no Middle East expert, far from it. But it seemed to me, as I watched the protests in Tahrir Square two years ago and the ultimate defenestration of Mubarak during that tumultuous ‘Arab Spring’, that Egypt would end up with precisely the sort of government it eventually got with President Morsi: medieval in countenance, backward, vindictive and even more illiberal than the one it replaced. That is the sort of government the majority of the people wanted. I suspect that if there was a free vote tomorrow in Syria, it would be the sort of government which they would choose too, just as the Palestinians chose Hamas.

These people have different hopes and aspirations to the ones most of us share over here. The people over here who share those sorts of aspirations we try very hard to kick out of the country, or we make their organisations illegal. And so the question is straightforward in the end. If we do not like the sorts of governments which result from these popular uprisings — both because we disagree with their attitudes towards anyone who isn’t precisely like them, and because in the end they make the world a slightly less congenial and safe place to live — then we should be honest enough not to support those uprisings in the first place, and laugh uproariously at anyone who says ‘Arm the rebels!’ If, however, we believe that the only thing which really matters is democracy and the will of the people, then we should be demanding right now for intervention in Egypt to restore Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to the office to which they were democratically elected. But you cannot have it both ways, despite what Tony Blair seems to think.

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  • Adrian Drummond

    Very good. The early twenty-first century is now characterized by established elites in Europe and North America rejecting the results of a number of key democratic elections. This is apparent not just in the Middle East with respect to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood but also in our own backyard. This is evident by Tony Blair and his EU cohorts rejecting a number of referendum results (in Ireland, France and the Netherlands) on the question of a European constitution whilst at the same time not even allowing the citizens in other many other countries the chance to vote..

  • lobotomisedjournalist

    What an utter skuzzbag Blair is, the morals of a reptile and the logic of Tweedledum

  • Keith D

    For once,I agree with opinion in the Middle East.How lucky they are though that they don’t have to put up with his broomstick flying Missus.Or her lobotomised sister.

  • Austin Barry

    “Only Tony Blair can unite the Middle East..”

    Well, clearly the Religion of Peace, misogyny, the hatred of infidels and golden retrievers has failed to do so.

  • Baron

    Good stuff except that you’re nonchalantly blending the West’s poking its nose in the region with the revolting and fighting there. On the latter, you’re spot on, we should keep out, it ain’t our business, we have our own boils and warts aplenty to cure, On the former, we should be glad the region has finally woken up even if the first shots at something everyone with common sense must desire may not even remotely look and feel right.

    Democracy doesn’t rest on elections only, if it did the West should have worshipped the USSR and its satellites after every count. It didn’t because it rightly figured it was coercion, bribes and intimidation coupled with the absence of freedoms that engineered the results. One has to have the freedom of expression, association, belief and things like that to get the whole democratic package going. Anything like the Army’s coup that may help it happen should be welcomed, and not only because it’s close to Voltaire’s preferred societal set-up – democracy doped with assassinations.

  • The_greyhound

    I can’t dispute anything you say about Syria – but the logical conclusion seems to be aid Assad to make a quick end of the civil war, and ask him to behave slightly less badly in return for our help. And the humanitarian imperative also demands a more constructive engagement with President Putin, the only outsider who has any real influence with the regime. I can’t see Kneejerk Hague rising to either of those ideas.

    In the meantime, and just thinking aloud, is it possible to recycle Mr Blair? And as what?

    • Nick

      Blair has been recycled.Now he’s called David Cameron.

  • NotYouNotSure

    I have something in common with the middle east then, I also hate Blair.

  • vvputout

    Democracy in Arab countries should not be encouraged. The way Saddam H should have been dealt with was by finding another more pliable Sunni dictator.

    • Baron

      you cannot be more wrong, vvputout.

  • Roy

    He’s risen and fell like other before him. Leaving behind more of a mess than a tidy well done job. When you successfully change the make-up of your nation by purposefully bringing in immigrants to its detriment and dysfunction, you really do deserve to be burnt at the stake.

  • Sociopol

    He is going to open another office,more ££££