The Hand-wringing Has to Stop. We Must Act
By Tony Blair
Clearing House - "The
If we do not intervene to
support freedom and democracy in Egypt and Syria, the Middle
East faces catastrophe.
Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action; shaping
events or reacting to them. After the long and painful campaigns
in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay
clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet
up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business
of changing reality on the ground. But we have collectively to
understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of
putting them to work.
People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the
future consequence of inaction and shudder: Syria mired in
carnage between the brutality of
and various affiliates of al-Qaeda, a breeding ground of
extremism infinitely more dangerous than Afghanistan in the
1990s; Egypt in chaos, with the West, however unfairly, looking
as if it is giving succour to those who would turn it into a
Sunni version of Iran. Iran still — despite its new president —
a theocratic dictatorship, with a nuclear bomb. Our allies
dismayed. Our enemies emboldened. Ourselves in confusion. This
is a nightmare scenario but it is not far-fetched.
Let us start with Egypt. To many in the West, it is clear: the
Egyptian military have aborted a democratically elected
Government and are now repressing a legitimate political party,
killing its supporters and imprisoning its leaders. So we are on
a steady track to ostracising the new Government. In doing so,
we think we’re upholding our values. I completely understand why
this view would be taken. But it is a grave strategic error.
The fallacy with this approach lies in the nature of the Muslim
Brotherhood. We think of it as a normal political party. It
isn’t. If you want to join the UK Conservative Party or the
German Christian Democrats or the US Democrats, you can do so
with ease and they will welcome you with open arms. And in all
these countries, the basic democratic freedoms are respected by
all parties. The Muslim Brotherhood simply isn’t like that. To
become a member even at the lowest level is a seven-year process
of induction and indoctrination. It is run by a hierarchy that
is more akin to the old Bolshevik party system.
This is a movement. Read their speeches — not the ones they put
out for Western ears, but the ones they actually believe, for
their own ears. What they were doing in Egypt was not “governing
badly”. If you elect a bad government, then tough — you live
with it. What they were doing was systematically changing the
constitution, taking control of the commanding heights of the
State in order to subvert them and to make it impossible for
their rule to be challenged. And they were doing so in pursuit
of values that contradict everything we stand for.
So you can rightly criticise actions or overreactions of the new
military Government but it is quite hard to criticise the
intervention that brought it into being. Now all the choices
that Egypt faces are ugly. The bloodshed is horrible and will
shock all Egyptians. There are large numbers of soldiers and
police among the casualties as well as civilians and, partly as
a by-product of the fall of Gaddafi, Egypt is awash with
weapons. But simply condemning the military will not get us any
nearer to a return to democracy.
Egypt is not a creation of 19th or 20th-century global power
games. It is an ancient civilisation stretching back thousands
of years and is imbued with a fierce national pride. The army
has a special place in its society. The people do want
democracy, but they will be disdainful of Western critics whom
they will see as utterly naive in the face of the threat to
democracy that the Muslim Brotherhood posed.
We should support the new Government in stabilising the country,
urge everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to get off the
streets, and let a proper and short process to an election be
put in place with independent observers. A new constitution
should be drafted that protects minority rights and the basic
ethos of the country, and all political parties should operate
according to rules that ensure transparency and commitment to
the democratic process.
This is the only realistic way to help those — and they’re
probably a majority — who want genuine democracy, not an
election as a route to domination.
In Syria, we know what is happening. We know it is wrong to let
it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of
our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in
blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism
rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the
richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support,
ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern
hinterland — and us, apparently impotent. I hear people talking
as if there was nothing we could do: the Syrian defence systems
are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why
take sides since they’re all as bad as each other?
But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the
prospect of intervention. They’re intervening. To support an
assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.
It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what
we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something
to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice
between tyranny and theocracy. I detest the implicit notion
behind so much of our commentary — that the Arabs or even worse,
the people of Islam are unable to understand what a free society
looks like, that they can’t be trusted with something so modern
as a polity where religion is in its proper place. It isn’t
true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle
going on about the future of Islam and the attempt by extreme
ideologues to create a political Islam at odds both with the
open-minded tradition of Islam and the modern world.
In this struggle, we should not be neutral. From the threat of
the Iranian regime to the pulverising of Syria to the pains of
the Egyptian revolution, from Libya to Tunisia, in Africa,
Central Asia and the Far East, wherever this extremism is
destroying the lives of innocent people, we should be at their
side and on it.
I know as one of the architects of policy after 9/11 the
controversy, anguish and cost of the decisions taken. I
understand why, now, the pendulum has swung so heavily the other
way. But it is not necessary to revert to that policy to make a
difference. And the forces that made those interventions in Iraq
and Afghanistan so difficult are of course the very forces at
the heart of the storm today.
They have to be defeated. We should defeat them, however long it
takes; because otherwise they will not disappear. They will grow
stronger until, at a later time, there will be another
crossroads and this time there will be no choice.
Tony Blair was Prime Minister from 1997-2007 and is the special
envoy for the Middle East Quartet.
© Times Newspapers Limited 2013
in this article by ICH did not appear in the original article.
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