From Egypt to Saudi Arabia: The world according to Tony Blair

While most world leaders are happy to ease into less controversial roles upon leaving office, the former Prime Minister has continued to play the statesman, finding some unlikely allies in the global battle against radical Islam

It was perhaps to be expected that a man so preoccupied with his place in history would not disappear quietly into the night. Not the painter’s life for him, that’s for sure.

But while most world leaders, upon leaving their seat of power, are happy to occupy themselves with less controversial areas of public life than dealing with dictators and generals, Tony Blair has continued to play the statesman. His role as envoy for the Quartet powers on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process demands that he do so, of course, but Mr Blair has gone beyond his brief in many ways.

“We have to take sides,” he said in a speech this week that offered both an updated view of the world and a call for action.

“The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is destabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation.”

Mr Blair’s side, it transpires, is with anyone who is willing to fight radical Islam. In this battle, one that now dominates his view of the world, he has found some unlikely and unsavoury allies. Here are just a few:

Egypt

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief and Egypt’s leader-in-waiting, oversaw a military coup in July 2013 that removed the country’s first democratically elected President, Mohammad Morsi. Following his removal, thousands of Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets in protest. Hundreds were brutally cut down in the streets by the army. The crackdown continues to this day: some 528 Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death, convicted of charges including murdering a policeman and attacks on people and property.

Despite overseeing this crackdown, Mr Blair has given Mr Sisi his staunch backing, and even visited him in Cairo. In January, he said: “The fact is, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army has 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.”

Syria

Early in the Syrian civil war Mr Blair supported military action against the government to remove President Bashar al-Assad. However, as extremist groups have grown more powerful among the rebels, his position appears to have softened, and last week he suggested that Assad staying in power for the short term might be the lesser of two evils.

In Mr Blair’s own words: “We are now in a position where both Assad staying and the opposition taking over seem bad options,” he said in his speech at Bloomberg HQ in London. “Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period.”

This puts him at odds with most Western diplomats, who have repeatedly argued that Assad can have no role in a future Syria. Mr Blair goes on to say military action, including no-fly zones, should be used if Assad fails to negotiate.

Russia

While the West is locked in a tooth-and-nail battle with a resurgent Vladimir Putin over the future of Ukraine, Mr Blair argues that it is still possible to work with Russia to counter the threat of radical Islam.

“On this issue, whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and co-operate with the East, and in particular, Russia and China,” he said. “On this issue also, there is a complete identity of interest between East and West. China and Russia have exactly the same desire to defeat this ideology as do the USA and Europe.”

How this relationship would work in practice is unclear. One of the areas Mr Putin would argue he is doing his utmost to combat extremism is in Syria. Mr Putin is a staunch backer of Mr Assad, and has justified his support for the regime as a fight against terrorists – a label that he applies to the entirety of the Syrian opposition.

Israel

Mr Blair’s role as envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for Quartet powers of Russia, the US, France and Britain has placed him at the centre of the conflict. His task was always narrowly defined as a state-building role – growing the Palestinian economy and institutions so as to better position it to make peace.

But Mr Blair’s view of the world as a battle between the forces of democracy and radical Islam echoes the position of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Anshel Pfeffer, a commentator for the Israeli daily Haaretz, said Mr Blair’s Bloomberg speech “could have been an address by… Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“It is not only his dichotomy of the forces of enlightenment fighting the forces trying to plunge the world into a new dark age – but also his policy prescriptions proposed that tally with official and unofficial Israeli policies,” Pfeffer said.

Saudi Arabia

When he was still Prime Minister Mr Blair described Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia as “vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East and in terms of helping in respect of Israel and Palestine.”

Since leaving office, it appears as though his position has hardened. In what has been interpreted as a veiled reference to the Saudis in his speech this week, Mr Blair said: “It is absurd to spend billions of dollars on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships.”

A reason for this shift may be the support given by Saudi Arabia to jihadist groups fighting in Syria.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us