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"Demented Tony Blair" loses grip on reality

Patrick Cockburn is a respected journalist, well-versed in the Middle East, having worked there for many years, who writes for The Independent.      In this piece in the newspaper "Demented Tony Blair recites the Saudis' creed in his latest speech" he rightly pillories Tony Blair - who seems to show himself up more and more as the empty chameleon he has always been - about his latest pronouncements.

"Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the core group of al-Qa'ida, may well chortle in disbelief if he reads a translation of Tony Blair's latest speech on the Middle East delivered last week. If Blair's thoughts are used as a guide to action, then the main beneficiaries will be al-Qa'ida-type jihadist movements. Overall, his speech is so bizarre in its assertions that it should forever rule him out as a serious commentator on the Middle East. Reading it, I was reminded of a diplomat in Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent called Mr Vladimir who fancies himself an expert on revolutionaries: "He confounded causes with effects; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist."

The speech, entitled "Why the Middle East matters", is about the threat from radical Islam, what it consists of and how it should be countered. Mr Blair says that "there is a titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world and those who, instead, want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity." On one side stand those who want "pluralistic societies and open economies", on the other those who want to impose an exclusive Islamic ideology.

Here the reader might suppose that Blair is building up towards some sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia and its fundamentalist Wahhabi creed. What could be more opposed to pluralism in politics and religion than a theocratic absolute monarchy such as Saudi Arabia which is so notoriously intolerant of other versions of Islam, such as Shi'ism, as well as Christianity and Judaism, and is, moreover, the only place in the world where women are not allowed to drive? Here is the home country of 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers and of the then leader of al-Qa'ida, Osama bin Laden, whose religious views are rooted in mainstream Wahhabism.

Blair denounces those who espouse an Islamist ideology in which the ultimate goal "is not a society which someone else can change after winning an election". Surely he should be thinking here about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, his namesake in Jordan and the Gulf royals who inherited their thrones. But Blair goes on to make the astonishing claim that the guilty party in fostering extreme jihadist Islam is none other than the Muslim Brotherhood which stood for and won an election in Egypt before it was overthrown by the military.

It is worth quoting Blair again to get the flavour of his thoughts about what happened in Egypt last year. "The Muslim Brotherhood was not simply a bad government," he says. "It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country. The revolt of 30 June was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation."

This is demented stuff. If the Muslim Brotherhood had indeed been taking over Egyptian institutions such as the army, police and judiciary, they would not have been so easily overthrown by the army on 3 July. And what great Egyptian traditions were being eliminated by the Brotherhood other than that of rule by unelected military governments? Blair mentions the number of soldiers and police who died but not the 1,400 protesters killed between July last year and January, according to a report by Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch says that the Egyptian authorities now show "zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators and academics, for peacefully expressing their views". In reality, events in Egypt can only encourage recruitment by jihadi al-Qa'ida-type movements which will argue that the fate of the Brotherhood, which tried to take power democratically, shows that elections are a charade and the only way forward is through violence."

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