Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The time for talk is over; it is time for action in the Middle East

There are three nations in which the possibility of a tyrannical government coming to power is not unlikely. The West must choose sides in these struggles for power

By Tony Blair

Egypt is not a creation of 19th or 20th-century global power games. It is an ancient civilization stretching back thousands of years, imbued with 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 who 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 stabilizing the country; urge everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to get off the streets; and let a proper and short process to an election with independent observers be put in place. A new constitution that protects minority rights and the basic ethos of the country should be drafted, 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 — probably a majority — who want genuine democracy, not an election used as a route to domination.

In Syria, we know what is happening — and that it is wrong to let it happen. However, leave aside any moral argument and just think of the world’s interests for a moment. Doing nothing would mean Syria’s disintegration, divided in blood, with the countries around it destabilized and waves of terrorism rolling over the region. Al-Assad would remain in power in the richest part of the country, with bitter sectarian fury reigning in the country’s eastern hinterland. Iran, with Russia’s support, would be ascendant — and the West apparently impotent.

I hear people talk as if nothing can be done: the Syrian defense systems are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why take sides when one is as bad as the next?

However others are taking sides. They are not terrified of the prospect of intervention. They are intervening in support of a regime that is assaulting civilians in ways not seen since the dark days of [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein.

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 Arabs or, even worse, the people of Islam, are unable to understand what a free society looks like, that they cannot be trusted with something so modern as a polity where religion is in its proper place.

It is not true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle going on over the future of Islam, with extremists aiming to subvert both its open-minded tradition and the modern world.

In this struggle, we should not be neutral. Wherever this extremism is destroying the lives of innocent people — from Iran to Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, as well as elsewhere in Africa, Central Asia, and the Far East — we should be at their side.

As one of the architects of policy after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I know the controversy, anguish, and cost of the decisions taken. I understand why the pendulum has swung so heavily the other way. However, it is not necessary to revert to that policy to make a difference. And the forces that made intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq so difficult are of course the very forces at the heart of the storm today.

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