Blair on Egypt and Saudi Arabia

John Rentoul
blair 300x225 Blair on Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Tony Blair (Getty Images)

I haven’t commented much on Tony Blair’s speech last week, “Why the Middle East Matters“, partly because I don’t understand his argument about Egypt – that the international community should give “Egypt and its new president as much assistance as we can”. I didn’t agree with him last year, and I am doubtful now. I know very little about Egypt, but Kyle Orton’s critique of the speech seems to make a lot of sense.

One more thing. My esteemed colleague Patrick Cockburn, who undoubtedly knows a lot about the Middle East, was rude about the speech in last week’s Independent on Sunday. That is not surprising, but I found it peculiar that he accused Blair of “regurgitating the official line of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies”.

Even I recognised the implied criticism of Saudi Arabia in the speech:

Consider this absurdity: that we 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.

I thought he might also be referring to Pakistan, but something interesting seems to be going on here. The speech was praised by Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, which was set up by the Saudi royal family as a rival to Al Jazeera, owned by the Qatari ruling family.

If anyone would like to explain, my email address is

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  • LancashreLad

    Well it could be, Mr Rentoul’s first thought is correct, that Mr Blair is insane or he may be being led by not very helpful advisers into a lions den.

    In one week Mr Blair,

    Wages war on Muslims that don’t like being bombed, invaded and lied to,

    Is embarrassed by calls to come clean on what he knew of paedophiles in his Cabinet,

    Further embarrassed by the friend he probably liked too much who has been arrested in connection one of the worst murders committed in the Northern Ireland troubles.

    And still no letter from Chilcot.

    Its as if someone is messing with Blair’s head; preparing him for an almighty fall?

  • Pacificweather

    The theory is that the growth of Wahhabism in British schools and universities is paid paid for by the Saudis. They promote it and have money that Pakistan does not so it seems likely. They even buy our out of date military equipment to keep us on side. Of course they also buy the good stuff from the USA for real wars.

  • greggf

    It seems Kyle Orton and many others suscribe to the view that Islamism is like a virus which has to (be allowed to) infect the body-politic before it (the body-politic) can generate sufficient natural resistance to emerge as a healthy democracy. Certainly such ideas are evident in aspects of recent western politics.
    I’m sure others in the 1920s and 30s were saying the same about fascism and Russian Bolshevism – communism.
    Perhaps it’s not an equivalent analogy, nevertheless history has no worked examples of happy outcomes.

  • JohnJustice

    I do not see why you should be doubtful of Blair’s stance on Egypt JR. He has always approached issues like this in terms of what is the lesser of the evils (Iraq was a classic example). From this standpoint he obviously sees the current Egyptian regime (warts and all) as being preferable to an Egypt dominated by religious zealots with all the implications this would have for resolving wider Middle East problems ( notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

  • Kippers

    Except that the invasion of Iraq was defended as the spreading of democracy (after WMD).

    Kyle Orton (linked to by John Rentoul) says that the hullaballoo about spreading freedom in the region always struck him as weird and a bit ignorant. He appears to be trying to distance himself from that justification of the invasion. The problem is that that was the justification of the invasion form late 2003 onwards. He then goes on to justify the invasion of Iraq on the basis of “preventing the next attack”. This just doesn’t make sense and implies a complete disdain fro international law.
    I don’t agree with John Rentoul’s opinions on the background but I do agree that Blair’s view on Egypt is a twist too many in this story.

  • Pacificweather

    I think JR has hit upon something. Blair’s speech was given on behalf of the House of Saud. It’s the only context in which it makes sense. ‘Have Tongue – Will Travel’ reads the card of a man.

  • Kippers

    Blair’s thoughts last summer were very, very close to the Saudi position. This time I am not too sure. I wonder, though, whether the “sore thumb” of Saudi role in the Middle East just sticks out too much, and Blair felt that he had to make a passing reference to it. There have been rumours recently of the UK having a permanent military presence east of Suez for the first time in 40 years to defend the Gulf Monarchies. Is Blair hinting that that would be a step too far?

  • Pacificweather

    That rumour sounds pretty far fetched. Why would we want to defend the gulf states, from Iran or Saudi Arabia, where would the base be and how could we manage (let alone afford) the logistics.

  • Kippers

    I agree that it sounds far-fetched. However there are those like Alistair Burt (who was Middle East minister from 2010 to 2013) who think that we should be defending the Gulf States from the threat from Iran. There are people in the UK who have influence who are deeply committed to Saudi Arabia’s worldview. Possibly Blair is hinting that some of this is going a little too far.

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