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Tony Blair sees silver lining for Middle East conflicts

Published: Updated:

There are “signs of optimism” in the Middle East, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in The Observer on Sunday, in reference to resumed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in recent weeks.

The current Special Envoy for the Middle East Quartet expressed hope for peace talks between Israel and Palestine, which he sees as “a test of the region’s capacity to forge a different and better future.”

He admitted he had worked for the reopening of negotiations “often fruitlessly,” and praised the “sheer dogged determination” of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose diplomatic efforts were instrumental in bringing the two parties back to the negotiating table.

Even in Iraq, where sectarian violence claimed nearly 1000 lives in July, he sees grounds for hope.

“[In Iraq] there was recently a seminal statement from Najaf by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, proclaiming the need for a civil not religious state, in which all people had freedom equally to participate and disagreeing with those close to Iran who want Shia to go to Syria to fight for Assad alongside Hezbollah.”

While he acknowledges obstacles such as terrorist groups and militias, he sees promise in the persistence of pro-democratic movements in troubled countries.

“Libya and Tunisia are far from settled, as the assassination of the leading opposition politician in Tunisia and the presence of unrestrained militia in Libyan towns, show. But the democrats aren’t giving up. Across the bulge of the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa there are huge challenges now from well-armed and financed terrorists groups that have imported this toxic ideology from the Middle East.

“Countries such as Nigeria have suffered horribly from a terror based on religious extremism that is alien to their society. But again, despite it all, the country is experiencing rapid economic growth and there has just been a major reform of the power sector, something people thought impossible a short time ago.”

He also said that he recognized that Egypt’s divisions could lead the country to “become paralyzed, incapable of moving forward.”

But again he sees positive outcomes.

“The very divisions in Egypt illustrate a deeper awakening in the region that has its own significance. Lessons about government, governance and democracy that took the west centuries to learn are being taken in at extraordinary speed.”

Blair sees a new style of politics emerging in the Middle East amidst the conflict, where consensus and compromise will win out over “strong man” politics.

“Across the region, there is a fatigue with the wildness and disorder such politics brings. There is recognition that change is best accompanied by stability, and democracy only works if debate is conducted in a reasonable atmosphere where words can be bold, even harsh, but not inflammatory.”