Blair embodies corruption and war. He must be sacked By Seumas Milne

July 2014 — The Guardian  Comment is Free

Now he’s advising the Egyptian dictatorship, his removal as Middle East peace envoy is a moral and democratic necessity

Abdel Fatah al-Sisi

Since Abdel Fatah al-Sisi seized power, Egypt has been gripped by brutal repression. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

Since Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown in a military coup a year ago, the country has been gripped by brutal and sustained repression. Well over 2,500 protesters – the true figure is likely to be much higher – have been killed on the streets in cold blood by the security forces. At least 20,000 have been jailed.

More than 1,000 political activists have been sentenced to death. Torture is rampant, basic freedoms suppressed. Three al-Jazeera journalists were last month imprisoned for “spreading false news”. The Egyptian coup-maker, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, is now president courtesy of a 96% endorsement in a sham election after his predecessor Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood was banned.

But this is the regime that Tony Blair, Middle East peace envoy for the “Quartet” of the US, UN, EU and Russia, has now chosen to advise on “economic reform” as part of a programme funded by the United Arab Emirates. The former British prime minister had already hailed the coup that overthrew the elected government as the “absolutely necessary rescue of a nation”.

Now the one-time New Labour star is giving “whatever help he can” to win international financial support for the Egyptian dictatorship. Naturally, the man whose views on everything from Europe to Islam are regularly sought by the western media is not in this for “personal gain” and plans to “make no money out of Egypt”.

The clue, however, is in the “business opportunities” that his staff have privately referred to, in both the Gulf and Egypt, as available for those who get involved in bolstering the Sisi regime. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are keeping Egypt afloat because they regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a mortal threat to the survival of their autocracies.

Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund is already paying Blair more than £1m a year. As one former close personal associate of Blair’s puts it, “a bargain has been struck” that “combines both an existential battle against Islamism and mouth-watering business opportunities in return for the kind of persuasive advocacy he provided George Bush over Iraq”. No wonder Blair is preparing to open an office in the UAE.

Of course Blair has made money out of plenty of other repressive regimes since he left office, from Kazakhstan and Kuwait to Colombia – as well as from banks and corporations. His work for Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of oil-rich Kazakhstan, made him $13m as the regime cracked down on civil liberties.

But shilling for Sisi on behalf of Gulf rulers who are themselves harshly repressive breaks new ground. The Egyptian regime isn’t just autocratic. Its president overthrew an elected government Pinochet-style, with a bloodletting of Chilean proportions.

Egypt is also central to the Middle East conflict, and its government is in effect an Israeli ally. The conflict of interest between Blair’s work for regional dictators and his role as Middle East peace envoy – described by Palestinian leaders as either useless or simply parroting Israeli demands – is so extreme it verges on the surreal.

This is a politician who spearheaded the invasion of Iraq on the basis of entirely false claims at the cost of at least half a million dead, brought al-Qaida into the country and incubated the sectarian virus that is again ripping it apart, while colluding with torture and kidnapping – and who not only continues to champion setting the region on fire but calls for that fire to be spread in new wars and interventions.

To this day, Blair defends the Iraq invasion on the basis that at least the dictator Saddam Hussein was removed from power, while using his international position to hawk himself around to other dictators and swell an income now estimated at around £20m a year.

The west’s support for Arab tyrannies was a crucial factor in the rise of al-Qaida-style terrorism in the first place, just as its collusion with the overthrow of a democratic Islamist government in Egypt is giving it a new lease of life across the region, including in Iraq.

Backed by the heart of reaction in the Gulf – whose malign, oil-lubricated influence is felt throughout the British establishment – Blair is now the leading international spokesman for western imperial swagger and the suppression of democracy in the Middle East, dressed up as a fight against Islamism.

He has also come to epitomise the corruption at the heart of British public life. That’s not to say he’s done anything illegal. And it’s not just about the vast income, the seven houses, the £2m retainer with JP Morgan or the trading of influence and advocacy with corrupt authoritarian governments – all based on the contacts he built up as an elected British political leader.

Blair also played a crucial role in the corrosion of public institutions at home, as New Labour privatisation and City featherbedding accelerated the corporate colonisation of government and the revolving doors that deliver highly paid private-sector jobs to politicians and civil servants in the industries they previously regulated.

David Cameron’s Conservatives, who have their own intimate relationships with the Gulf autocracies, have now taken that process still further, their dependence on financiers and City billionaires laid bare in the retinue who donated £5m to the party from a single fundraising dinner last summer.

But Tony Blair embodies the revolving door on a global scale. Once prime ministers know they can become rich if they play ball with the right companies and states in office, it will become a habit. The “economic reform” Blair will be pressing on Egypt will doubtless involve the kind of privatisation and deregulation that stands to enrich his sponsors but which proved so disastrous at home. The impact on New Labour’s legacy his allies fret about couldn’t be clearer.

For the rest of us, Blair’s self-enrichment from corporations and dictatorships has degraded the office of prime minister. To undo the damage will require a profound change of political direction. Blair himself will never shake off demands that he be held to account for war crimes – even if the system is heavily stacked in his favour.

But his continuing role as Middle East peace envoy is a scandal and an insult to the people of the region. He must be stripped of any remaining public authority. His removal is now a moral and democratic necessity.

Twitter: @SeumasMilne

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