LONDON - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the West to support liberals and democratic elements in the Middle East and North Africa against rising Islamists.
"We have to be very clear where we stand on this, Blair told the BBC's Today Programme on Thursday, December 29.
The trouble in the region is the more religious and extreme elements are very well organized and the liberal and democratic types basically aren't.
Islamists have swept elections in several Arab countries following popular revolutions that ousted three Arab leaders this year.
In Tunisia, Islamist Ennahda party won most votes in November in the country's first elections since the overthrow of president Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The Muslim Brotherhood also won half of all votes in the first two rounds of parliamentary elections in Egypt.
Islamists also came to power in Libya and Morocco.
Blair believes that there is a battle now between competing elements in the Middle East as to what is democracy.
One was what I would call liberal democratic elements, what I would call the sort of Google types who were initially out in Tahrir Square, the up and coming, aspiring kind of middle class people who want the same types of things we want, the freedoms we want, he said.
"Then you have got this Islamist movement, in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very well organized, and where frankly, it is not clear that they want the same things as us and it is not clear that the type of democracy they would create would be a genuine democracy."
Blair, the Middle East envoy of the Quartet, admitted that the West was mistaken in supporting dictatorships in the Middle East.
He said Britain and the United States had previously been "too reluctant to push dictatorships on a path to democracy".
"I think it's better if we had been able to promote evolution of these countries so rather than revolution that will cause quite a lot of difficulties, not simply for us, but for people of these countries, he said.
Look at what has happened to Egypt's growth rates and tourist industry."
Washington and London pressed for democratic changes in the Middle East following their invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But gradually, their push for democracy in the region died down, turning a blind eye to human rights violations and police brutality.
The former premier argued that he should have "promoted more strongly a concept of evolutionary change" while in power.
"Looking back now, and this should inform our judgments for the future, these situations, which you have people in power for 25 or 30 years, more in some cases it doesn't last," he said."Even for a self-interested point of view we should be looking at how we engage in evolutionary change otherwise you will get revolution."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net