Tony Blair flew into Cairo on Wednesday to offer his support to the administration, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood and to hold talks on the country’s growing problem with an al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgency. ‘We should support those people in the region who want the open-minded society and the modern economy. That means we support the government here in Egypt,’ he told Sky News Arabia.
The idea that the Egyptian government wants an ‘open-minded society’ is baffling. Several al-Jazeera journalists are in prison; some of the few activists brave enough to campaign openly for a no vote in the recent constitutional referendum were arrested; last week a filmmaker was snatched from his home.
On a typical Friday, police arrest more than 100 protesters associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. ‘We used to wait for the demonstration to turn violent,’ the interior minister says, ‘but now we confront them once they congregate.’ The wife of an alleged Muslim Brotherhood member was shot dead ‘by accident’ as she went to visit her husband in prison. Several leading secular oppositionists are in prison.
Blair’s support for the regime is at least consistent. Three days after the military intervened to remove Morsi from power, Blair explained his support for the ouster:
The events that led to the Egyptian army’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi confronted the military with a simple choice: intervention or chaos. Seventeen million people on the street is not the same as an election. But it is an awesome manifestation of people power. The equivalent turnout in Britain would be around 13 million people. Just think about it for a moment. The army wouldn’t intervene here, it is true. But the government wouldn’t survive either.
17 million people on the streets would have been an awesome expression of people power. But it never happened. there is no source whatsoever for the figure. In the LRB Hugh Roberts recorded an estimate from the journal ,em>Maghreb émergent of ‘at the very most two million across the country as a whole’, while another estimate gave a figure of 2.8 million.
Relative to the size of its population, the demonstrations that overturned Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were of a comparable magnitude to those in Britain in 2003 against the Iraq war, and indeed against Blair himself, which were estimated at between one and two million strong. ‘We can debate the past,’ he said in Cairo yesterday, ‘and it’s probably not very fruitful to do so.’