x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

West 'has to accept power shift to East'

Western nations must ally themselves with the Middle East as the region emerges as a global power, says Tony Blair.

ABU DHABI // Western nations must ally themselves with the Middle East as the region emerges as a global power, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, said yesterday during a visit to the capital. "Globalisation is changing society, but there is something else that is happening," he said. "It is shifting power to the East.

"The West, for the first time in centuries, is coming to terms with the fact that global power is in the East - China, India and the Middle East. "For a country like Britain, we are not going to be powerful any more unless we are allied with the East." Mr Blair was delivering the fourth of a series of Ramadan lectures before royals and dignitaries at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Mr Blair is working in the Middle East as Quartet Representative, with the aim of helping the Palestinians to prepare for statehood as part of an international initiative to secure peace. He said concepts of race and ethnicity were changing, as were the political paradigms that served these perceptions - namely Right versus Left, conservatives versus liberals, Tories versus Labour, Democrats versus Republicans.

"Sometimes these parties need to exaggerate their differences to give themselves purpose," he said. Whereas in the past, religion, skin colour and nationality would have defined a man, today a different sort of profile divided people and defined what sort of future they were destined to have, said Mr Blair. "Today, the true difference between people is those who embrace globalisation and those who say, 'it is closing in on me'," he said.

"It is the reason why education is so important today. If you are better educated, you are more comfortable with the outside world. "Education is not just about access to jobs. But it is now the common denominator bringing people together." Issues facing countries today - such as climate change, security and the global economy - also brought people together, Mr Blair said. "People know today we cannot resolve these issues without collaboration. Even America is not powerful enough to deal with these on its own.

"The G8 Summit on the financial crisis is really the G20. No one seriously believes you can solve it without input from developing countries." Mr Blair, who launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to promote respect and understanding between major religions, recently converted to Roman Catholicism. On the role of religion in today's world, he said: "When I see faith expressed in a way that is bigoted or racist, I go back and study the Quran, the New Testament and the Old Testament.

"Joshua told his people to choose between God and their idols. Jesus said love God and yourself. The Prophet said saving one life saves humanity." Universal values of love and compassion with a commitment for knowledge were still humanity's compass as it navigated the future, he added. "But one part is courage to move with the times," said Mr Blair. He said moving with the times created new challenges, namely preserving a culture's unique set of values and traditions, an issue of particular importance in the UAE.

"Here in Abu Dhabi and the UAE is a very interesting example of how you are trying to cope with challenges," said Mr Blair. Policy makers in the UAE are trying to preserve Emirati culture, language and religion for a new generation that is increasingly more comfortable expressing ideas in English, and becoming alienated from local tradition and Arabic language skills. Mr Blair ate dates and cracked jokes with his amused audience. "Is this really a tent?" he said, looking around the solid structure, complete with walls, cameras, lighting and portraits of leaders past and present. "It's the most impressive tent I've ever been in."

At one point Sheikh Mohammed reached for his personal camera and snapped a photo of Mr Blair. Asked if he felt more freedom to express his ideas now that he was no longer in government, the former leader of the Labour Party replied: "Yes, I was constrained in my ability to speak like this. "I'm amazed how many people tell me I look younger since leaving office." relass@thenational.ae