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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

'Religion a challenge for 21st century'

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 13, 2012
First Published: 23:52 IST(13/12/2012) | Last Updated: 23:54 IST(13/12/2012)

The struggle in Egypt is the one that is going on all across the Middle East, says former UK prime minister Tony Blair, the one between "open and closed minds."

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Egyptians are divided between those who understand that democracy "is not just about voting, but about accepting pluralism."

Blair, in India this week to sign agreements between his inter-faith foundation and Benaras Hindu and Aligarh Muslim universities, is an unusual statesman who seeks to underline that the "place of religion in society" is a fundamental challenge for the 21st century.

Whether it is the use of Africa's church system to spread anti-malarial bed nets or the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamicist agenda, religion is a crucial part of what happens in the world today. "You literally cannot understand what is happening in the Arab spring without looking at religion," says Blair. "It is also a mistake to eliminate the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian issue."

While nations can be democratic and illiberal, "democracies that grow and set down roots are ones where majoritarianism does not rule."

Egypt is absolutely critical to the future of the Middle East, says Blair. The Muslim Brotherhood is all over the region, including Gaza, and is internally divided. Conservative members take a strict interpretation of the Sharia, he says, while reformists argue that even a religious political grouping like theirs can allow respect and space for another faith.

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