Coup better than chaos in Egypt, Blair insists

Tony Blair stood by his defence of the Egyptian military for ousting the country's first democratically elected president this morning, as the army blamed a "terrorist group" for a shooting which has left at least 34 people dead.

The former prime minister had attracted criticism after penning an article for the Observer newspaper arguing that no government could have survived the protests faced by ex-president Mohamed Morsi – and that "someone is going to have to run things" in his stead.

Bloodshed in an apparent attack on members of the Muslim Brotherhood is set to inflame the situation in Egypt still further this week, as confrontations between the Islamist allies of Morsi and the military escalate.

But Blair stood by the army chiefs who removed Morsi from power, insisting that the country's stalling economy meant stability is the best option – and that the country's economic reserves have just three months left before they run completely dry.

"Despite all our concerns, and they're perfectly legitimate concerns, the reality is this has happened," Blair told the Today programme.

"The only way you're going to get back to a properly democratic path is to support the [army-led] government taking the decisions necessary on the economy, on society, on issues like law and order, and get back into a process where you can have a genuine open election… overseen by independent observers. "

The Egyptian army has suspended the constitution and will oversee the establishment of a 'technocratic' government. The supreme court will then pass a draft law on parliamentary elections and prepare for national and presidential polls.

The process is being met with cynicism in western capitals, where measures like the 'charter of honour' being forced on the Egyptian media are prompting deep suspicion.

"It is for the Egyptian people to chart a way forward," foreign secretary William Hague said in a statement.

"However in our view this should include a path to free and fair elections in which all parties can compete, the release of political leaders and journalists, and work to agree a constitution and the checks and balances of a democratic system that respects the rights of all Egypt's citizens.

"Urgent steps to improve economic conditions in the country are also vital."

Hague made clear the UK stands ready to support "the people" in Egypt – whereas Blair's comments focused on the Egyptian army and its government, prompting criticism from some.

"We should not go out of our way to clap our hands and say 'that's marvellous' as Tony Blair has done," former Conservative foreign secretary Douglas Hurd told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

"We should keep our counsel, keep our wits about us, and wait for the last act of the drama which may be some years away.

"We won't know for weeks, maybe even months, whether the military…have made a good gamble for Egypt or bad."

Blair's article yesterday had argued that "democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government" and suggested demonstrations in countries like Turkey and Brazil showed frustrated groups would protest regardless.

"Any decision not to act is itself a decision of vast consequence. At its crudest, we can't afford for Egypt to collapse," he wrote.

"So we should engage with the new de facto power and help the new government make the changes necessary, especially on the economy, so they can deliver for the people."