29/12/2011 07:55 GMT | Updated 29/12/2011 08:09 GMT

Tony Blair Warns 'Dangerous' Islamists Are Taking Advantage Of Arab Spring

Western governments were wrong to prop up Middle Eastern dictatorships in the mistaken belief it would create stability, Tony Blair has said.

The former prime minister said that in the past the West was "too reluctant to push those dictatorships on a path to democracy" in a mistaken belief that its interests lay in stability rather than freedom for the peoples of the region.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme on Thursday, Blair said that while it was better to have democracies than dictatorships, it would have been preferable if the Arab Spring could have been averted in favour of a slower "evolutionary" move towards 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. Look at what has happened to Egypt's growth rates and tourist industry," he said.

Blair admitted he had to be a bit "self critical" and acknowledge that he should have "promoted more strongly a concept of evolutionary change" while in power.

"Looking back now, and this should inform our judgements 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."

Blair has faced criticisms for cosying up to Colonel Gaddafi before he was deposed by Libyan rebels earlier this year, although he has insisted it was a necessary part of encouraging the dictator to come in from the cold.

Now the quartet's Middle East envoy, Blair said the West had to beware of "dangerous" Islamists taking advantage of the Arab Spring to impose their ideas on the region.

"We have to be very clear where we stand on this. The trouble in the region is the more religious and extreme elements are very well organised and the liberal and democratic types basically aren't," he said.

"I think the battle in the region is really, are we an open minded version of democracy, which we take certain attitudes for granted; pluralism, equal rights for men and women... or do we say 'look our religion really defines our politics, what we want to create is a concept of Islamic democracy'."