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Ex-UK PM Blair: Islam must resolve its internal 'issue'

There is an issue within Islam that must be resolved before the Middle East can move forward, the former prime minister of the U.K., Tony Blair, told CNBC.

"If you believe, as I do, that there is not a problem with Islam, but there is an issue within Islam that has to be resolved around this relationship between politics and religion," he said on the outskirts of the Egypt Economic Development Conference in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

If this issue is resolved then the region can send out "waves that are very positive," he said. These would start to diminish the impact of extremism around Britain and within the rest of Europe.

The former prime minister called the issue an "existential battle" between open-minded and closed-minded groups within the Middle East. He said there was renewed hope that new political leaders were now standing up and speaking openly about this issue between "politics and religion."

He used the friction between different religions in the Far East as an example.

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"(In the) Far East there are issues of extremism, that extremism hasn't been borne out of the culture of the Far East, it was imported from the Middle East," he said.

Blair added: "So if you go to the source of this problem and create a different environment around the relationship between politics and religion, I think you start to have an impact that will be felt on the streets of Britain, and Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand and the Philippines - let alone across the Middle East and Africa."

Tony Blair
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tony Blair

'No personal gain'

Concentrating on Egypt, where the conference was taking place, he said the country faced a major security challenge. Despite these problems, however, he said that Egypt was "going places."

"It's really important, not just for Egypt but for the region and the world, that it does," he said.

News reports from the region have included the emergence of an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS.

The British Foreign Office warned travelers to Egypt of a "high threat" from terrorism, in particular from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

The northern region of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has seen the worst of the trouble, with the Foreign Office stating that the Ansar Bait-al-Maqdis (ABM) - which has pledged allegiance to ISIS - are the most active terrorist group in Egypt.

Tony Blair became an envoy to the Middle East shortly after his time at the head of the British government. Both the Iraq and the Afghanistan war were launched during his tenure as prime minister.

He has been criticized for his work and the business dealings he has helped oversee in the region. However, he told CNBC that he had made "no personal gain" whatsoever.

"I do it because I believe in it," he said.

On Monday, the Financial Times reported that Blair was preparing to step back from his role as a Middle East peace envoy; he was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.