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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "Egypt, the Beginning or the End?": Reality Slaps Tom in the Face

Do you remember the horse apples that Thomas Friedman tossed at his readership earlier this year concerning events in Cairo's Tahrir Square? Let me remind you. In an emotive February New York Times op-ed entitled "They Did It" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/opinion/13friedman.html?ref=thomaslfriedman), Friedman wrote:

"They did this all by themselves. That is so important. One of the most powerful chants I heard in [Tahrir] square on Friday night was: 'The people made the regime step down.'

This sense of self-empowerment and authenticity — we did this for ourselves, by ourselves — is what makes Egypt’s democracy movement such a potential game-changer for the whole region.

. . . .

This could get interesting — for all the region’s autocrats. Egypt’s youthful and resourceful democrats are just getting started."

Needless to say, Friedman began to backtrack from his jubilance later in the year. In a May New York Times op-ed entitled "Pay Attention" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/opinion/29friedmanOpEd.html?ref=opinion), Friedman quoted an Egyptian "reform party leader" as saying:

“We as secular forces prefer to have some time to consolidate our parties. We must thank the army for the role it played. But it was our revolution, not a coup d’état. ... If there are fair elections, the Muslim Brotherhood will only get 20 percent.”

20 percent? Yeah, right. The Muslim Brotherhood took 40 percent in the first stage of the election process, and the Salafis, who make the Muslim Brotherhood appear moderate, took another 25 percent.

Today, Friedman is back with more twaddle in "Egypt, the Beginning or the End?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/opinion/friedman-egypt-the-beginning-or-the-end.html?ref=opinion), seeking to excuse the poor election showing of the "liberal Egyptian Bloc," which received only 15 percent of the vote. Friedman, showing signs of sobriety, writes:

"The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more fundamentalist Salafist Nour Party have garnered some 65 percent of the votes in the first round of Egypt’s free parliamentary elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak should hardly come as a surprise. Given the way that the military regimes in the Arab world decimated all independent secular political parties over the last 50 years, there is little chance of any Arab country going from Mubarak to Jefferson without going through some Khomeini.

But whether this is the end of the Egyptian democracy rebellion, just a phase in it or an inevitable religious political expression that will have to coexist with the military and secular reform agendas remains to be seen. The laws of gravity, both political and economic, have yet to assert themselves on whoever will lead Egypt, which is why today I am in a listening and watching mode, with more questions than answers."

The election results "should hardly come as a surprise"? Nice try, Tom. What happened to your prior rosy assertion that "Egypt’s youthful and resourceful democrats are just getting started"?

Unlike Friedman, as far back as February I warned that Egyptian-style "democracy" would prove unpalatable to Western tastes (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/02/roger-cohens-hosni-mubarak-agonistes.html), observing that a recent Pew Research Center poll found, for example, that more than 75% of Egyptian Muslims favor the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim faith. Given the Pew statistics, and given that the oppressed Christian Coptic minority in Egypt, comprising 9% of the population, would never side with the Brotherhood or the Salafis, the some 65% of the vote received by the Brotherhood and the Salafis was carved in stone from day one.

Friedman asks whether this is the beginning or the end for Egypt. The answer is simple. As reported by David Rosenberg in an article entitled "Plunging foreign reserves pose new threat to Egypt" (http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=248066), published by the Jerusalem Post on Sunday:

"Egypt’s political and economic clocks are running on dangerously different speeds: While Egyptians make repeat visits to the polls over the next three months to elect a new government and debate the future of their country under Islamist rule, the country’s foreign currency reserves are rapidly running down to perilous levels.

The reserves dropped to just over $22 billion in October from $36 billion since the start of the revolution last January. But with the latest round of unrest and the prospect of Islamist rule, the pace of the decline has picked up. On Thursday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) forecasted that the figure would plummet to just $15 billion by the end of January.

. . . .

Plunging forex reserves are symptomatic of economy coming apart. Egypt eked out some economic growth in the second quarter of the year, but not enough to claw back the 4.2% drop in gross domestic product that occurred in the first quarter. The IMF expects the GDP to grow just 1.2%, down from 5.1% in 2010.

Revenue from tourism, a major source of foreign currency for Egypt as well as a major employer, dropped by more than a third in the first half of the year."

Let me put it in simpler language: Egypt stands ready to implode, and the Frankenstein monster that most likely will emerge from the rubble will not take after Western democracies. I hope that answers Friedman, who has lost all semblance of credibility.

1 comment:

  1. Jeffrey, he never had any credibility. At least, not in my intelligent eyes. I read a couple of his columns over a decade ago. Sorry, I tried to read and ... I couldn't. I couldn't stand the pomposity and idiocy of it. I never tried again.
    In one of the columns, he welcomed outsourcing of American jobs and the bright future of America as the land of die Kommandanten of the world (now I know why I studied German - it's so useful in description of American "liberals"). The second one was probably attacking Israel. The two of them gave me a charming picture of this charming fellow.

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