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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "Takin’ It to the Streets": Sorry, Tom, but Don't Go Comparin' Egypt with the US!

Today we learned that a 21-year-old American, Andrew Pochter, who had come to Egypt to teach English and improve his Arabic, was stabbed to death in Alexandria when protesters set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. As reported by The Washington Post (

"Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in competing protests for and against the nation’s Islamist president Friday, ahead of the planned anti-government demonstrations on Sunday that many Egyptians are convinced will turn deadly.

By Saturday, clashes that erupted between the rival sides in the coastal city of Alexandria had left three dead and more than 200 wounded, and attackers in Nile Delta cities had set fire to offices belonging to the president’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood."

Egypt, with only some $16 billion in foreign reserves, soaring unemployment, a weakening currency, poverty, illiteracy, discrimination against women (90 percent of whom have had their genitals mutilated), oppression of its Christian Coptic minority, and a population that is growing beyond the country's means, is headed for disaster.

No, it's not going to be pretty tomorrow in Cairo and Alexandria.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Takin’ It to the Streets" (, Thomas Friedman asks, "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?" Friedman would have us believe that what is happening in Egypt is somehow similar to protests in the US (and Israel). Friedman writes:

"The former C.I.A. analyst Paul R. Pillar asked this question in a recent essay in The National Interest: Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies? Speaking specifically of Turkey and Brazil, but posing a question that could be applied to Egypt, Israel, Russia, Chile and the United States, Pillar asks: 'The governments being protested against were freely and democratically elected. With the ballot box available, why should there be recourse to the street?'"

Well, unbeknownst to Tom, there is a world of difference between the violence that characterizes Egyptian demonstrations and the relative orderliness and absence of violence that typically characterizes American demonstrations, which are protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Nevertheless, Friedman would lump all of these protests together and attribute them to the convergence of three phenomena:

  • "the rise and proliferation of illiberal 'majoritarian' democracies.
  • "the way middle-class workers are being squeezed between a shrinking welfare state and a much more demanding job market."
  • "much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests."  

Friedman's conclusion:

"The net result is this: Autocracy is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever. Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels."

In short, Friedman fails to differentiate between recent riots in Turkey and Egypt, resulting in dead and wounded, and political protests in the US, which can be loud and boisterous, but typically do not turn violent. Riots as opposed to protests - there is a big difference.

There can also be no comparing American democracy with whatever now exists in Egypt. Again, consider the 2010 findings of the Pew Research Center that 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe that those who abandon Islam should be executed and 95 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe it is "good" that Islam plays a large role in politics (see:

It never occurs to Tom that there is a link between Islamic militancy and intolerance and the violence that characterizes demonstrations in the Muslim Middle East.

Compare deadly riots in Egypt and Turkey with orderly protests in the US protected by the Constitution? Go back to sleep, Tom.

1 comment:

  1. Talk about 'takin' it to the streets', if the George Zimmerman trial ends in a not guilty verdict, the L.A. riots of 1991 are going to look like the Summer of Love in comparison to what might ensue. With temperatures well above 90 degrees across the South and real black unemployment exceeding 50%, we're sitting on a potential powder keg of violence and mayhem, far worse than anything Thomas Friedman can imagine.