The other day I posted a blog on words of the New York Times’ columnist, Thomas Friedman, as reported in Egypt. I also uploaded a slightly altered version at my Jerusalem Post blog, Green-Lined.

It is now updated to include this response of Mr. Friedman:-

Update (2012-01-11 15:03:25):

Dear Mr. Medad:

The quote attributed to me by the Egyptian daily is completely mangled. I was asked by an audience member to give my assessment of the liberal’s performance in the Egyptian election. What I actually said, which the reporter, clearly not an English speaker, did not get, was that it was no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood did so well in this first election because for the last 30 years Mubarak had cleared out all the political space between himself and the Brotherhood so that he was able to come to Washington and say to successive U.S. Presidents that “It is either me or them.” I said that what the Egyptian elections produced, for the first time, were legitimate, authentic, liberal, secular, nationalist, progressive alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood and now the Brotherhood would have to compete with such alternatives — for the first time. I then said, given the fact that the liberals had only four months to organize their parties and that the Brotherhood had been in politics for 83 years, that I thought the liberals had done amazingly well. By the way, there were many cameras filming all of this, so it is easy enough to verify.

I would also note that this is a point I have made many times before in my writings — in precisely those words — that what was missing in Arab politics was a legitimate, progressive alternative to both the official parties and the Islamists. I would also note that in my previous NYT column from I Cairo, I wrote: “…the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al Nour Party — just crushed the secular liberals, who actually sparked the rebellion here, in the free Egyptian parliamentary elections, winning some 65 percent of the seats. To not be worried about the theocratic, antipluralistic, anti-women’s-rights, xenophobic strands in these Islamist parties is to be recklessly naïve.” (see below for Barry Rubin’s take on it)

On bribery, what I said is exactly what I have written in my own column in the New York Times twice before, “Our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery,” which is what I believe and is hardly an original observation. Judging from reports of allegations against senior political figures in Israel that I read about in your own newspaper, Israel’s democracy is suffering from the same problem. I was warning Egyptians that uncontrolled money in politics is what can destroy their infant democracy, that it was eroding our own, and that they had to be very vigilant about this.” I was reacting to reports in the press that money from Qatar and Saudi had flowed to Islamist parties, while the liberals were starved for cash. I made no connection to any particular special interest in America. Finally, my one-hour question and answer session at AUC was not something I was paid for.

Mr. Medad, you asked aloud whether I could have said what I was quoted saying? I am glad you asked it aloud. I just wish you had asked me first before publishing this blog on your site. I am in the phone book.


Thomas Friedman

So, I am to conclude that

a) I cannot trust the Egyptian media or parts thereof.

b) I can call him up any old time to confirm what is reported that he has said in the press.

c) Congress is an institution – a “forum” – that has been bribed.

d) That despite almost 70% majority for MB & Salafists, Friedman still thinks there exists an “alternative” to them.

Btw, here are exceprts from Barry Rubin’s “Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved“:-

It is distasteful when Western intellectuals, politicians, and journalists who pride themselves on their enlightened humanitarian views watch people abroad fall subject to ruthless forces of dictatorship and dogma. When these same people actually cheer the new tyrannies, put their arms around the shoulders of those who despise them, and tell everyone else that there’s nothing to worry about, that’s actively disgusting.

Many in the West have so acted toward Egypt during the last year…Thomas Friedman has been one of them but perhaps no one else has been louder and more enthusiastic…Now, Friedman goes all-out to explain that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t radical, isn’t a threat, in fact is a good thing, and will only become eve more moderate once it is in power.

In a column entitled, “Watching Elephants Fly,” obviously a reference to seeing something impossible happen, Friedman writes:

“…almost none said they had voted that way for religious reasons.

“Many said they voted for Islamists because they were neighbors, people they knew, while secular liberal candidates had never once visited…practically all of them said they had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist candidates because they expected them to deliver better, more honest government — not more mosques or liquor bans.”

My reaction is, “So what?” They voted for an authoritarian, Sharia regime (and let’s remember a hardline interpretation of Sharia, not the interpretation of Sharia offered by New York Times reporters). That’s what’s important…But there’s even more irony here…There is nothing surprising in their political behavior, except to people like Friedman who predicted last year they would back liberal Westernized Facebook kids.

Once again, Friedman shows a striking inability to think logically…what will be taught in those mosques and how it will direct society. Why is Friedman dishonest?…he must create silly demands for the Islamists so he can claim that the people don’t want those things.

…An aspect of Friedman’s work that makes it so popular is that he constantly invents simple new theories and catch phrases to explain Middle East politics. After reading his column it is possible to believe that one has easily achieved understanding of the region. Of course, the reason that he must come up with so many theories is that they almost always fail.

Now he has a new, materialistic explanation for why Islamists will become moderate: they need the money…But I heard similar things about Iran in the late 1970s–they’ll have to be moderate because they need to sell the oil–and about Yasir Arafat at the start of the peace process in the early 1980s–he’ll have to be moderate because the Palestinians he rules will demand garbage collection and decent schools…It is awesome how our political geniuses simply don’t learn from history…his shocking enthusiasm for the Brotherhood, summed up in his reported phrase: “The Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate, authentic, progressive alternative.” Mr. Friedman has responded that he was referring to the election and not the Brotherhood itself. That may be but if so this is a very strange formulation. And, of course, Friedman knows who won the election by a landslide, the Brotherhood and Salafists. He certainly didn’t say: Great election, too bad about the result. And so he and many others–including the U.S. government–have given not just grudging acceptance but absolute approval to a party with a long history down to the present day of anti-Americanism, antisemitism, and support for terrorism, as well as the desire to transform Egypt into a repressive society and a political dictatorship.

…Western leftist intellectuals cannot understand how a dictatorship can be popular and yet still be a dictatorship that those who believe in democracy and freedom should criticize…

“Authentic.” That usually means something arising from one’s society and properly fitting into it. But here’s a problem. Today, democracy as known in the West is not an “authentic” doctrine for Egyptians. It is seen as an import and doesn’t have a strong cultural, intellectual, political, economic, or religious basis…”Progressive.” In recent years, “progressive” has become a false flag for extreme left-wing movements in the West. Why did Friedman use that word? Probably because for him it is merely a synonym for the word “good.” But it’s fascinating that he puts the Muslim Brotherhood in the same category as the ideology of Obama and the dominant American political establishment at present.

So what does this mean? Friedman sees revolutionary Islamism as the proper Middle East counterpart of the Western left…Unfortunately, the Islamists don’t reciprocate this love.

Isn’t Friedman aware that real Egyptian democrats are rushing to get visas and leave the country? That many Christians are getting out and the rest are trembling?

Within hours of the Friedman statement, the Free Egyptians Party—the most “authentic” liberal party in Egypt—declared a boycott of the remaining elections, claiming electoral fraud…The real moderates and democrats are in despair, knowing what they will be living under. And Friedman cheers their oppressors and says there is nothing to worry about…In playing these games, Friedman and the U.S. government ignore the mature adult way to handle such issues. A foreign policy professional should say something like this:

The Muslim Brotherhood won elections and clearly enjoys support from many Egyptians. It is now up to the Brotherhood to live up to those hopes and fulfill the promise of true democracy. To do so, the Brotherhood will have to break with past beliefs and policies…

The second thing that disgusts me is Friedman’s attempts to win applause by sucking up to his Egyptian audience. He tells them that the U.S. Congress is profoundly corrupt. Aside from demeaning his own country and civilization, the signal that statement sends is: Hey, democracy doesn’t really work!…”Money will kill your democracy like it did ours,” said Friedman. So Egypt is now a democracy but America isn’t?

…I’m almost done but there’s one more thing important for you to know. It’s from a column I wrote a year ago, in the midst of the revolution. The radical blogger, Angry Arab, made fun of Friedman back then. Referring to Friedman as a “Zionist,” the blogger mocked him for claiming that the revolution would produce a moderate pro-American Egypt ready to keep the peace with Israel. Every Arab understood, said Angry Arab, that the exact opposite would happen.

A humorous example of Friedman’s lack of self-awareness is the fact that he called his column, “Watching Elephants Fly.” Can many Americans hear that phrase and not think of a certain famous animated film by Walt Disney?

It’s title is most appropriate: Dumbo.

I guess I’ll have to give Tom Friedman a call.


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