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Thomas Friedman - NY Times: Insight Into The Middle East and Beyond

Thom has a uniquely insightful, rational, and reasoned view about the Middle East. I thought I'd share some of his editorials. Please read at your leisure.


The Land of Denial

I read in yesterday's Times that Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, says he
warned the U.S. of a plot by Al Qaeda before 9/11 and that he has a new plan
for a Palestinian state. I suppose that's all to the good, but frankly, none
of it leaves me feeling reassured, for one simple reason: We don't need
Egypt to be our policeman, we need it to be our progressive.

What I mean is that we need Egypt to play the role that it played in Arab
politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries - the role that history
assigned it and for which it has no replacement: to lead the Arab-Muslim
world into modernity with an ideological message that is rooted in Arab and
Muslim tradition but is progressive, pluralistic and democratic. That is the
most important thing Egypt can do for us, and that is precisely what it has
not been doing for decades now.

Let me be blunt. Egypt is the center of gravity of the Arab world. It has
the biggest middle class, the best-educated population and the people with
the most potential. Egypt should be the Taiwan of the Mediterranean. But it
is a country that has been stagnating, to a degree that smaller Arab
countries are now passing it by.

Jordan was the first Arab country to secure a free-trade agreement with
America; Bahrain is the Arab country doing the most innovative experiments
with democracy; Qatar was the pioneer of free satellite television, with
al-Jazeera; and Tunisia, despite its authoritarian regime, has led the way
in economic liberalization and in forging closer ties with the E.U.

All these innovations should have come from Egypt, and had they, they would
have had a modernizing effect on the entire Arab world, particularly its
other big stagnating countries - Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. But they are
not happening. Egypt, which in the last century produced such towering Arab
intellectuals as Naguib Mahfouz, Taha Hussein and Tawfik al-Hakim, has
produced no successors to them. The intellectual air has gone stale in Egypt
from too many years of controlled press and authoritarian politics.

President Mubarak says, "We have all kinds of democracy." Really? All kinds
but genuine democracy, because a genuine democracy wouldn't be putting on
trial an Egyptian democracy expert, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, for wanting the
right to speak freely, press for social change and question official policy.

In the mid-1990's Mr. Mubarak seemed to realize that Egypt needed to reform
and privatize its economy, to keep pace with a population that will double
in 20 years. But after a little reform produced a little boomlet, he backed
off doing the really hard stuff. Since 2000, Egypt's economic growth has
been anemic; it has seemed unable to attract much foreign or domestic
investment. Costa Rica, with 4 million people, exports more than Egypt, with
68 million; and Thailand, with the same population as Egypt, exports 10
times as much.

Yes, Egypt has been threatened by Al Qaeda too. But Egypt's way of cracking
down has been to either arrest or expel radical Islamic leaders and then
leave an ideological vacuum in their wake. The reason a psychopath like
Osama bin Laden - with his Arab, Islamic but backward-looking message -
could gain such currency is because no one in the Arab world, particularly
Egypt, has articulated an Arab, Islamic, progressive, democratic alternative
to counter him.

The Bush team wants to spend money on TV or advertisements to broadcast our
message in Arabic to the Arab world. Frankly, there is no modern,
progressive message we could broadcast in Arabic that would begin to compare
in influence to one that would come from Egypt. But it's not coming.

Look, Hosni Mubarak is not our enemy. He is authentically pro-American and a
bulwark against another Arab-Israeli war. But if he really wants to help us,
and we really want his help, we don't need to talk to him about Al Qaeda or
Israel. We need to talk to him about Egypt.

If we've learned one thing since 9/11, it's that terrorism is not produced
by the poverty of money. It's produced by the poverty of dignity. It is
about young middle-class Arabs and Muslims feeling trapped in countries with
too few good jobs and too few opportunities to realize their potential or
shape their own future - and blaming America for it. We have to break that
cycle, and no one could help us do it more effectively than the Egyptians.
Does President Bush dare say that, or are we going to keep lying to
ourselves and to them?

Onward and Upward!

[This message was edited by MBM on June 05, 2002 at 05:35 PM.]


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