Tom Friedman on Egypt and the Fall of Mr. Morsi

July 7 2013

Tom Friedman on Egypt and the Fall of Mr. Morsi

Tom FriedmanThomas Friedman

ANYONE who has followed Middle East politics knows that this is a region where extremists tend to go all the way and moderates tend to just go away.

But every once in a while — the 1993 Oslo peace negotiations, the 2006 Anbar uprising by Iraqi Sunnis against Al Qaeda, the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon against Syria and Hezbollah — the moderates actually rise up and take a stand. And when they do, America needs to be there to support them.

It is the only hope for moving this region — so poisoned by sectarianism and weighed down by a past that always wants to bury the future — onto a more positive path. I’d put last week’s popular uprising/military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government — and it was a combination of both — in this category.

I do not arrive at that conclusion easily. It would have been far more MohamedMorsiPpreferable if President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party had been voted out of office in three years. This would have forced the party to confront its own incompetence and popular repudiation. I wish the Egyptian army, which has its own interests, had not been involved. But perfect is not on the menu anymore in Egypt. In fact, even food may not be on the menu anymore for the poor. A large number of Egyptians felt that waiting three years could have pushed Egypt over the edge.

The country is so short of foreign currency to pay for fuel imports that gas lines and electricity shortages are everywhere. It was clear that Morsi was not focused on governing and appointing the best people for jobs. He was focused on digging himself and his party into power, so, by the time of the next presidential elections, Egypt could have had the worst of all worlds: an invincible government and an insoluble economic and social disaster.

One incident is very revealing of the Brotherhood’s priorities. You could not make this up. The best way for Egypt to quickly earn foreign currency to buy food and fuel would be to revive tourism, which accounts for 10 percent of the economy. On June 16, Morsi appointed 17 new governors. In Luxor, the heart of Egypt’s tourism industry, he appointed Adel al-Khayyat, a member of the Islamist militant group Gamaa al-Islamiyya, which had claimed responsibility for the massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997 — precisely to destroy tourism and hurt Hosni Mubarak’s government. Gamaa abandoned violence about a decade ago, although it has never repudiated the 1997 attack. Morsi’s own Minister of Tourism resigned in protest at the appointment, and Khayyat eventually quit, too. But it gives you an idea of what was going on. It would be like Chicago appointing a crony of Al Capone to lead its tourism bureau.

Rather than punishing Egyptians for desperately trying to change course before they go over a cliff, America should use its aid and influence with the army to get the most out of this crisis. That starts by insisting that the Brotherhood leaders be released from jail and that the party and its media be free to contest the next parliamentary elections and have a voice in the constitution-writing process. Anyone who tries to govern Egypt alone will fail: Mubarak, the army, the Muslim Brothers, the liberals. Egypt is in a terrible deep hole, and the only way it can get out is with a national unity government that can make hard decisions and do the required heavy lifting.

Indeed, the big question for Egypt is not only who rules but how anyone can rule? Can a fragile new democracy make progress in the face of such deep economic dislocation and distress? I just returned from Egypt. It is falling apart. A few weeks ago, I sat in a tea house in Cairo interviewing Mahmoud Medany, a researcher at Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center and one of the country’s top environmental experts. Medany, 55, recalled that some 40 years ago, when he was in middle school, “we used to sing this song about how the whole world is talking to the 20 million Egyptians.” When Mubarak took over in 1982, “we were 33 or 34 million. Today, we are over 80 million.” Also the steady compacting of soil in the Nile Delta, he added, combined with gradual sea level rise due to global warming, is leading to more and more saltwater intrusion into the Delta. “The Nile is the artery of life, and the Delta is our breadbasket,” said Medany, “and if you take that away there is no Egypt.”

This confluence of population, climate, unemployment, water scarcity and illiteracy may be making Egypt ungovernable — and the job of President impossible — with such a stressed and mobilized population. I hope not, but I do know this: Egypt can’t just keep oscillating from a secular/military regime that isolates the Brotherhood and a Brotherhood regime that isolates the other side.

Daron Acemoglu is co-author of the book “Why Nations Fail,” the simple thesis of which is that nations thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions and fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of a few.

Egypt, with its heavy state, notes Acemoglu, is a classic extractive society. What it needs most is a leader who can combine a spirit of inclusion with a brutal honesty to tell the people they have wasted so many years and really need to start over, by strengthening education, shrinking the state, stimulating entrepreneurship, empowering women and reforming the Police and Judiciary.

There was no chance that Morsi was going to rise to this moment. If new elections and a new constitution can be implemented and a broad national unity government formed — including Islamists — there is still a chance that Egypt can manage all the problems that it can no longer avoid and still avoid the even worse problems that it cannot possibly manage. But it’s only a chance. America’s job is to nudge all parties toward such a national unity coalition.

26 thoughts on “Tom Friedman on Egypt and the Fall of Mr. Morsi

  1. Yes, inclusiveness is the answer… and the Ikhwan need to understand this.

    But “…America needs to be there…”? No, Mr. Friedman the entire world has been down that road many times before and that is not the way forward. Let Egyptians evolve in their own way.

  2. This seems to be sounding more and more familiar

    It was clear that Morsi was not focused on governing and appointing the best people for jobs. He was focused on digging himself and his party into power, so, by the time of the next presidential elections, Egypt could have had the worst of all worlds: an invincible government and an insoluble economic and social disaster.

  3. Muslim Brotherhood is an 80 year old plus organisation.
    Formed by Hassan Al Banna and among their leaders are Syed Qutb,who was hung by President Nasser. Not that simple to dislodge them.

  4. I have a better suggestion. Why don’t America just stay quietly and observe? Meddling in others’ affairs are never good.

  5. The problem with Islamic and other leaders of the different religions in this world is, they refuse to recognise that human beings are NATURAL BEINGS and as such the strongest force guiding them is NATURE . Religion attempts to stifle the natural forces within each human being and often goes against the grain of nature.

    This is why Christiandom lost out to politicians and this is also why the Egyptians are standing up against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies. Islam and the Sharia can never and will never win against NATURE and Natural Laws . It can only come in place temporarily ONLY TO BE DUMPED LATER BY MANKIND. This applies to all other religions too.

  6. Hamid,
    It’s not a matter of dislodging Muslim brotherhood. Islamists must realise that the whole world doesn’t belong to Islam. Even Saladin at his advanced age realised this when he battled King Richard the Lionheart,
    Just look around why Islam governments drops like flies. That including PAS government in Terengganu & Kedah. Islamists must bertaubat as this is the sign from ALLAH himself that DO NOT USE HIS NAME IN VAIN! Ataturk knew it & hence he created secular Turkey. SECULAR IS WHAT ALLAH WANTS! You wanna be intimate with ALLAH, do so yourself but don’t impose your values on others as if you are the GUARDIAN OF ALLAH.
    ALLAH VERY DISPLEASED OF THAT. I GUARANTEE YOU! How many more signs you want, Hamid?

  7. America stays quiet and observe? Are you for real? No way. I’m the first place the mandarins in the State Department and the Pemtagon are not brought up that way. Secondly Uncle Sam’s reputation so soiled that no one, yes no one, will ever believe it can and will stay away. As I said before, let’s hope there is Devine intervention to save the Egyptian masses from total destruction.

  8. I refer to the specific wisdom by bencana above , quote : ” ….they refuse to recognise that human beings are NATURAL BEINGS ( such that ) the strongest force guiding them is NATURE. Religion attempts to stifle natural forces with each human being….” – just curious, where did you get this from, is it from Hinduism, because that actually is Pantheism ( worship Nature ).
    You will be surprised it is stated clearly in the Islamic Quran, but it is different from nature-worship. In the Koran, it is meant for Contemplation of man, if he wants to ‘ understand ‘ Almighty the Creator , one must ‘ contemplate ‘ nature, which is God’s Tanscendence in all the manifestions of our created world. So then, the depth of the Quran is stated thus (sorry, I’ve to use Arabic) :
    ” Shudul Qasarrah Phil Wahaddah, Shuddul Wahaddan Phil Qasarrah…” = what ‘creature’ is that ? Translated roughly, it means this :

    ” Contemplate One to the many, and contemplate many to the One….” ( many is the diverse life forms, human species, plant life and animal kingdom)…..etc. It is the PRINCIPLE OF CORRELATION AND RELATION BACK (in the Contemplation process, Many to the One, and One to the Many – its different from Pantheism ) – And the Quran will take man step by step, from stage to stage….in his upward Quest…. etc, etc.
    I am saying here, Muslims and Non-Muslims are invited, and exhortations made for ALL Mankind to ” explore ” and research, Which Maurice Buchail the French scientist did for 30 long years – that is, IF anyone is ” Interested ” and withstand the challenges to our human faculties…

  9. Monday 8th. … We see the Ikhwan making more mistakes. Not to keep their supporters off the streets has produced a tragically predictable result… we are being told 50 protestors have lost their lives in just one incident.

    In any further election they are bound to again win a sizeable vote… so why are they sacrificing the lives of their supporters?

    He who fights and walks away
    Lives to fight another day.

  10. BTW – ” ….this strongest force is NATURE…..” . In Islam , it is put by scholars like Al’Rumi or Inbi Al’Arabi in this way about the strongest force ” It is the natural Proclivity of Man towards his primordial nature, which makes him ” yearn ” with longingness – Magnetic attraction ( please read how the great spiritualist Dallai LLama put it…astounding ! ) – period

  11. It has been repeatedly said, here by Mr Bean and myself, among others: Islam is incompatible with the Western notion of Democracy. To borrow the term from the article: Islam is ‘extractive’ and can never be inclusive, except when it’s in the absolute minority.

    It has evolved into a religion of ‘Success’ like that of Imperialistic Rome, where outward form (religiosity) is more important than inward substance. But then, all religions will have to go through the ‘Phase’ before changing into a enlightened mode, if it ever does.

    Being a religion of submission entails all sorts of compromises, unlike a religion of salvation. But it would seem to me, that this Muslim Brotherhood are similar to the despots they helped overthrow. In fact the Arab Spring movement was initially a secular movement, and they tagged on as opportunists once the masses had gathered.

    Their principle of religious tolerance (even among their own sects) are unfortunately interpreted in a very one-sided way – religious freedom comes to mean freedom to impose on all citizens the ‘True Religion’.

    Secularism, Inclusiveness and Egalitarianism on the other hand, are actually quite primitive, you see. Empires and despots cannot exist without force and desperate, even fatal, coercion. Remember also the Democracy that is practiced today, is very different from that of Themistocles and the Athenian strategoi who defeated the Persian Empire in 5th cent BCE. Today’s misunderstanding of Democracy is more conveniently labeled: “As you Like It”.

  12. Might as well add here, as a repetition of what I’ve stated in some threads before : Referring to some books written by Katherine Armstrong, she says : (to the effect ) that the Koranic Arabic is couched in a very dense & Elyptical language, very much like Poetry, with its rhyme & rhythm , with soft music of joy coupled at times with lamentations, rising eventually to a crescendo which creates this feelings of longings to yearn for things higher that lay deep in his very being……

  13. Look Abnizar, Karen Armstrong also said: Prophet Mohammad was principally a prophet to the Arabs, and that God is not necessarily a desert dwelling Arab. For me, reading the unabridged King James version of the Bible is a pain even though the archaic English sounds mellifluous. Much less the Latin Vulgate version. The Roman Mass is incomprehensible to me.

    Scripture itself is not Holy – only God’s intent makes it so. I don’t think God deliberately set out to be a Poet. And the proper definition of ‘Holy’ is ‘to be set apart for God’ – nothing else. Perhaps you have a different meaning?

    Why do Islamic scholars insist on Arabic as the only Universal language. I would have thought beauty is in the Ear of the Listener. Esperanto, like Basque is guttural to me.

    Perhaps you may not believe it, but the first human proto-language didn’t sound much like Arabic. In fact the Austronesian languages are probably more semantically primitive.

  14. This time I got to agree with CLF. Who gave the Islamists the right to impose their values. You sure that whatever they preach comes from God himself. Seriously, Uzzah really died in vain if these mullahs really have real power. They should be zapped till chao ta…… charcoal……For abusing Allah’s words

  15. The worldly things are related to all things Secular, and Islam is Compatible with the Scientific dealing with the socio-political and Economic imperatives for Man to succeed in this world….the vast majority of ” Muslims ” are failing in this respect everywhere, I agree.

    All I am saying is the Arabic, particularly the Koranic-Arabic is a ” SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE ” and not easy to understand EVEN by the Muslims themselves around the world…..what more for the Non-Muslims ? – didn’t I say that numerous times in so many threads in Dato Din’s blog ? The Arabic language is a language of Spirituality. And I do often quote this that was said by the Hindu Sage, Ghandi :

    ” For those who believe in the Spiritual, nor proof is necessary,
    For those who do not, no amount of Proof is enough …” – it is
    indeed difficult….

    For that matter, not only the Muslims but the Non–Muslims themselves have by and large misunderstood and misinterpreted their own Religion,
    equally ( how audacious…. ? )

    Leave you all to try and solve what the Dallai Llama said, when a Westerner asked him about the ” Meaning of Life ….? ” – He replied :
    ” The meaning of Life is to Embody all that which is The Transcendence ” – Try and resolve : HOW can the ‘ puny ‘ Man embody the Transcendent ? . And that is spirituality…..not enough language for it.

  16. But yes, you can resolve through books of spirituality, esp through the Koran. This way as a lead : ” Man’ s reality is a micro- mirror reflection of The MACRO-COSMIIC Reality of the enlarged Universe, or the external Universe – so vast and limitless that Sir Isaac Newton had to described the entire Cosmos as ” The Second Divinity ” ! Why is the physical Universe described as The Second Divinity ? Not easy to resolve……

  17. The reason why ‘Muslims themselves’ find it difficult to understand the ‘Spiritual Language’ of Koranic Arabic is simple. It was spoken at a time when the Arabs were essentially a bunch of illiterate Bedouin, camel-loving, polytheistic tribesmen wandering around in the Empty Quarter and the deserts of the Hejaz.. They had no writing, and their alphabet wasn’t yet developed. There were several versions of the Koran floating around at the time of the Prophets demise until Caliph Umar decided to do something about it. The rest is ‘History’.. So tell me how spiritual can poetry be?

    When exegetic commentaries are made from ANY Scripture, we must always factor in the social, cultural and linguistic content at the time it was written. The Koran reveals many Truths about the Human Condition – but it is not Poetry nor can it be a Spiritualism. Each Muslim should by his own capacity search for the inner meaning (batin) of the Koran – unfortunately this is not the case, where because the language is ‘foreign’ – another more educated scholar is required to interpret, irregardless of it’s veracity, consistency or utility. There is no sense of individuality in Islam – only demands of hard headed conformity. All Institutionalized Religion does that, especially so when it becomes ‘Communal’.

    To be sure, there are internal discrepancies, for example in the Inclusive and Exclusivity verses – just as in the Gospels. The Sacred ‘sound’ of the Universe has been said to be ‘Aum’ or OM as what the Hindus and Buddhists have been breathing all these years.

    I have no wish to cause another round of quarrel between the rationalists (Falsafah), mystics and the clerics. I still contemplating: “A guide for the Perplexed”. Not only Maimonides, but also the modern version by E.F.Schumacher.

    In conclusion, it is not ‘wise’ for any truly aware person to conclude God’s attributes, much less number them, especially by quoting others whom they deem more ‘spiritual’ or erudite than themselves. Follow the Path you have chosen, for the road is narrow, winding, difficult and the door already small. Don’t impose.

  18. That’s Exquisite CLF…… elegantly put ! the path is very narrow and difficult, because of its ‘hidden’ meaning and ‘ mystics’ too can go cuckoo….if they are not careful since they too must stand ‘guided’.
    Yes just that, and I must call it quits and go no further – it has been great ‘ fun’ though, and thank you, CLF

  19. This is getting very very cheem. Anyway, if anybody knows about genesis, one would have known how a wise Egypt Phoroah who appointed Joseph as Prime Minister has passed to his successors who had become cruel to the slaves especially the Jews.

    Funny isn’t it…..The one who try to set Singapore free in the first place is a jew called David Marshall. Come to think of Morsi may have resembled David Marshall. However, David Marshall, a Spherdic Jew never impose his religion to any singaporeans. Morsi, aiyaaa………See why Allah so angry

  20. I do not think there is a single book of a major religion that was revealed or collected at a time when literacy was universal… so the Bedouins being illiterate at the time the Quran appeared was nothing new.

    Scholars have grappled with how best to interpret such ancient texts… this difficulty is perhaps best put by Professor A,J, Arberry in the Introduction to his Translation of the Quran.

    It is years since I had a copy, but it makes for interesting reading.

    And the conclusion after reading such pieces?… someone has already put it above… do not impose. Interestingly this appears in the Quran too : “There is no compulsion in religion”.

  21. The real question was, why did people think Morsi was not going to do what he did when they elected him? Was it wrong of the people to give him the chance? Like it or not giving chances religo-statism is not the same as giving other ideas a chance. Other others are made by man, of this earth i.e., secular and can be argued. You can’t argue against faith with the power of the state, because it deem no one have the right to say its wrong..

    This country need a serious discussion about religo-statism in general not about Islam but about religo-state and its nonsense to say Islam is exempt from any weakness of religo-state.

  22. Ah yes, here is a little bit of Prof.Arberry’s Introduction :

    “… difficulties as have bewildered critics ambitious to measure the ocean of prophetic eloquence with the thimble of pedestrian analysis”.

    Perhaps the best reason for there not to be compulsion in religion.

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