Much of the Western intelligentsia cannot conceive that there are many people who don’t think like them in other parts of the world. So much for cosmopolitan international sophistication. (Of course, they often make the same mistake about their own fellow countrymen, too.)
All of this, however, is standard Friedman and standard Western media. That’s not why what Friedman is doing now might be described as his Jane Fonda moment.
The first reason is 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 not to the Brotherhood but instead meant to say, “the Egyptian elections produced, for the first time 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.”
If that is what he meant it is not very impressive. “Nationalist” alternatives to the Brotherhood have been running Egypt since 1952, after all, and “liberal, secular” movements were very active in the latter Mubarak years. I wonder who Friedman is referring to as “progessive,” the radical nationalist-Marxist parties? Moreover, under Egyptian law, the Brotherhood was outlawed and while it did function it was weak compared to now. So to act as if alternatives to the Brotherhood have now arisen is like saying after the fall of the czar and the Russian revolution that things were better because now there was an alternative to the Bolsheviks.
Friedman has never written anything critical about 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.
But since even Friedman agrees that he used such words, let’s examine them:
– “Legitimate.” Does ”legitimate” merely mean here that a lot of Egyptians accept the Brotherhood as their leader? But by this definition Stalinism, Nazism, fascism, and Japanese racist militarism were all “legitimate” doctrines. What is an “illegitimate” doctrine? I suppose nowadays only Zionism gets presented as such. Friedman, who is never short of criticisms on Israel, finds revolutionary Islamism more to his taste.
On the other hand, it is not at all clear that secular and liberal groups are now “legitimate” since they have been overwhelmingly rejected by the voters and are likely to face significant harassment from the army, Brotherhood, and Salafists.
On broader grounds, 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. This was the basis of the great divide among leftist and liberal intellectuals of earlier generations over the Soviet Union and other left-wing dictatorships. Since real liberals today have been, at least temporarily, wiped out, few are left other than conservatives to make this point.
–”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. And since liberal parties didn’t get many votes, that tends to indicate that liberty, equality for women, tolerance, and all the other elements of a real democracy also aren’t “legitimate” in Egypt either.
–”Progressive.” In recent years, “progressive” has become a false flag for extreme left-wing movements in the West. Friedman says he did not apply that word to the Brotherhood, so let’s leave him out of it personally. Still, though, there is no doubt that many people who consider themselves “progressive” are also enthusiastic about the Brotherhood. In fact, I’ve never heard any such person criticize the group, or Islamists generally for that matter.
So “progressives” see revolutionary Islamism as the proper Middle East counterpart of the Western left. Observers often ask how these two forces can work together when their views and values are apparently so different. Here’s the answer: many or most Western leftists do view Islamism as a kindred movement. In part, that’s because they don’t understand Islamism; and in part they don’t understand Islamism because when they see it they shout not, ”Down with the reactionary clerical-fascists!” but rather: “Comrade!”
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. Personally, I don’t think electoral fraud was a major factor but, rather, the party is reacting out of hopelessness, knowing that an open democratic society has no chance now in Egypt and that it cannot depend on any help from Western governments, which support its enemies.
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. How is this better than becoming a booster for some Latin American military dictator or African tyrant or ruthless Communist oligarchy?
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. We all hope this change does indeed happen. But we will be watching closely and never hesitate to point out when it acts in a different manner. The Brotherhood will have to prove, to Egyptians and the world alike, that it truly is now moderate and democratic. Only then would we accept such a claim.
You see the difference? My version says: We have an open mind, we are willing to work with you, but the burden is on you to prove your claims. We know enough about you to be skeptical and we will not be fooled.
His version says: Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Brotherhood! Brotherhood! yay, Brotherhood!