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Friedman Cheers as Egyptians Are Enslaved

As for “more mosques” being the supposed Islamist demand that they "reject" it shows ignorance on the author's part. Egypt has plenty of mosques and the Brotherhood and Salafists don't make mosque-building a top priority. The question is what will be taught in those mosques and how it will direct society.

Why is Friedman dishonest? Because if he claimed that these women weren't interested in enforcing an "Islamic" lifestyle or destroying Israel or spreading Islamism elsewhere or enforcing on all Egyptian women the dress code they follow, then readers would see through such an argument and view it as ridiculous. So he must create silly demands for the Islamists so he can claim that the people don't want those things.

The same point applies on the supposed disinterest in bans on liquor sales. How many of these people have ever seen a liquor store? There are already proportionately few in Egypt and they cater overwhelmingly to Christians and tourists. Such a ban would not affect their lives but would make them feel that Egypt was a moral, Islamically correct county.

Again, these are trivial issues. We can all think of far more serious ones that the Islamists and their supporters do focus on.

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. He cites how Egyptian Islamists have issued conflicting statements about allowing tourists to have alcohol and bikinis as proving that they must make lots of accommodations with reality. No oil money, you see.

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. One might just as well have posited that the Turkish government would never turn against Israel because Israeli tourists brought in so much money.

There have been many examples of the Friedman theory since Karl Marx first wrote that the means of production detemined the shape of society. When Lenin invoked the New Economic Policy to get the new-born USSR through its tough, post-World War I period, naive Westerners announced that Communism had been tamed. My relatives and their neighbors in Poland -- I can document this -- comforted themselves by thinking the Germans wouldn't kill them because the Nazis needed their forced labor.

It is awesome how our political geniuses simply don't learn from history.

The tourism problem is simple. Visitors will be segregated into specific areas like beach resorts where they can drink, party, and bikini away without contact with many Egyptians. The same applies to the up-the-Nile cruises to antiquities sites. Problem solved, except perhaps for the occasional Salafist terrorist attack.

I vividly remember the moment 30 years ago when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini gave his own response to Friedman's "new" theory. Allow me to paraphrase: Western observers don't understand Iran's revolution. They think it is about lowering the price of watermelons (i.e., material well-being) but it is about invoking the will of Allah. Once you have enough people who think this way, forget about Western-style materialistic pragmatism.