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Thomas Friedman: Imperial Messenger of the Arab Spring

(Photo: AFP-Mark Ralston)

The following is an article I wrote for the Beirut-based Al Akhbar English.

It took Thomas Friedman — New York Times foreign affairs columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient for reporting and commentary on the Middle East — approximately 46 days after the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia to weigh in on the matter.

Noted champion of the notion that Iraqis should be made to “Suck. On. This” by the US military in order to “try to build one decent, progressive, democratizing society in the heart of the Arab East”, Friedman eventually turns up in a Tel Aviv hotel to discuss ramifications of the Egyptian uprising with a retired Israeli general. He then proceeds to Egypt itself, an experience that subsequently merits significant reflection:

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: ‘Do you have a corporate rate?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.’ There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: ‘Can I ask you something?’ Sure. ‘Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.’

I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We’re just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere.



Bahrain's One-Woman Democracy

Bahraini ambassador to the U.S. (Photo: AP)

Tired of hearing about the deadly repression of pro-democracy demonstrators by the Bahraini regime? Treat yourself to the recent Haaretz profile of Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S.

Written by Natasha Mozgovaya, the profile begins:

The appointment of Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo (46), the first female Ambassador from Bahrain and the first Jewish Ambassador of an Arab country in Washington, was praised by U.S. diplomats when it was revealed recently in one of the Wikileaks cables.”

Sticklers for grammar might be surprised to learn that no one knew who Bahrain’s ambassador was until it was revealed by Wikileaks. Undeterred, Mozgovaya plows ahead:

One of Bahrain’s 36 Jews, Nonoo told the ‘Moment’ magazine, a national magazine dedicated to Jewish politics, religion and culture founded in 1975 by Elie Wiesel, that she never experienced religious prejudice in her home country. ‘I had a normal Jewish upbringing. I was born into Judaism. It’s no different from growing up like a Jew in America. It’s my religion.’”


Friedman in search of a horse

Thomas Friedman’s latest analysis of the uprisings in the Arab/Muslim world has received the response it deserves from Sarah Carr.

In Friedman’s defense, however, it is presumably difficult for a foreign affairs columnist to devote his full attention to the goings-on in his alleged region of expertise when he is simultaneously penning his latest scheme for the glorious resurgence of the United States of America.

As Friedman explained to Fox’s Don Imus not so long ago, the “gut thesis” of his upcoming book is as follows:

It’s not a man on horseback we need, Don, it’s a different horse right now, and a different horse that demands a different kind of politics that drives the country in a different direction.”

As a result of the horse project, the foreign affairs columnist was prevented from weighing in on Arab/Muslim uprisings for a full 46 days, though he did manage an article about how the U.S. government should take attitude lessons from Singapore’s millionaire bureaucrats.


State Dept should limit self to Twitter communications

Lately I have been concerned about the job security of PJ Crowley, usual emcee of the U.S. State Department daily press briefings.

The bio on his Twitter account reads:

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, I carry out the Secretary’s mandate to help people understand the importance of U.S. foreign policy.”

However, recent performances would appear to be in direct contravention of this goal (see here, here and here).

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner meanwhile replaced Crowley at yesterday’s briefing, although there have thus far been no reports that Crowley has followed recently deposed U.S. allies into a coma. As the following excerpts demonstrate, Toner’s performance confirms that State Dept. employment in fact hinges upon one’s ability to be vague and self-contradictory:


Toner reports that “we are deeply saddened by the apparent sinking of a tourist boat in Halong Bay in northern Vietnam today.”

QUESTION: Sorry, you said apparently sank?

MR. TONER: It sank, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, it either did or didn’t.

MR. TONER: It did sink. I’m confirming that it sank.