Monday, June 11, 2012

Facebook Meets Brick-and-Mortar Politics - By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN - The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman, a Jewish American writer and columnist with The New York Times, has a rare gift of insight in most common situations picking up the essence of a broader perspective on world events. Here, as is typical with western writers, he is not happy with the developments in both Egypt and Turkey, he is courageous enough to acknowledge the reality that faces the West, as well as the people around the world, where changes for democracy are to be forced to be inaugurated by the West, wrongly assumes that the Left liberals are the true inheritors of the new changes. In fact, they are now belatedly realizing that their initiatives to bring in change is more effectively by injecting chaos through Facebook mobilization is faltering, and inadvertently to the chagrin of western planners,  only as the more organized movements can emerge to take charge, their preferred Left is far from organized. After military, the democratic forces that can inspire confidence in people, at least in the Middle East, are Islamists, who naturally are anathema to the West.

The article and the happenings in Turkey as highlighted by Friedman, have relevance for India, where democratic forces are taking a beating due to their sheer blunderings and rampant corruption; thus making it easy for fascist forces from both left and right to first destabilize the country and then impose an authoritarian regime.

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai


New York Times

The Sunday Review

Op-Ed Columnist

Facebook Meets Brick-and-Mortar Politics

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Supporters of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood at a campaign stop in Menoufia, Egypt, on Wednesday.


Published: June 9, 2012 70 Comments
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman
I HAD just finished a panel discussion on Turkey and the Arab Spring at a regional conference here, and, as I was leaving, a young Egyptian woman approached me. “Mr. Friedman, could I ask you a question? Who should I vote for?”
I thought: “Why is she asking me about Obama and Romney?” No, no, she explained. It was her Egyptian election next week that she was asking about. Should she vote for Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, or Ahmed Shafiq, a retired general who served as Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and was running as a secular law-and-order candidate? My heart went out to her. As Egyptian democracy activists say: It’s like having to choose between two diseases. How sad that 18 months after a democratic revolution, Egyptians have been left with a choice between a candidate anchored in 1952, when Egypt’s military seized power, and a candidate anchored in 622, when the Prophet Muhammad gave birth to Islam.

What happened to the “Facebook Revolution”?

Actually, Facebook is having a bad week — in the stock market and the ideas market. As a liberal Egyptian friend observed, “Facebook really helped people to communicate, but not to collaborate.” No doubt Facebook helped a certain educated class of Egyptians to spread the word about the Tahrir Revolution. Ditto Twitter. But, at the end of the day, politics always comes down to two very old things: leadership and the ability to get stuff done. And when it came to those, both the Egyptian Army and the Muslim Brotherhood, two old “brick and mortar” movements, were much more adept than the Facebook generation of secular progressives and moderate Islamists — whose candidates together won more votes than Morsi and Shafik combined in the first round of voting but failed to make the runoff because they divided their votes among competing candidates who would not align.

To be sure, Facebook, Twitter and blogging are truly revolutionary tools of communication and expression that have brought so many new and compelling voices to light. At their best, they’re changing the nature of political communication and news. But, at their worst, they can become addictive substitutes for real action. How often have you heard lately: “Oh, I tweeted about that.” Or “I posted that on my Facebook page.” Really? In most cases, that’s about as impactful as firing a mortar into the Milky Way galaxy. Unless you get out of Facebook and into someone’s face, you really have not acted. And, as Syria’s vicious regime is also reminding us: “bang-bang” beats “tweet-tweet” every day of the week.

Commenting on Egypt’s incredibly brave Facebook generation rebels, the political scientist Frank Fukuyama recently wrote: “They could organize protests and demonstrations, and act with often reckless courage to challenge the old regime. But they could not go on to rally around a single candidate, and then engage in the slow, dull, grinding work of organizing a political party that could contest an election, district by district. ... Facebook, it seems, produces a sharp, blinding flash in the pan, but it does not generate enough heat over an extended period to warm the house.”

Let’s be fair. The Tahrir youths were up against two well-entrenched patronage networks. They had little time to build grass-roots networks in a country as big as Egypt. That said, though, they could learn about leadership and the importance of getting things done by studying Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P. It has been ruling here since 2002, winning three consecutive elections.

What even the A.K.P.’s biggest critics will acknowledge is that it has transformed Turkey in a decade into an economic powerhouse with a growth rate second only to China. And it did so by unlocking its people’s energy — with good economic management and reformed universal health care, by removing obstacles and creating incentives for business and foreign investment, and by building new airports, rail lines, roads, tunnels, bridges, wireless networks and sewers all across the country. A Turkish journalist who detests the A.K.P. confessed to me that she wished the party had won her municipal elections, because she knew it would have improved the neighborhood.

But here’s the problem: The A.K.P.’s impressively effective prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has not only been effective at building bridges but also in eliminating any independent judiciary in Turkey and in intimidating the Turkish press so that there are no more checks and balances here. With the economic decline of the European Union, the aborting of Turkey’s efforts to become an E.U. member and the need for America to have Turkey as an ally in managing Iraq, Iran and Syria, there are also no external checks on the A.K.P.’s rising authoritarianism. (Erdogan announced out of the blue last week that he intended to pass a law severely restricting abortions.)

So many conversations I had with Turks here ended with me being told: “Just don’t quote me. He can be very vindictive.” It’s like China.

This isn’t good. If Erdogan’s “Sultanization” of Turkey continues unchecked, it will soil his truly significant record and surely end up damaging Turkish democracy. It will also be bad for the region because whoever wins the election in Egypt, when looking for a model to follow, will see the E.U. in shambles, the Obama team giving Erdogan a free pass and Turkey thriving under a system that says: Give your people growth and you can gradually curb democratic institutions and impose more religion as you like.


Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
    • blackmamba
    • IL
    NYT Pick

    "Arab Democracy" ?

    Is that like " Jewish Democracy" or " Christian Democracy"?

    Or is it like the "democracy" in apartheid South Africa and slavery/Jim Crow America?

    Or the democracy in the People's Republics of the world?

    What happens to you if you if you are not part of the group that modifies democracy?

    What happens to you if you are part of that group but do not agree with your fellows?
    • Trillian
    • New York City
    NYT Pick

    Facebook and Twitter have always been, and always will be, empty, enervating and worthless tools that discourage action and involvement. They're actually worse than doing nothing because at least if you do nothing you can't have the illusion that you're doing something.
    • blackmamba
    • IL
    NYT Pick

    They must feel like all of those Americans who had such high hopes on July 5, 1776.

    Only to realize that all of the high minded rhetoric about liberty, freedom, democracy, equality and unalienable rights was only intended to apply to white Protestant men from North/West Europe who owned land.

    And they also must realize that America favors the rights intended by it's Founding Father's for some people somewhere to some extent some of the time.

    History is a tale of human nature written in blood and tears to match the reality with the rhetoric.

    It is all very ordinary. Nothing exceptional unless you presume that human nature is selfish and callous.

    But all we see is altruism, compassion, honor, respect, love, trust and beauty in the mirror.
    • f.azzarto03parknyc
    • Newton,MA
    NYT Pick

    Mr. Friedman, as much as you would like everyone in the world to be as “Free” as we are in the US you continue to ignore the long, history that is Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and more than any country, is Turkey.
    In the “Non-USA” nations, history is on their side. We are children in history’s timeline.
    Istanbul is the face of that long history. You just do not get it!
    Democracy as practiced in the USA is not and should not be the way other countries of this diverse world and especially the Middle East and Turkey should, will and must function and live.
    America’s hubris is our greatest Achilles Heel.
    And you put too much into the Facebook Bubble.
    In 5 years the next generation will barely remember it as my generation only faintly recalls the slide rule. The internet has yet to mature. Steve Jobs understood it but didn’t have the gift of time to see his dreams come true.
    Real Change has yet to come.
    The world will mature when you see the World Summer Olympics celebrated in Tel Aviv or Teheran.
    Facebook is a small blip on the Timeline that is humanity’s very long history.
    • Petey Tonei
    • Massachusetts
    NYT Pick

    Not so fast. History has Proven that everything is in a state of flux, there is no such thing as permanent. And there is nothing as powerful as hope, human spirit. Six hundred years, thousand years, two thousand years...these are still pretty recent in relative terms of human history on earth.

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