Pray. Hope. Prepare

Written on April 22, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East

By Thomas L. Friedman

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.

Let’s start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces.

In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war.

That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil “dad” — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for “Arab evolutions” or we’re going to get Arab civil wars.

The states most promising for evolution are Morocco and Jordan, where you have respected kings who, if they choose, could lead gradual transitions to a constitutional monarchy. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on April 12, 2011 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 13, 2011, on page A25 of the New York edition).


Cash A. Wright May 9, 2011 - 9:27 am

Tahrir Square has become a remarkable sightseeing :) I have found some more about the sqaure here touregypt.net/cairo/cairotour.htm

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