1
Jun

By Thomas L. Friedman

Visiting the Middle East last week, and then coming back to Washington, I am left with one overriding impression: Bin Laden really did a number on all of us.

I am talking in particular about the Arab states, America and Israel — all of whom have deeper holes than ever to dig out of thanks to the Bin Laden decade, 2001 to 2011, and all of whom have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the holes.

Let’s start with the Arabs. In 2001, Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Just a few months later, in 2002, the U.N. issued the “Arab Human Development Report,” which described the very pathologies that produced Al Qaeda and prescribed remedies for overcoming them. The report, written by Arab experts, said the Arab states suffered from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom and respect for human rights as the bases of good governance, a deficit of knowledge in the form of decent schooling and a deficit of women’s empowerment.

Instead of America and the Arab world making that report their joint post-Bin Laden agenda, they ignored it. Washington basically gave the Arab dictators a free pass to tighten their vise grip on their people — as long as these Arab leaders arrested, interrogated and held the Islamic militants in their societies and eliminated them as a threat to us.

It wasn’t meant as a free pass, and we really did have a security problem with jihadists, and we really didn’t mean to give up on our freedom agenda — but Arab leaders, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, sensed where our priorities were. That is why Mubarak actually arrested the one Egyptian who dared to run against him for president in his last election, and he and the other Arab autocrats moved to install their sons as successors.

As the Arab leaders choked their people that much tighter, along came Facebook, Twitter and cellphone cameras, which enabled those people to share grievances, organize rebellions, lose their fear and expose their leaders: “Smile, your brutality is on Candid Camera.”

That’s the good news. The challenging news is that because of the Bin Laden decade, these newly liberated Arab states are in an even deeper hole in terms of economic development, population growth and education. They each have a huge amount of catch-up to do that will require some painful economic and educational reforms. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on May 31, 2011 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 1, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Bin Laden Decade).

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