13
Jun

By Thomas L. Friedman

Supporters of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood at a campaign stop in Menoufia, Egypt, on Wednesday.

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. Read more…

Thomas L. Friedman won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, his third Pulitzer for The New York Times. He became the paper’s foreign-affairs columnist in 1995. Previously, he served as chief economic correspondent in the Washington bureau and before that he was the chief White House correspondent.

As published in www.nytimes.com on June 9, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 10, 2012, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Facebook Meets Brick-and-Mortar Politics).

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