Tom Friedman’s ‘not so obvious’ factors feeding the Arab revolt

Like many of my peers, I stopped reading The New York Times Tom Friedman years ago largely because of his views on trade. His March 2 column, ‘This is just the start’, won me back as a reader — at least on non-trade issues.

Friedman identifies five ‘not so obvious’ factors that fed the Arab revolts. They are, not in order:

Israel’s open society, visible to the Arab world, in which presidents can go to jail for rape, prime ministers be deposed for bribe-taking and enviros can keep prominent generals from grabbing public land.

Google Earth which shows young, poor Bahrainis, for instance, the expanses of developable land to which they have no access.

The Beijing Olympics which emphasized for the Arab world how little progress it had made relative to China since the 1950s when both were desperately, almost hopelessly poor.

The Fayyad Factor in which ‘Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad introduced a new form of government in the Arab world in the last three years…. It said: judge me on my performance, on how I deliver government services and collect the garbage and create jobs — not simply on how I “resist” the West or Israel. Every Arab could relate to this. Chinese had to give up freedom but got economic growth and decent government in return. Arabs had to give up freedom and got the Arab-Israeli conflict and unemployment in return.’

Each of these is interesting, telling and new to me in this context. But Mr. Friedman’s big point is a lesson to those, like me, who are bitterly disappointed with President Obama’s performance. We who came to support him, voted for him, rejoiced in his victory did accomplish something of inestimable importance. Says Mr. Friedman:

– ‘The Obama Factor Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.” I’d put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts.’

So would I, and not just in the Arab world.


Hat Tip:  Randy O’Neil who pointed out the Friedman op-ed.