Administrators of the ruling military council’s Facebook page launched a scathing attack on Sunday on prominent New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman following the latter’s most recent editorial.
In a NYT op-ed last week entitled “Egypt’s step backward,” Friedman accused Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of resisting political and economic reforms in Egypt. Friedman slammed Egyptian International Cooperation Minister Faiza Aboul Naga in particular, citing her role in the ongoing case against US-based NGOs charged with operating illegally in Egypt.
“It tells you how incomplete the ‘revolution’ in Egypt has been and how vigorously the counter-revolutionary forces are fighting back,” Friedman wrote in reference to the ongoing trial.
In its Arabic-language response to the editorial, the SCAF’s Facebook page administrators stated: "Friedman claims that the treatment meted out to these NGOs by the SCAF was more draconian than what these NGOs had seen during the Mubarak era.” The statement went on to quote Friedman as saying the NGOs in question were being “threatened with jail terms for promoting democracy."
The SCAF’s Facebook page administrators went on to list a number of earlier op-eds by Friedman, in which the writer either praised ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak or wrote disparagingly of the Arab world.
After initially praising the SCAF in the wake of last year’s revolution, describing the Egyptian Armed Forces as a “pillar” of Egypt’s post-Mubarak democratic transition, Friedman later began changing his view of the ruling military.
Ahram Online, however, revisited several of the op-eds in question and found that some were misquoted in the SCAF’s Facebook statement.
SCAF Facebook administrators, for example, cited a Friedman editorial published in the NYT on 5 June 2002, in which the writer praised Mubarak’s efforts to warn the US of a looming attack on 9/11.
“Hosni Mubarak is not our enemy,” Friedman, a frequent defender of Israeli policy, wrote at the time. “He is authentically pro-American and a bulwark against another Arab-Israeli war.”
In that editorial, entitled “In the land of denial,” Friedman did indeed praise Mubarak for being a friend of Washington. Yet he went on to criticise the lack of democracy in Egypt and Mubarak’s failure to carry out badly-needed economic reforms.
The SCAF’s Facebook administrators also cited a Friedman op-ed from 16 December 2004, entitled “Holding up Arab reform,” contending that the writer had written positively about the planned “presidential inheritance” scenario involving Mubarak’s son, Gamal.
But it turns out that, in the editorial in question, Friedman was simply quoting an “Egyptian friend.”
“I hear an Egyptian friend remarking to me that she had absolutely no problem with Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, one day succeeding his father. Gamal is a good man,” Friedman wrote in his column. “She just had one condition, that Gamal Mubarak succeed his father the same way George W. Bush succeeded his father: in a free election.”
The SCAF’s Facebook message concludes by urging Friedman to avoid writing about internal Egyptian issues, stressing that the Egyptian revolution was “100 per cent Egyptian” and has “no foreign contents.”
It is not the first time for Friedman to be attacked in Egypt for expressing views opposed to Egypt’s ruling regime. In the Mubarak era, Friedman was frequently censured in both the state-run and independent press.
The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner is generally unpopular in Egypt, given his pro-Israel views and his avid support for the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In January of this year, Friedman was heckled by critics while delivering a speech at the American University in Cairo.
Other individuals and groups singled out for criticism by administrators of the SCAF’s Facebook page include leftist MP Ziad El-Eleimi, the April 6 Youth Movement and Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists, all of whom have been outspoken critics of the SCAF and its policies.