CAIRO: While the Islamist majority in parliament was expected, Egypt cannot be ruled by just one entity, renowned American journalist Thomas Friedman said in a lecture Monday at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
Despite the long history of the Muslim Brotherhood and their strong organizational capacities, Friedman asserted that Egypt is too big to be lifted by one entity.
"We have to confess that anyone in power now has to take very harsh and swift decisions, and the idea of having only one leader with a vision no longer exists," Friedman said, adding that Egypt needs "collective action.”
Friedman said that the Islamist sweeping the vote in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections was normal and expected.
Asked by an audience member to give his assessment of the performance of the liberals in the Egyptian election, Friedman said that it was no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood did so well because for the last 30 years Mubarak had cleared out all the political space between himself and the Brotherhood.
“He was able to come to Washington and say to successive US presidents that ‘it’s either me or them.’ What the Egyptian elections produced, for the first time, were legitimate, authentic, liberal, secular, nationalist, progressive alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood and now the Brotherhood would have to compete with such alternatives for the first time,” he said.
He stressed that given the fact that the liberals had only four months to organize their parties and that the Brotherhood had been in politics for 83 years, he believed that the liberals had done “amazingly well”.
The lecture comes during his visit to Egypt to reflect on the Egyptian scene amid the historical parliamentary elections and the approaching, long awaited first anniversary of Jan. 25 popular uprising that toppled the country’s strongman Hosni Mubarak.
"In the US we are faced with three major challenges: education, climate change, and severe budget deficit, and I would say that Egypt also suffers similar challenges," he explained, adding that facing these challenges will put whoever in power in the spotlight, leaving more chances for the people to judge those in power by their performance only.
Freidman warned against mixing money and politics, citing the dynamics of US politics as a clear example of how politics could be harmed when money interferes in the process.
"Our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery, this tells you how money ruined our politics," Friedman said.
"My advise to all Egyptians, leave money aside and never turn politics into a private business, look at how money ruined our politics, money killed the category of politics in the US," he said.
Known for his controversial views and support for the US invasion of Iraq, Friedman was faced with a question regarding moving towards democracy in Iraq through military intervention and pro-democracy Arab revolutions.
"There will never be a causality-free transition to democracy in the Arab world," Friedman said, in response to an AUC student’s aggressive criticism, who said that Arab dictators did not kill in the name of democracy like what the US did in Iraq.
"Go and ask Kurds and Shias in Iraq and ask them how many casualties they suffered under the rule of Saddam Hussein? There was no chance of a peaceful transition to democracy in Iraq or in the Arab world at large," Friedman said.
In his latest article in The New York Times Saturday, Friedman used "the flying elephant" as a metaphor representing the Egyptian revolution, saying that if anyone sees a flying elephant in Egypt, just "shut up and take notes."
"The country needs a leader — there is still a huge vacuum at the top — who can take all those votes, all those hopes, and meld them into a strategy to create the jobs, schooling, justice and security that all Egyptians clearly crave," he said in the article.
"If that happens, those ballot boxes really will have delivered a different future for Egypt. Until then, I am just taking notes."
Editor’s Note: This article was corrected on Jan. 2012. The original version had accidentally misquoted Mr. Friedman. Some comments were wrongly attributed to him regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the performance of the liberals in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. We sincerely apologize for this mistake.