When the young women of Egypt need answers, they turn to Tom Friedman

Here's how the New York Times' Thomas Friedman began his column on April 12, 2011:

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: “Do you have a corporate rate?” I said, “I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.” There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: “ Can I ask you something?” Sure. “Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.” 

Here's his column from this Sunday's paper:

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?

Is Friedman just being constantly accosted by anxious young Egyptian women seeking his sage advice about the future of their country? Isn't there anyone else they could talk to?

Update: Writer Kiera Feldman has taken this meme to the next level by creating a new "ladies' questions for Tom Friedman" Tumblr


Egypt's mad dash to the finish

Welcome to what may be the most confusing week of Egypt's troubled transition to democracy. If you've been following the news, you probably know that the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq are competing in a run-off election on Saturday and Sunday to determine the country's next president. But the political significance of this week's packed calendar of events goes far beyond the ballot box -- and has only been further complicated by the news that Hosni Mubarak has entered a coma.

Today, an Egyptian court held a hearing on the politically-charged "Battle of the Camel" case. Shafiq, who was premier at the time, was supposed to testify but did not appear -- not a great surprise, as it's not very presidential to appear in court speaking about one's role in a bloody attack on anti-government protesters five days before the election. Egypt's political forces also continued to wrangle over the makeup of the assembly to draft the new constitution, as liberal groups accused Islamists of wanting to dominate the process.

On Tuesday, the two candidates will stage what Egyptian papers are calling an "indirect debate." This is code for "not a debate at all": Morsi and Shafiq will be interviewed at the same time on different channels. The reasons why they won't face off directly is unclear -- perhaps due to mutual antagonism, or perhaps because the first round's marathon debate between Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh didn't help either candidate's chances.

On Wednesday, everyone will rest up, try to decipher the candidates' statements in the Tuesday "debate," and react to whatever crises have popped up in the last 48 hours.

On Thursday, Egyptian politics heads to the courtroom. The Supreme Constitutional Court will consider whether the law governing the parliamentary election was constitutional -- if it declares the law invalid, the Islamist-dominated legislature would be disbanded. The court will also determine the constitutionality of a "political exclusion" law that would ban Shafiq from the race. If the court rules the law is valid, the election would be scrapped and the process would start from scratch. The judiciary's reputation for objectivity has not exactly been bolstered in recent days, as the president of the judge's association declared "we are people of politics," and accused the Muslim Brotherhood of carrying out "a systematic plan meticulously designed to destroy this country."

Friday is the last day of what has become an increasingly acrimonious campaign. The two candidates are slinging dirt against each other as the campaign enters its home stretch: Morsi accused Shafiq of covering up evidence about the culprits behind last year's crackdown, while Shafiq blamed the Brotherhood of killing protesters during the "Battle of the Camel." This sort of invective will only escalate further, if that's possible, by week's end.

Once the weekend rolls around, Egyptians go to the polls to choose between the campaign's two most polarizing candidates. We may be in for a tumultuous week -- but the mutual antagonism between Egypt's rival political forces and the basic questions that hang over its new institutions won't be resolved in seven short days.