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.”There's so much great stuff in here, starting with the fact that there is no fucking way this conversation actually took place. I'm pretty sure Tommy cribbed the first part from an ad in an in-flight magazine: "Marriott -- when you want to be closer to the action" (or "Some revolutions are too historic for the Hilton!"). There's the fact that in Tommy's fantasies, worried (female!) Egyptians were asking the great pundit how things were going to turn out. And then there are the brilliant little touches like the irrelevant banter about a corporate rate and the pregnant pause before her first question.
But if you think that paragraph was hilarious the first time you read it, try this exercise: Re-read, only this time picture it as a black and white movie. The "Egyptian" hotel receptionist is played by an American actress who can do ethnic. Her "Do you have a corporate rate" is sultry, but when she asks if she's going to be OK, she's a vulnerable little girl. And Tommy? He's as hard-boiled as they come.
I think the rest of the column was about how Arabs countries are full of tribalistic savages who don't take naturally to democracy like Europeans do. But to be honest, I haven't really got that far. I just keep watching Tommy's movie.
Fire Tom Friedman