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The America of the Arab Street

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
September 18, 2012
International Herald Tribune


"Obama, Obama, we are all Osama" the crowd chanted outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11. The slogan also found its way to Tunis, where a mob attacked the embassy as well, and the chant was taken up in Qatar and other Muslim countries.

Why? What happened to the liberal youth of the Arab world in whom we invested our hopes and support? Why are Muslims so sensitive, so easily offended; why do some so readily resort to violence?

The liberal protesters who demanded freedom and democracy last year were able to unite and overthrow dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. But their failure to explain what their liberalism stands for has opened the way for a new, Islamist-oriented power elite that capitalizes on old lies and half-truths to twist religion and history to manipulate the masses.

The leaders of nascent democracy-oriented political parties in the Arab world's most politically vibrant country, Egypt, are hobbled by egotistical rivalries, a lack of centralized leadership, urban elitism and an inability to connect with rural majorities. Secular luminaries like Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or Naguib Sawiris, a prominent businessman and politician, are not at ease in the new Egypt. As their political parties struggle to articulate a message, Islamist leaders with strong religious credentials have been able to mobilize a broad popular base.

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