Eric Trager

The diplomatic documents had barely stopped drifting down from the Israeli Embassy in Egypt when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof referenced the root causes of the attack, as he saw them: “Attacking the Israeli embassy doesn’t help Gazans, doesn’t bring back the dead,” he tweeted.

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The 9/11 attacks catalyzed a tremendous shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Rather than prioritizing petrol, Washington targeted terrorist organizations, dethroned a dictator, and lobbied throughout the region for liberalization. Yet despite the billions of dollars spent policing Baghdad and protecting Benghazi, the unpopularity of the United States in the Arab world continues to be fueled by the belief that Islamist terrorists had nothing to do with 9/11, with many claiming the attacks were an American, Israeli, or joint American-Israeli conspiracy.

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The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being hailed as a landmark moment in Arab, if not world, history. And, in a certain sense, it is. The image of the once indomitable dictator wheeled into a courtroom on a gurney, flanked by the sons who might have been his heirs, but are now his co-defendants, affirms the primary achievement of Egypt’s revolt: namely, Mubarak’s ouster. For many Egyptians, the January uprising was always about ending Mubarak’s stifling 30-year rule and preventing him from pharaonically installing his son Gamal as his successor.

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Standing By

Last Saturday in Cairo, Coptic Christians protesting the latest in a series of church burnings were attacked. According to reports, a mob of thugs swarmed the downtown protest area, lobbing gasoline bombs and rushing the demonstrators. Riot police stood by, then left to call the military. An hour later, when soldiers finally arrived, over 80 people had already been injured.

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The Throwback

In 2001, Amr Moussa, the current Egyptian Secretary-General of the Arab League, briefly achieved pop-icon status. Serving at the time as Hosni Mubarak’s foreign minister, Moussa’s frequent anti-Israel pronouncements caught the attention of Egyptian pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim, who released a song with the line, “I hate Israel and I love Amr Moussa.” The song became a tremendous hit. Shortly thereafter, Mubarak, who had come to regard Moussa as a serious political rival, exiled him to the Arab League. Ten years later, however, Moussa is back in the public eye.

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Cairo, Egypt -- On a hot July evening this past summer, toward the end of our interview, Aref Desouki, vice-chair of a faction of the liberal Ghad Party, suddenly got defensive. After dodging questions about Egyptian State Security’s infiltration of his party, the bespectacled, cane-carrying mathematics professor wanted to emphasize that political conspiracies aren’t unique to Egypt. “You are controlled in the U.S. by an underground government,” he said, completely seriously. “A secret government that is related to the Zionists and the Jewish-Christian Zionists.

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Striking Distance

Cairo, Egypt—On Fridays, Tahrir Square has become a patriotic carnival. It is packed with thousands of Egyptians, who stroll around decked out in nationalistic paraphernalia, picking at popcorn. They are mostly focused on their own country’s situation, where the toppling of Hosni Mubarak has given way to an uncertain political future, but they are also deeply concerned about the events unfolding in neighboring Libya. This past Friday, a man impersonating embattled Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi—fully robed, with an umbrella in tow—set up a mocking sideshow.

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As I strode up the streets towards my apartment in Cairo’s Dokki neighborhood last Sunday evening, a posse of teenagers approached. One was packing a clip into his pistol. Another carried a sword over his shoulder. Two others followed clutching wooden clubs. Trailing a few feet behind, a couple of ten-year-olds carried broomsticks. It felt like something out of a William Golding novel, but they were, in fact, trying to protect me.

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Excess Point

Cairo, Egypt—The measures taken by the Egyptian regime over the last three days are not just targeting demonstrators; they are affecting everyone. Ahead of Friday’s post-prayers protest, the Egyptian government cut off every form of instant communication—namely, the Internet and cell phone service. The goal, it seemed, was not just to prevent people from organizing demonstrations or sharing their experiences with the outside world, but also to create an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty.

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Black Friday

Cairo—Downtown Cairo is one of the loudest places in the world, but tonight it is eerily quiet. There is an unusual amount of elbow room—make that enough room to extend one’s arms fully—in Tahrir Square, the heart of the city which many thousands of demonstrators descended on last Tuesday. The steps of the Journalists Syndicate, a key locus of protest that was packed only yesterday, are completely empty.

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