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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Love and hate for US in Egypt
For the third and final part in "Death to America", a series examining anti-Americanism around the world, the BBC's Washington correspondent Justin Webb travelled to Cairo to gauge the range of views held on the US.

Condoleezza Rice
Ms Rice's good will message came too late for many

"For 60 years my country the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East and we achieved neither.

"Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

Those words were spoken by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, in 2005, during a visit to Egypt.

During our visit to Egypt to make the last of the programmes in this series, we heard a range of views on the US, many of the most moderate referring explicitly to that speech.

I believe the Bush administration genuinely wanted the Rice bombshell to be a turning-point - a new start.

To many in the Middle East though, it came woefully late.

Failed promises

Fully 50 years ago President Eisenhower appeared to be close to making a similar compact with the peoples of the Middle East when, disregarding the squeals from London and Paris, he sided against the old colonial powers during the Suez crisis and sided against Israel as well.

No-one is 'anti' the American people, but we are against the pursuit of commercial goals through military means
Go Go, Bristol, United Kingdom

It looked to some in the region as if America really did promise to be a friend of moderate Arab nationalism.

But the Cold War intervened along with the Six Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbours and the rest, as they say, is history.

America ended up siding with Israel and a handful of despotic Arab rulers.

So in 2005 did anything change?

In Egypt, one man took the new message to heart.

Ayman Nour, a prominent liberal secular politician, ran for president against Hosni Mubarak. Nour was the first runner-up with 7% of the vote according to government figures.

For his impertinence he was slung into prison on election fraud charges virtually no-one believes to be valid.

The US has complained but not acted to help him. The promise of America has not been delivered.

Beacon of hope

When you talk to most liberal-minded secular people in Egypt the refrain is always the same: the US is admired but the reality of its efforts to help out in this region has always been a disappointment and is a disappointment still.

Ayman Nour
Mr Nour was jailed on questionable election fraud charges

One educated and cosmopolitan Egyptian woman told us that America was a genuine beacon of hope for her, an example of freedom where rational discussion of politics was possible, where religious and sexual freedom genuinely existed.

These are views from the Middle East that you do not often hear: it is easier for the television cameras to concentrate on flag-burning.

The fact that these people - the America lovers - are being let down is a reason to be exasperated with Washington, to wish the White House was a little braver when it comes to trusting its instincts on democracy, but not, it seems to me, to hate America.

Again and again in the Middle East you hear the refrain that America is hated because of what it does.

If only it would cut Israel adrift, everything would be fine. Or get out of Saudi Arabia, or get out of the whole region.

But what you hear less often is anyone wondering aloud whether they hate America because they fear the universality of its message, the power of the idea of individual liberty, or religious liberty.

The right for instance of a person to convert from Islam to Christianity if he or she chooses, or to be an atheist. And the right of a woman to control her life.

Opposing views

Another thought struck me after our visit to Cairo.

It is odd how anti-Americanism migrates around the world clothing itself in attire to suit the neighbourhood, so in Europe we are used to seeing the United States as too religious.

Students in anti-Israel and US protest, Cairo, 2002
Many are disappointed by America's efforts to help the region

But in the Middle East the attack is often from the opposite flank.

The United States is seen as the home of licentious secularism - a threat to the morals of the world.

They cannot both be right - and the Middle Eastern attack seems to me to be a profound misreading of what America is about.

True they make pornographic films in Los Angeles and there are probably some prostitutes in Las Vegas but American attitudes to social and sexual matters have much more in common with thinking in Damascus than Paris.

The United States is not the capital of world liberalism.

What is it, then?

Home to 300 million people, most of whom genuinely believe they have earned the right to lead the world, though not to coerce it.

Perhaps one day they will meet their nemesis and American dominance will be a memory?

Other nations or movements will be in charge and I suspect we - or our children - will long to have the Yanks back.

Justin Webb presents the third and final part of his Radio 4 series, "Death to America": Anti-Americanism on Monday 30 April at 2000 BST. Or hear the latest episode at Radio 4's Listen again page.


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