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In Tahrir Square, US not as hated anymore

Pierre-Arnaud Blanchard / NBC News

Mohamed Hassan, political cartoonist, holds his book, "Bush in Cartoons," during a demonstration against Egypt’s provisional military rule in Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday.

CAIRO – In the days and months following the Sept. 11 attacks, NBC News regularly went to the streets to ask why the U.S. was seemingly hated by many across the Arab World.

We found, however, that few Egyptians wanted to share their thoughts with representatives of an American TV network.

But, times have changed. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, protesters had gathered for a demonstration against Egypt’s provisional military rule – and they were happy to chat.

Now, 10 years after the 9/11 attacks and their own revolution, the sentiments of many of the people we spoke with toward the U.S. were much more positive, diverse and nuanced. 

‘America is good and it means freedom’
The good news: Opinion is no longer unified against the U.S. despite its continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.  

“Barack Obama is trying much harder than President Bush to spread more peace in the world and correct the wrong idea about the United States and its policy in the Middle East,” said Omar Barakat, a 20-year-old medical student.   

And although Hiahsm Faez, a 32- year-old writer, said many still disagree with the U.S. policy over Israel, he likes the current president much more than his predecessor.  “Obama is better than George W. Bush. The time of war [with Iraq] was when this man was president of the United States. I think it was crazy to kill all the people [in Iraq] without reason.  I think all that [Bush] said about Iraq and Afghanistan was a big lie.”

Saif Amin, a mechanical engineer, said he is convinced the U.S. is responsible for the success of Egypt’s revolution because he believes the U.S. convinced Egypt’s military to side with the people against former President Mubarak.

“America is good and it means freedom. Mr. Obama changed American politics,” said Amin. “In Iraq, Mr. Bush was bad, but Mr. Obama is very good.”  

Mohamed Hassan, a political cartoonist who published a collection of his work called “Bush in Cartoons,” recalled feeling very sorry for the people who died in the 9/11 attacks, but holds Bush responsible for the wars that followed. “Now, American policy is better than before. What do all Arabs want? We want freedom, we want to build ourselves.” 

Mohamad Muslemany / NBC News

One of the participant in the demonstration against Egypt's provisional military rule in Tahrir Square on Friday.

Others believe the United States should do even more to help Arab people gain freedom from dictators.

“People in Syria have been slaughtered for six months now. Where is America?” asked Hanan Imsah, a 24-year-old journalist. “The U.S. only intervenes if it has interests. When their interest in the Mubarak regime ended, they supported the revolution.”

9/11 skepticism persists
Many of the people we spoke with condemned militant groups like al-Qaida and said they hold no allure for today’s young men. “Egypt has nothing to do with al-Qaida,” said Imsah. “We are peaceful.”  

Still, even with the passing of time, some things don’t change: like the persistent myths about the attacks of 9/11. Shockingly, many university students, who were children when the towers crumbled, continue to insist the Bush administration or Israel had a hand in the tragedy. 

Barakat, the medical student, believes that U.S. intelligence staged the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for war in Iraq.

“I still don’t know about that 9/11 thing,” he said. “Some people say it was organized in the States and was just propaganda to the American citizens to support Bush in his policies. I don’t accuse Osama bin Laden. Was he an American agent? He died with his secrets.” 

Even the cartoonist, Hassan, remained skeptical. “[Bush] made a war because of that incident. He accused bin Laden without trial or without being 100 percent sure who did it.  Nobody can know who was inside that plane.”

NBC News Mohamed Muslemany and Pierre-Arnaud Blanchard contributed to this report.