The uprisings were also about America -- just not in the way most Americans would have it. Arabs found the idea that Iraq's liberation had inspired their democracy struggle laughable; if anything, it was the protests against the Iraq war that taught them the value of public dissent. Americans cheered themselves with the thought that the protesters in Tahrir Square were not burning American flags -- and that Libyans in Benghazi were waving them. But this was a dangerous misunderstanding. Many Arab analysts directly equated dictatorial regimes at home with a foreign policy they considered subservient to Israel and the United States. The Arab uprisings called for independence, national sovereignty, and respect for the will of the people -- all of which pointed to less eager cooperation with Washington and frostier relations with Tel Aviv.
None of that, however, means that Arabs are flocking to join a new anti-American axis. Indeed, groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which inspired many Arabs over the last decade with their perceived success and anti-American defiance, have lost appeal, equivocating as their patrons in Damascus and Tehran preside over the slaughter of unarmed protesters in the streets. In a pointed challenge to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who has sought refuge in "resistance" to Israel as Syrians have risen against him, Palestinian writer Ibrahim Hammami wrote in June, "We say to those who raise the slogan of resistance to repress their people: Freedom first, and dignity is more important."So it's early days yet. But as Palestinian intellectual Khaled Hroub wrote in February, "the fundamental change is the return of the people" to the region's politics. And that -- the idea that the opinions of Arabs matter and can never again be ignored -- may be the most potent new idea of all