Whether he's in his 18th-floor office in Cairo's World Trade Center, or at his villa near the Pyramids, lawyer and law professor A. Kamal Aboulmagd moves in very different circles than most Egyptians. In his long and distinguished career, he has held ministerial posts in the Egyptian government, served as an adviser to the crown prince of Kuwait, held innumerable positions on panels and advisory committees, and devoted himself to human rights issues. He has lived in America and waxes poetic about the color of the leaves in autumn.
But his opinion of the United States today is not far removed from that of Egyptians of much more modest resources.
"He deserves to be in the Guinness Book of World Records," Aboulmagd says of President Bush. "He has changed the minds of the most people, about America, in the shortest period of time. Five years ago, they would say they like America, that it is an open society."
But not today, according to Aboulmagd, who bemoans the historically low esteem in which America is held in the Arab world. In Egypt, according to a highly regarded Pew Research Center poll two years ago, only 6 percent of people held a positive view of the United States.
And if a Zogby International poll in June, commissioned by the Arab American Institute, is to be believed, in the past two years unfavorable views of America among Egyptians rose from 76 percent to a whopping 98 percent. That makes Egypt the most anti-American of the six Arab countries polled by Zogby (3,300 Arabs living in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were questioned).
Perhaps most ominous is yet another Pew poll, released in March, which found that Osama bin Laden's numbers were far better than Bush's in several Muslim countries.
Whether all of this represents momentary frustration and venting, or the settling in of a deeper loathing, cannot be determined now. But talk to people in this part of the world, and it's clear that they feel themselves part of a new and implacably anti-American worldview.
It hasn't always been this way.
Hani Shukrallah, the liberal editor of the English-language Al-Ahram weekly in Cairo, remembers that Richard Nixon was received as a hero, drawing crowds in the hundreds of thousands, when he visited Cairo in 1974.
"To see the shift in 30 years, it is really quite amazing," says Shukrallah, who traces the beginnings of the current, more strident anti-Americanism to 2000, when Palestinians rose up against Israel in the second intifada. "It isn't just a matter of intensity. Before the second intifada and all that followed, there was an ambivalence in people's sense of the U.S. It's arrogant, yes, and it's imperial, but it's a democracy. Now, anything from the U.S. is seen as part of a design to bring us down, to humiliate us."
The discourse of anti-Americanism in this part of the world comes with some predictable patterns. First, an apology. The speaker says he or she really hates to say this, and please don't take offense, but what on Earth has happened to America? Then he situates himself as standing apart from other, less temperate haters of America. Strong words carry an implicit "If I feel this way, imagine what other, less enlightened souls must feel." And so he says, for instance, that he has lived in the United States, or has children who study there, or normally doesn't hold strong political views, but . . .
And then he lets fly, torrents of frustration about the perceived idiocy of current American policy, the gross unfairness of how the United States deals with the Palestinians, the hypocrisy of supporting dictators who have oil while preaching about democracy. One might, perhaps, have heard each of these individual complaints before; but now they are woven together into a universal theory of how America works and why it behaves as it does.
And in that, it resembles nothing so much as the ever-more refined theories that spouses develop about each other in a marriage gone horribly wrong. It seems the kind of resentment typical of someone who has settled into a well-practiced, thoroughgoing, never-get-divorced life of hatred with another person. It is about the trigger words that set off old tempests, and the conviction that every action of the other person is part of a methodical, devious effort to find and stab the Achilles' heel.
One of those trigger words is "crusade" -- which recalls another era of religious strife when Christianity was militant and Europe was hungry for the blood and the land of "infidels." When President Bush used it, in answer to a question at a Sept. 16, 2001, exchange with reporters at the White House, it was considered by some in this country as an ill-advised, clumsy but probably spontaneous choice of words.
"This is a new kind of -- a new kind of evil," said the president. "And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient."
Those words have remained a defining moment in the Arab world's reading of the character and intentions of George W. Bush -- and by extension the United States.
"American history isn't limited to crusades," Aboulmagd says, followed by a brief dissertation on the noble highlights of America's historical role in the world. "Which shows you how wrong it was to use it."
Bush's word choice is a political footnote in the United States; here, though, it remains a blazing point of contention.
So, too, Bush's having called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, widely tagged a "war criminal" in the Arab world, a "man of peace." Again and again this characterization is cited as evidence of pure malice on the part of Bush. And it is so manifestly at odds with the daily evidence of Palestinian suffering seen in the media here that it feels not so much like sloppy wording, wishful thinking or garden-variety mischaracterization, but rather like a government-minted, Orwellian denial of reality.
"There is no trust anymore," says Diaa Rashwan, who studies comparative politics at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Curiously, Bush is mocked for being a poor speaker and a bad student of world affairs, and at the same time credited with choosing precise and inflammatory language. In this view, he is an idiot, yet capable of sophisticated Machiavellian proddings, a paradox that should sound the alarm bells of critical thinking. Unfortunately, the level of antipathy gives little opening for pointing out contradictions and starting new conversations.
The very nature of anti-Americanism in this part of the world may also be changing, and for the worse.
It was once possible for Americans to take some solace in the fact that no matter how much people hated the Yankees, they still flocked to our shores, consumed our products and emulated what they saw in our popular entertainment. But with new immigration and travel restrictions, it has become increasingly difficult to visit this country, or to study here.
Washington's faltering efforts at public diplomacy, including its new Arabic-language television channel, Alhurra, are widely regarded as a joke. (A recent study by Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, found that Arab viewers greatly preferred news from the satellite channels al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya to Alhurra.) And the enticements of American culture, while still strong, are not necessarily associated with their American origins. Paradoxically, as the world has become more "Americanized" in dress, style and consumer taste, the "American" allure of American objects has dimmed. The Coca-Cola logo, once an icon of how American products penetrated the world's markets, is now just another sign in the dissonant international bric-a-brac of consumerism.
"Styles of dress, access to and interest in American films -- now we see Harry Potter at the same time as the Americans -- and the multiplexes, satellite TV, coffeehouses," says Shukrallah, listing the "American" pastimes of Egyptian youth. Although it is precisely these things that rile fundamentalists in Egypt and elsewhere, Shukrallah says that Egyptians who do embrace American cultural products don't necessarily extend that embrace to include American values or ideals. And certainly not American policies. The trappings of the American good life are no longer an advertisement for the American way of life. And it seems the world, which America helped globalize, ended up feeling global, not American.
"There is this complete separation," says Shukrallah.
The Zogby poll, which found such dismal views of America in Egypt, may confirm this. The pollsters asked a variety of questions about attitudes toward the United States, including what is "the best thing that comes to mind" about America? In Egypt, people volunteered "nothing" as the top answer, followed by "good products" and, farther down the list, "entertainment." Not even registering on the meter were things like "personal freedom," "innovation" and "international democracy." That echoes Pew findings from 2002, which found, in Egypt, that 84 percent of respondents think it is a bad thing that American ideas and customs are spreading.
Every marital argument has two halves, and the other half -- the American half -- is not necessarily more sophisticated than that heard in Egypt. From the Journal of Democracy to the Chronicle of Higher Education, with appearances on the op-ed pages of most major American newspapers, the debate about anti-Americanism in this country seems largely designed to avoid considering the causes, implications and consequences of anti-American feelings. Instead, it focuses on the legitimacy of these feelings.
It's no fun being hated, so it's no surprise that much of the American discussion of anti-Americanism feels more like a defensive harrumph. Charles Krauthammer puts it this way: "The fact is that the world hates the U.S. for its wealth, its success, its power." He belongs to the "it's simple" camp, which focuses on the anti-American phenomenon as a form of irrational bitterness.
Others, such as Ivan Krastev, a scholar with posts at think tanks in Bulgaria, Hungary and New York, see an almost biological messiness to the problem of anti-Americanism: "It has turned into a conjurer's hat, where pieces of different ideologies, anxieties and political strategies come together to be recombined and recycled for a new life."
And in the course of these discussions, a new subgenus of American political commentary -- the "Why do they hate us?" essay -- has been born. The answers, on this side of the debate, have been myriad. But ask that question in Egypt, and you don't get long, complex divagations about clashes of civilization or income disparity or the strangulation of civil society under repressive regimes. For the most part, you get one answer, over and over again, and with little variation. They hate us because of our policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
"It's very simple," says Rashwan, of the Al-Ahram Center. "Why don't you change your policy? Enforce one U.N. resolution against Israel, and you would gain trust. It would give people hope."
The advice given a visitor here asking about anti-Americanism and its roots is to look at the images in the local media. The newspapers -- and television, and even glossy magazines like Egypt Today, which is otherwise filled with articles on food, famous people and home decoration -- are filled with pictures of death in Gaza and the West Bank. They are blood-drenched images. Dead children, wound up tightly in sheets that show only the ashen skin of their faces, are a recurrent image. And all of this is associated directly, completely and inexorably, with the United States.
These images are much rarer in the United States. Here, we tend to see less gruesome, more ambivalent pictures of the conflict. But there's one image that plays both in Egypt and in the United States that can serve as an emblem of the problem. It, too, has become a subgenus of journalism about the region and its conflicts.
It is a picture of children throwing stones at a tank. Over and over again, they add up to a perpetual blur of little Davids, locked in an endless, tragic children's crusade against a blur of dark, mechanical Goliaths. But consider how differently we read these images. In Egypt, they look at these pictures and think, even the children are angry. In America, there is a tendency to look at them and think, these people, who are angry, are children.