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How Arab Spring turned into protests and 'Death to America!'

An outbreak of violence in Afghanistan this weekend was testament to a clear trend: In Muslim countries now enjoying more political freedom, anti-American anger is coming to the surface.

By Staff writer / September 17, 2012

Afghan police stand by burning tires during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday.

Ahmad Jamshid/AP

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WASHINGTON

The shouts of “Death to America!” at Kabul University this weekend were not a good sign for US policy in the Middle East and across the wider Muslim world.

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The wave of anti-American violence roiling the Middle East struck Afghanistan, with protesters pelting a NATO compound in Kabul with stones and at least six more NATO troops, including four Americans, killed Saturday by Afghan soldiers.

It is further evidence that pent-up frustrations are suddenly finding an outlet through the rise of political freedom across the region – and are likely to target the United States for some time to come. With the US helping to establish democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and last year's Arab Spring transforming Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, several iron-fisted regimes have been replaced by weaker and still-developing governments that are sympathetic to a popular distrust of America.

“One of the lessons here is that helping to bring down authoritarian and very repressive regimes" – like the Taliban in Afghanistan or Muammar Qaddafi in Libya – "doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily have better relations with those countries,” says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The evidence suggests the new leaders are intent on leading their countries away from the US and away from Western values.”

The protests – sparked by an online video made in America that denigrates the prophet Mohammad and Islam – also spread to Pakistan, the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia.

The largely peaceful protests that began in Afghanistan after Friday prayers intensified Sunday and Monday, when crowds in Kabul targeted a NATO camp and students at Kabul and Herat universities demanded punishment of the makers of the video.

There were also signs that Islamist extremists were tapping into the popular ire against the US to boost their own standing – and that some populations were responding.

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