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For many Arabs, Osama bin Laden had already lost his appeal

'We have clearly passed the Osama bin Laden era, and we are firmly into the Bouazizi era,' said one columnist, referring to the Tunisian man whose self-immolation sparked revolts across the Mideast.

By Correspondent / May 2, 2011

Egyptians watch a TV broadcasting a report about the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a coffee shop in Cairo, on Monday, May 2. In Egypt and some other Arab nations Bin Laden had already lost his appeal.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Cairo

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death elicited a tepid response across parts of the Middle East, underlining the shift into a new era as popular uprisings render Al Qaeda’s ideas increasingly irrelevant.

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The understated reactions in Egypt and some other Arab nations treated bin Laden and his ideas as a relic of the past, who has little appeal in a time when populations across the region are finding empowerment through peaceful protests.

“I think now we have clearly passed the Osama bin Laden era, and we are firmly into the Bouazizi era,” says Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist for the Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat, referring to the young man whose act of self immolation ignited the revolution in Tunisia that spread to the rest of the Arab world. “There is a grand difference between the two. One is from a very disturbed, annoying past and one is belonging to a promising future.”

In Cairo, the announcement elicited discussion – including widespread skepticism that bin Laden was really dead – but little fervor. “We don’t really care about him anymore,” says Cairo University student Mohamed. “For us, it is not very important news. We are not looking at Al Qaeda, we are looking at how will we build our own country after the revolution.”

On the streets of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, reactions were equally muted. "It's good news," says Ahmed al-Shaify, a shopkeeper. "But it's not really important here." Many Yemenis, as well as Syrians, said they were far too absorbed in the protest movements against their own regimes to spare much time for the news of bin Laden’s death.

Peaceful uprisings achieved what violence could not

Even before the Egyptian revolution, which pushed former President Hosni Mubarak from power in February, few Egyptians considered bin Laden relevant to their lives. In Egypt, the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has renounced violence, has long held far wider appeal than violent extremism.

But Egyptians' indifference to news of bin Laden's death underlines the further blow that successful peaceful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia dealt to Al Qaeda's ideology of violent regime change.

“Now they don't need bin Laden, they don't need his ideas or instructions, because Al Qaeda was not part of [the Arab uprisings],” says Fahmy Howeidy, a columnist for the Egyptian newspaper Al Shorouk who often writes on Islamic affairs. “Even in Yemen, although they have some Al Qaeda branches there, they were not a part of the protest movement.”

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Al Qaeda often criticized governments like Egypt’s for being puppets of the US and Israel. Yet Egyptians are now watching with satisfaction as their post-revolution government charts a course more independent from the US and Israel, an achievement that came without the use of violence. Since the revolution, Egypt warmed relations with Iran, opened its border with Gaza to counteract the Israeli siege of the coastal enclave, and has begun investigations of a Mubarak-era deal to sell Egyptian natural gas to Israel.

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