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As Obama's Administration continued to dither, ever-increasing numbers of protesters were being lost and more placards expressing their frustration became evident. And the Egyptians have done it themselves. That was the perception, at least, among the protesters: they ousted Mubarak through a popular uprising, despite whatever negotiations may have taken place behind closed doors. Indeed, so dogged was their focus on removing Mubarak from office that little consideration was given to what should come next. "I'm here because I want to know what's next," Mariam Abuo-Ouf, a film director aged 31, told me. "The first day I was here, I came to say ‘Change the system, down with Mubarak.' Now I want to make sure the right voice comes across to the people, not the strongest voice, not anything that's militant or Islamist. Right now everyone's just shouting, ‘Down with Mubarak' but they're not saying what they want." 

Egypt's next steps will certainly be difficult ones. These protests were always about a meaningful and secular reform. That said, events may still conspire to benefit the Islamists. Obama's uneven approach to the crisis will let groups like the Muslim Brotherhood sell the lie that America failed to back them because it wants to undermine Islam, or indeed that the West only selectively applies its principles to Muslims. If the protest movement now unravels, a potentially brittle — but united — Islamist movement might yet find itself emboldened beyond even its own expectations.

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