By Paul Cruickshank, CNN
February 1, 2011 7:20 a.m. EST
(CNN) - One Middle Eastern dictatorship has been toppled and another is hanging on for dear life. And the terrorist organization that casts itself as the vanguard in the struggle to overthrow "un-Islamic" Arab regimes had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Al Qaeda has an Egyptian problem.
Its support base, already severely shaken by its barbaric excesses in Iraq and biting criticism from fellow jihadists, could narrow yet further.
The televised scenes of secular, middle-class youngsters and Egyptians from all walks of life courageously and largely peacefully challenging the regime of President Hosni Mubarak have been transmitted onto tens of millions of television screens across the Arab world and have captured the imagination, providing vastly more attractive role models for young Arabs, whose hopes for too long have been strangled by political, economic and cultural sclerosis.
While policymakers in Washington are understandably nervous about what happens next, this early Arab Spring has the potential to severely damage al Qaeda's standing in the Arab world and deflate its claims to be the only vanguard for change in the Middle East; for energized Arab populations, never has the group seemed more irrelevant. The Obama administration should not let the moment get away.