IN the dawn of 2011, I and thousands of my fellow Egyptians took to the streets in the name of justice, equality and freedom.
Along with protesters in Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries, we challenged the conventional wisdom in the West that brutal strongmen were the only leaders able, and indeed that they were necessary, to keep a lid on Islamic extremists.
We showed the world a liberal vanguard ready and able to move the Middle East toward a peaceful and bright future.
Inevitably, this message has been challenged.
Even before the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, some Americans had begun to question whether our vanguard is a mirage, given Syria's slide toward civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral victories in Egypt and ultraconservative Islamists' demands on democratic governments.
It is the extremists whose actions precipitated those attacks, however, who I fear may succeed in killing the promise of our revolution.
The events of Sept. 11, 2012, began with extremists in the West - not the Middle East. Last week's attacks were carried out by people enraged at a film that insults the prophet Muhammad.
While the origins of the movie are not yet clear, we do know that the video was created and filmed in the United States. Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida infamous among Muslims for publicly burning copies of the Quran, also independently promoted it.
I do not use the word "extremist" lightly.
Muslims did not object to the movie only because it portrayed the prophet or because it "criticized" Muhammad.
Instead, it portrays him as bloodthirsty and deranged, creating religious teachings to spread deplorable practices and satisfy his sexual urges.
The film's backers did not aim to criticize or educate. Their aim was the goal shared by all extremists: to spread discord, hate and violence.
Until recently, this film was irrelevant. It should have stayed that way.
But extremists in the Middle East saw it as a means to an end.
In Egypt, two privately owned satellite channels, il Hekma ("Wisdom") and il Nas ("The People") spent hours describing the film and using Jones's plans to screen the film to suggest that all Americans planned to do the same.
They aimed to inflame Egyptians and, in a poor country with an illiteracy rate of 30 to 40 percent, they succeeded.
Discussion of the film spread effectively to all Egyptian media, and soon protests were planned.
A crowd of about 2,000 Egyptians gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. A small minority stormed the embassy, tore down and set fire to the American flag, and raised a black flag that reads, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet."
In Libya, the consequences were much worse.