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Mosque or Modernity?

PARIS – Whatever happened to the “Arab Spring”? When demonstrations erupted in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, ultimately leading to the demise of three old and weary dictatorships, no one knew which forces, institutions, and procedures would emerge from the protesters’ demand for democracy. And yet, despite the unprecedented and unforeseeable nature of events – or perhaps because of it – hope ran high.

What has happened since shows clearly what everyone knew (or should have known) all along: nothing about regime change is simple. None of the three countries has yet found a stable institutional solution that can defuse intensifying internal tensions and respond effectively to popular demands.

Other countries in the region, including Yemen and some of the Gulf states, have experienced varying degrees of turmoil as well. Sectarian violence is once again consuming Iraq, while clashes between anti-regime factions in Syria are becoming ever more frequent, with Islamists seeking to gain the upper hand ahead of the political transition that would occur should the government collapse. Even in Morocco, a king with absolute power as Commander of the Faithful has been forced by intense public outrage to move toward a system more inclusive of political Islam.

Likewise, developments in the region’s two non-Arab powers suggest that neither is immune to instability. In Turkey, recent protests have highlighted growing opposition to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s overweening power and divisive, religious-based social policies. In Iran, much of the middle class backed the most moderate of the candidates acceptable to the country’s Islamic guardians in June’s presidential elections.