The Arab Revolutions’ Reality Check

BERLIN – Two years after popular uprisings began to convulse the Middle East, few people speak of an “Arab Spring” anymore. Given Syria’s bloody civil war, the rise to power of Islamist forces through free elections, the ever-deepening political and economic crises in Egypt and Tunisia, increasing instability in Iraq, uncertainty about the future of Jordan and Lebanon, and the threat of war over Iran’s nuclear program, the bright hope of a new Middle East has vanished.

Add the region’s eastern and western peripheries – Afghanistan and North Africa (including the Sahel and South Sudan) – and the picture becomes even grimmer. Indeed, Libya is increasingly unstable, al-Qaeda is actively engaged in the Sahel (as the fighting in Mali shows), and no one can foresee what will happen in Afghanistan after the US and its NATO allies withdraw in 2014.

All of us tend to make the same mistake repeatedly: we think at the beginning of a revolution that freedom and justice have prevailed over dictatorship and cruelty. But history teaches us that what follows is usually nothing good.

A revolution not only overthrows a repressive regime; it also destroys the old order, paving the way for a mostly brutal, if not bloody, fight for power to establish a new one – a process that affects foreign and domestic policy alike. Normally, revolutions are followed by dangerous times.