Cairo University students shout slogans against the government after the verdict of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's trial.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the future, when some historians analyze this period of Middle Eastern turmoil, the timeline will show that the ‘Arab Spring’ led to civil wars, followed by the rise of Islamic State.
In other words, uprisings that supposedly broke out for what many deemed at the time to be cravings for freedom and democracy resulted in their opposite – more chaos, the disintegration of nation states, and the emergence of the most radical Islamic group in modern times.
In some cases, there is now a wish for a return to the status quo ante – state regimes led by strongmen that can restore order.
Millions of Egyptians swarmed public squares to bring down military man Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and then voted in an open election for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi in 2012.
The public tide then reversed itself again, leading to the ouster of Morsi and the restoration of the military regime in 2013, this time led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
However, it is hard to put the genie back into the bottle.
Asked if there is a way back to the situation before the Arab uprisings began, Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, replied “Not really.”
“It will take decades to develop a new order. Only conquest from outside by regional powers such as Turkey or Iran or the West could restore order within a shorter period,” he told The Jerusalem Post
In a book edited by Inbar on the Arab uprisings published last year, titled, The Arab Spring, Democracy and Security: Domestic and International Ramifications, he wrote that the regional turmoil “is changing the strategic landscape around Israel.”
In the eastern Mediterranean, Islamist tendencies are present in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, threatening Israel’s navigation in the area.
The Islamist source of instability, along with the Iranian threat and the Western reluctance to get too deeply involved, mean that Israel needs to “better prepare its defenses in case the situation worsens,” said Inbar.
The vacuum filled by Islamist groups, which seek to overcome Sunni tribal and ethnic divisions by uniting Sunnis under the banner of Islam and fight against Iran, demonstrates that the Arab ideologically cupboard is bare, and that the only option besides dependence on Islamists is a Sunni call for Western intervention.
The war in Yemen by allied Sunni states has demonstrated the limit of Arab state power.
And in the absence of an Iranian nuclear bomb or major Western intervention, the regional sectarian feud appears ready to continue for many years to come.
For Israel, this may not be a bad development, as its regional foes are occupied with each other.
However, the US and Europe are inevitably going to intervene in a more robust fashion, since they are bearing the brunt of the side effects of this Middle Eastern conflagration, in the form of terrorist attacks against their nationals in the region or at home.