The spoils of war: walking past damaged buildings in Damascus, Syria, May 2018
Omar Sanadiki / Reuters

In 2011, millions of citizens across the Arab world took to the streets. Popular uprisings from Tunis to Cairo promised to topple autocracies and usher in democratic reforms. For a moment, it looked as if the old Middle Eastern order was coming to an end and a new and better one was taking its place. But things quickly fell apart. Some states collapsed under the pressure and devolved into civil war; others found ways to muddle through and regain control over their societies. Seven years later, those early hopes for a fundamental, positive shift in Middle Eastern politics appear to have been profoundly misplaced. 

But the upheaval did in fact create a new Arab order—just not the one most people expected. Although the Arab uprisings did not result in successful new democracies, they did reshape regional relations. The traditional great powers—Egypt, Iraq, and Syria—are now barely functional states.

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  • MARC LYNCH is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the author of The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
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