Despite the brave people who lost their lives or were seriously wounded in the “Arab Spring”, 2011 is ending with the dreams of change still only dancing in the protesters’ heads. In Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, true political change remains only a dream. Slowly the traditionalists appear to be reasserting control and power. In Egypt it is the military, in Bahrain it is the ruling minority Sunnis who are enforcing their control over the majority Shiites and continue to be likely to receive U.S. military aid; in Syria it is the tenacious and unforgiving President Assad who appears to be toying with the Arab League monitors; and now current supposed to be former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to be receiving a U.S. visa to travel here for medical treatment.
Qaddafi may be gone but except for the resumption of oil, few people have any idea what direction the new regime will really take. Now the new Iraq—freed of an active U.S. military presence—appears to be on the verge of, at best new elections, but what is more likely a major sectarian battle between Shiites and Sunnis the winner of which will be the Iranians and the loser will be the U.S.
In addition to this lovely picture for 2012, the U.S. can look forward to addressing the Iranian nuclear threat; seeing if President Saleh’s recuperation will trigger upheaval in Yemen similar to the overthrow which occurred when the Shah left Iran; and watching as potential radical Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood make democracy less and less likely in the region. Then there are all the unknowns and the unexpected, all of which could make one hope for an extended, distracting political season at home.