The uprisings, revolutions, and civil wars that have dramatically altered domestic politics in the Arab world have had a profound effect on regional power dynamics – including Iran. The Middle East is up for grabs, yet which country or countries will lead is as unclear and complex as current efforts to build new political systems in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere.
The issue of leadership is critical for the region. States with prestige and financial, diplomatic, and military resources can drive events in the Middle East – hopefully for good, but potentially for bad. In the 1950s and ’60s, for example, Egypt’s leadership under Gamal Abdel Nasser shaped regional politics around the myths of Arab nationalism, which led to intra-Arab conflict and regional war. The Arab Spring provides an opportunity for a power or group of powers to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and perhaps democracy.
In the spring of 2011, some observers believed that Turkey was a model for countries in the Arab world that aspire to democratic politics and successful economies. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s triumphal tour of Cairo, Tunis, and Tripoli in September 2011 reinforced the idea that Ankara was the natural center of a new emerging regional order.