Who Will Lead The Middle East Out Of Turmoil?

2013 was a dismal year in the Middle East. More than two years after the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the region has largely descended into chaos and violence. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Marc Lynch, a Middle East analyst at George Washington University.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

To the Middle East now where 2013 has been a dark year. The promise of the Arab Spring has been reality checked by events in Syria, Egypt and across the region.

Marc Lynch is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University. As the end of the year approached, he sat down and made what he calls a dark list, people in the Middle East who have contributed to the chaos. He says much of the violence stems from a failure of leadership.

MARC LYNCH: In some ways, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And where we are now is, in some ways, almost the worst-case scenario from where we were at the outset of 2011, whether it's Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia. Nothing has really gone as we had hoped, and that almost creates a perfect storm, which has made it very difficult for even the very best thinkers to have anything really constructive to say at this point.

RATH: So following that dark thread to its logical point, instead of a list of influential and positive political thinkers, you propose what you call a dark list. These are people who have done the most to make 2013 a dismal year in the Middle East. Is there anybody that would've jumped from a positive list two years ago to this dark list?

LYNCH: There's a few people, yes. So if you look, for example, at the military leadership of Egypt, in January 2011, they played a crucial role in making sure that the revolution succeeded. Then this year, they end up leading a military coup, which destroys the prospect for democracy. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they had an historic opportunity to show that Islamist politicians could actually govern a country, and they failed completely. And that's just Egypt.

RATH: One of the other, you know, sad to say, really depressing stories of the year is Syria where Bashar al-Assad has managed to hold onto power for another year. But you have people from both sides of the conflict on your dark list.

LYNCH: Syria is a black hole. It's dragging the entire region down into the abyss. And on the side of Bashar and Iran and Hezbollah, if you're looking for global thinkers, they did a remarkable job of finding a way to stay in power against all odds, willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people to do so and to destroy an entire country. And then on the other side, I think that what we're seeing now is almost the inevitable outcome of the decision to go for an armed insurgency.

And I don't think anyone should be surprised that the winners, such as they are, in such an insurgency are the hard-line jihadists and the people willing to act in horrible ways on the ground. I never felt that there was a significant chance that a moderate pro-western Free Syrian Army type of insurgency was going to ultimately be the ones who ended up on top. And unfortunately, that's turned out to be right.

RATH: So try to imagine things a year from now that we're checking in on 2014. It has to be better than this, right?

LYNCH: I don't know about one year. I think we're in a very dark period right now. It's going to take a long time for Egyptian politics or for Syria to come back from the horrible situation they're in right now. But I think if you look more at the five-year or even 10-year frame, I actually do remain optimistic.

I mean, I think that the reason that we had these uprisings in 2011, it was fundamentally grounded in the failure of these governments to deliver and the rising demands of this new generation of empowered publics. And I think that you've seen those publics have failed to deliver on stable democracy or meaningful change, but they're still there. They're still powerful. They're still unsatisfied. And the governments have not found any significant way of responding to their grievances.

I don't know if a year will get us to this more positive place, but I'm still optimistic over the long term that we're going to see a move in that direction.

RATH: Marc Lynch's article "The Dark List" appears in Foreign Policy. Thanks, Marc.

LYNCH: Thanks for having me.

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