This is a story that is a long way from finished, but Lynch, an American political scholar with ties to the Obama Administration, says his aim is to provide an analysis of the current state of affairs in the Middle East, a view of the main players and a historical context. He does a pretty good job, drawing on an impressive list of contacts and building on some of the points made in his 2006 book, Voices of the New Arab Public.
He believes a pan-Arab consciousness is emerging. Demographic pressures are a common element, as a generation of well-educated young people find themselves with few economic opportunities and no avenue for political expression. What they did have was the new technologies of social media, which provided a means of organising protests, sharing tactics and bypassing state censorship. The role played by regional television networks, especially Al Jazeera, has also been significant.
Early responses from governments varied widely, with the attitude of the military often a crucial factor. The decaying Tunisian government fell remarkably quickly; in Egypt, Mubarak suddenly found himself without allies and left relatively quietly. Some Arab leaders have put in place reforms aimed at creating a more open society, although it remains to be seen how genuine they are. Other governments have been brutally repressive in the face of international condemnation.
A complicating factor is that in many places Islamist movements are ready to impose a new kind of authoritarian regime. As Egypt shows, displacing an ageing authoritarian government is much easier than establishing a new democratic one. But Lynch does not accept that the successes of Islamists in recent elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco are automatically a cause for alarm, noting that the emergence of other players should not be ignored.
At the geopolitical level, there has been a rearrangement of the hierarchy of influence as key players of the past decade and Saudi Arabia and Qatar take up critical roles. The emergence of Turkey as a regional broker might turn out to be the biggest change of all.
The West has recognised that heavy-handed intervention is likely to be counter-productive, with Libya being a crucial exception. Lynch supported NATO’s actions in Libya, but believes a similar strategy in Syria would backfire.
He is largely optimistic about the region’s future, while noting that the last wave of regime changes in the 1950s and 1960s resulted not in democracy, but rigid autocracy.