A lot of attention has been put on the Middle East recently with the many protests occurring throughout the region. The resignation of President Mubarak in Egypt has been greeted with enthusiastic expectations of democracy in Egypt, and the spreading of democratic sentiments to nearby nations. The expectation should be hedged, however, with the understanding that the Middle East has a long road ahead, for better or worse.
Political scientists have long identified transitions from authoritarian rule to democracy to be one of the most dangerous situations for a country to find itself in. Consider, for instance, the many different groups within the country that are used to a high degree of power. In Egypt the military now has control of the country, and while they have stated that they will soon hold elections, we should understand that military regimes rarely, if ever, hand over power once they have gained it. Even if they do, creating democracy is a very arduous process that frequently requires outside monitoring by international parties. Libya faces an even worse situation, with a dictator who has demonstrated clearly his intentions to stay in power as long as he can. Should the protests continue there is little doubt that Libya will descend into civil war.
These are all very pressing concerns for America, given our national interests in the Middle East. Iraq, still unstable from recent years of turmoil is in a very delicate situation that could easily be upset should the violence spread. My final thought is that we should approach this situation cautiously, understanding that even if true democracy is finally arriving in the Middle East, it's still a long ways from over.