Where the Past Is Not Prologue

Turmoil is a constant in the Middle East, but the region is strengthening

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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Amid the disorder, there is a broader contest for regional power. Israel has by far the most powerful economy and military, but it lacks any political power for obvious reasons. Turkey has economic and military power as well, and it also has growing regional clout. The Turkish model--an elected government that combines democracy with a pious outlook--is extremely attractive in the Middle East. But Turkish diplomacy in the past year, most notably over Iraq and Syria, has been arrogant, emotional and unsuccessful.

Egypt, meanwhile, is the natural leader of the Arab world, but at the moment is not in a position to dominate: Its economy is a shambles, its military second rate and under pressure from its people, and its democracy still very fragile. President Mohamed Morsi's recent power grab is worrying, but the public response and opposition to it has been reassuring.

The Middle East today is a complex region that is changing fast. Grand generalizations about it are likely to be undone by events. But it is a more vibrant, energetic and democratic place than it was a generation ago.


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