But my guess is that many of those watching the Arab Spring unfold did not really believe this year would be as bloody or fraught with risk as it has turned out to be. Transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe after 1989 were pretty quick and pretty successful. Latin American and East Asian transitions in the 1980s and 1990s had long and troubled backgrounds, but once democratic systems were established, most of them turned out to be stable and peaceful. Why should the Arab world be different?
Well, there are two big reasons. Unlike in those other parts of the world, many of the countries in the Middle East lack long histories of political unity: Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen are all relatively recent creations; their borders are artificial and their populations are divided along sectarian, ethnic, and regional lines.
Furthermore, there is no consensus on core political issues in the Arab world. In Eastern Europe following the Cold War, as Francis Fukuyama famously pointed out, there was no serious alternative political ideology to democratic capitalism. Not so in the Middle East. A majority, or at least a plurality, of people in these countries now say “Islam is the solution” to their problems — and they are opposed by an equally vehement minority. This year has shown just how potent a recipe for conflict this mix of ideological conflict and divided societies can be.”