The brutal killing of the US ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi and the storming of the American embassy in Cairo following the release of a film in the US that is seen to be offensive to Islam underline how unpredictable the consequences of the "Arab Spring" have been. Last year, the popular upsurge in the Arab street against the ruling regimes was widely heralded as a definitive turn of the Middle East towards democracy.
The surge of Islamists in the elections that followed and the recrudescence of violent anti-Americanism in the region have begun to disillusion many in the US who offered strong support to political modernisation in the region. The violence in Benghazi and Cairo has encouraged the sceptics to declare that the end of the "new beginning" in the Middle East is at hand.
If the international celebration of the Arab Spring last year was breathless, its condemnation amidst the awful incidents of this week is entirely premature.
Change was inevitable in the long stagnant Middle East. But political change does not come in neat, predetermined lines that ideologues of our age fondly hope for. In the West, the framework of "democracy versus dictatorship" has become the simplistic, but entirely unhelpful, device to debate the unravelling of the old Middle East.
Both liberals and neoconservatives in the US have long claimed that democracy is the answer to all the problems in the Middle East. America is not the only one with a blinkered view of the Middle East. India has its own shibboleth: the preference for secular regimes in the region.
India's fear of religious extremism in the Middle East and its impact on the subcontinent, and the platitudes on non-intervention, have muddled the debate in Delhi on the Syrian crisis.
The Middle East will not evolve according to American or Indian preferences. It has a political motor of its own. Given the pivotal nature of the region, change in the Middle East will have significant consequences for the rest of the world.
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