Recent events in the Middle East have been attracting some headlines, but maybe not in a joined up fashion, and I wonder if we are missing something here.
Think back to the Iranian elections in the middle of 2009. Despite the declared outcome, which was decidedly inconclusive and quite probably should have led to a regime change in that country, the matter seems to have moved into history. Since then there have been other political disturbances in the region, relatively minor in nature. But recent events in Tunisia have led to a change in leadership, with the President having been brought down. Was it this that emboldened the people of Egypt, sparking the revolts there against the 30 year rule of President Mubarak? Despite the fact that the people probably believe 30 years under one ruler is possibly long enough, Egypt seems to have been seen as one of the more stable Middle Eastern regimes. And then there have been the events in Lebanon with the stand off between the Hariri factions and Hezbollah. Riots in Yemen - always a likely tinderbox internally as much as externally. Not to mention the ongoing problems of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Worrying signs? I would suggest this recent outbreak should be viewed with more concern than usual.
Of course, instability anywhere in the world should always be a cause for concern but this in recent years has been particularly so in the Middle East. Judge that from the amount of attention paid to it by the Western powers, where any fears about the Middle East have been centred on the impact they would be likely to have on the rest of world. The perennial problems surrounding a solution to the vexed issues of Israel and Palestine. The threat of nuclear-happy regimes plunging the world into a war they don't want, especially when some nations are already involved in wars in the region they probably shouldn't be in, (although that is perhaps a personal view not shared by all), and any potential to disrupt the oil supplies craved by the west and the east.
But these latest issues seem to be different from previously. They appear to be internally focused, country by country - but why are they suddenly happening everywhere - almost as if the disturbances have been somehow orchestrated? Which, by the way I am fairly sure they are not, although if I am wrong would lead to a big ... what if!
But there a two implications here that I would suggest keeping an eye on, particularly if you are doing business in the region.
The first is what does this mean within the countries currently facing these problems? Are the riots and disturbances being led by moderates fed up with corrupt, overbearing and despotic regimes? if so, they are certainly not rebelling against the feared militaristic and brutal regime of the type practiced by Saddam Hussain which therefore begs the question - who are the rioters, and are we going to find new, better managed regimes taking over as a result of any successful riots? From everything I have seen so far, I fear not. And surely Israel is taking a more than careful look at a situation where they could suddenly find themselves surrounded by totally hostile nations instead of the uneasy peace that exists between some of those countries today.
The second implication is one about which I am particularly curious. So far, the difficulties appear to have risen largely in the region's democracies, where citizens have been permitted to express their feelings through some form of ballot box and where the occasional, but perhaps less focused, disturbances have occurred. But the Middle East is still home to a number of monarchies, or "family-inherited" regimes. In the current climate, should these less democratic States now be looking over their shoulders - wondering whether they too are sitting on a tinder-box?
It is true that in a number of cases, the expatriate populations vastly outnumber the indigenous, and as a result those regimes should be relatively safe from insurrection and turmoil. But there are others where dissent seems never very far from the surface, despite the best efforts of the intelligence and security forces (is intelligent security an oxymoron?), to keep them under surveillance and control.
Certainly, I would imagine the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Syria are looking very carefully at their friends - and enemies! I would.
This has some way to run, and those believers in the predictions of Nostradamus and others who predict the end of the world and conflicts in the Middle East causing the next world war should be rubbing their crystal balls even more vigorously.
Watch this space, as the saying goes - clarity is going to take some time to achieve.