Violence is spreading across Egypt with devastating consequences but if the Arab world is in a state of flux we should not be surprised. The region has gone through vast upheaval since the first stirrings of discontent found expression in Tunisia in 2011.

The ousting of leaders such as Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Colonel Gaddafi were bound to leave behind massive vacuums. Each of them were powerful men who ruled with a rod of iron. When the yoke of oppression was lifted, major discord was inevitable as each society confronted the checks and balances of essential change.

We have experienced the maelstrom of that change over the past two years and will continue to do so. The transition from dictatorship to democracy does not come easy or cheap.

Theoretically, it would have been easier if these dictators had fallen and been replaced at reasonable intervals but that is not how the spirit of revolution works. After the fall of Ben Ali a fervour emerged which made, or so it seemed, all things possible, leaving little time for political, economic or social adjustment.

Ongoing transition has not been perfect, in some areas the fall out has been massive. The region has suffered loss of life, substantial economic deprivation and, in some cases, immense damage to the fabric of society, with women in particular paying the price of some of these new ‘freedoms’.

Inevitably, we have reached the point where we must question whether it was worth it. Has the removal of some of the region’s most despotic overlords resulted in the bright, new era of promise we anticipated for the Middle East? Looking at the picture today, one may not think so – there are unresolved issues aplenty still to be addressed. But at least a start has been made. No man, even a king or a president, can hold back the tide of progress and change, especially not in our 21st century, technology-savvy global community.

Just as in the story of Pandora’s Box quoted in Greek mythology, the Arab Spring released a colossal amount of challenges into an imperfect but reasonably regulated regional society: greed, envy, power-seeking, blood-lust , mi- sogyny and much else. However, along with those challenges, as mirrored in the case of Pandora’s box, the Arab Spring freed another vital element – that of hope. And above all else, that is the element we must cling to and work with – hope – for a better, more equal, more just and democratic future, if all the upheaval, pain and tragedy that emerged with the dawn of the Arab Spring is not to have been in vain.

Pat Lancaster

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