As the cold weather sets in across parts of the Middle East, the peoples of the so-called Arab Spring countries have had time to reflect on the “benefits” of their independence from tyranny.

Tunisia is rid of the influence of Ben Ali, or is it? There are complaints that slowly but surely the old guard is making its presence felt and creeping back into the corridors of power, as well as the businesses and board rooms of downtown Tunis.

In Egypt, the democratic elections that brought Mohammed Morsi to power, pledging he would be “a president for all Egyptians”, now find the country with a disgruntled electorate that feels the abuses of power and position are not yet over.

Libya is a political tinderbox that could blow at any moment, taking with it the hopes of a bright new future awash with business opportunities for the global community. And who knows what is really going on in Syria where many thousands of innocents continue to suffer and die as the massacres and the mayhem continue to rage across the country?

Into this already toxic mix is thrown Mali, a new twist on a long-running saga of Islamist militants, local governments and western armed forces chasing each other around the world – from Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Somalia, Mali and London.

As respected political and social commentator Rami Khouri notes: “The antidotes to failed states, Islamist militancy and global terrorism have always been, and remain, the hard tasks of promoting good governance and sustainable development,” something sadly absent for long decades in the countries of the so-called Arab Spring.

Khouri describes Mali as “dramatic and important, but not really historic. It will not shape the region for years to come, but rather only reflects trends that have percolated around the world for decades.”

What happens next in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria however, will be of vital importance in the shaping the region for generations to come. Likewise in the countries of the Gulf, where slow but, one must hope, steady progress towards a more inclusive, democratic process is gradually evolving.

Since the earliest days of the Arab Spring, there were dire warnings of the “harsh winter” that might follow in its wake. Clearly, those days are now upon us, and proving harsher than generally predicted.

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