Governance in the Middle East is a sad story, and the fate of the Arab Spring added to the misery. After the initial euphoria, much got worse – except in Tunisia, which demonstrated the viability of a democratic political system in which Islamic and secular political groups compete for power.

Sverre Lodgaard's book External Powers and the Arab Spring (Scandinavian Academic Press) examines the role of external powers during the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. How did the United States and the European Union react? What did Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran - whose political systems were not directly affected by the revolutionary uprisings - do?

All of them acted on the basis of their own values and interests, with scant regard for the preferences of the local actors. Some tried to promote democratic practice and human rights, but were hampered by their own inefficiencies and conflicting interests. None of them mattered very much: they were little more than bystanders.

Hopefully, the analyses offered by the contributors, all of them leading international experts in their respective fields, will be of use in shaping more effective support for better governance at critical junctures in the future.

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