Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Mohammed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egypt’s first post-Arab Spring president, even as Russia continued to back Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus against an assorted opposition that includes the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood. This apparent contradiction illustrates the challenges Russia is facing in the post-Arab Spring Middle East.

Like virtually everyone else, Moscow was surprised by the groundswell of change that began in the Arab world in early 2011. Experts advising the Russian government call this a tectonic shift and compare its impact to that of the two defining periods in the region’s 20th-century history: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the secular revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s. The present “Arab Awakening,” they opine, may take years, even decades, to unfold and is likely to transform the entire shape and fabric of the region. Its future course and dynamics are hard to predict, but in the end it will give a boost to the processes of social and political modernization that so far have largely bypassed the Arab Middle East and North Africa. ...

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