The lamps are going out all over the Middle East, to update Sir Edward Grey's doom-laden warning to Europe a hundred years ago.
The areas of calm and stability seem like small oases in a multitude of firestorms. Many areas are literally without lights. Gaza has around two hour's electricity a day.
The power cuts in Yemen are worse and worse, leading to major protests. But, more worryingly, the lights of the democratic, liberal, pluralistic forces that for many months in 2011 lit up the region are also dimming, overshadowed by the twin forces of dictatorship and brutal religious sectarian extremism.
Syria and Iraq are divided and near ungovernable, in the waiting room for failed-state status.
The so-called Islamic caliphate or Isis, which in reality bears no resemblance to any caliphates of the past, covers an ever-expanding area, larger than the United Kingdom, including 35 per cent of Syria. Libya is being terrorised by rival militias. Palestinians in Gaza, for the fourth time since 2006, are at the wrong end of an Israeli military aggression that pits one of the world's most sophisticated militaries against a captive population inside the world's largest prison.
Those states and areas that enjoy calm become refugee camps. Lebanon and Jordan host almost two million Syrian refugees between them, as well as 2.5 million Palestinians. Tunisia is confronted with a mass Libyan exodus; while Iraqi Kurdistan is home to more than 300,000 Iraqis displaced only since June, as well as 220,000 Syrian refugees.
In each case, the numbers are rocketing up — with the number of Syrian refugees alone expected to reach four million by the end of the year. Each humanitarian appeal is underfunded.
Will it get worse? The signs are worrying. The fighting in Lebanon last week, in Arsal in the north Bekaa valley, is yet another example of why the Syrian crisis threatens to move from spilling over, to swamping, its smaller neighbour. The instability could spread to Jordan. Gulf states will not be immune to the regional changes. The chaos is first and foremost one of leadership deficit, at an international and regional level. Who are great international statesmen in the West or in the Middle East? Who do young Arabs, who make up most of the population, look to for inspiration? President Obama has been blasted for his indecisiveness but he is not alone. George W Bush and Tony Blair were decisive over Iraq and destroyed the country. There is no strategy, and often the debate is reduced to a question of to bomb or not to bomb.
The leadership deficit is reinforced by an inability to assess the situation. Barely anybody, including in the region, predicted the uprisings of 2010 and 2011. The speed of Isis's seizure of major Iraqi cities, especially Mosul, shocked all. It points to a lack of trained people on the ground and a complacent groupthink which fails to appreciate that the comfortable regional order of dictators and all-powerful monarchs is at an end. Politicians, diplomats and the media struggle to focus on more than one crisis at a time. As the focus turns to Gaza, Syria and Iraq are ignored — just as Gaza was two months ago. More than 1,700 Syrians were killed in one week in July — the most deadly since the uprising began. Every one of these crises merits full-scale attention.
Worse, states duck the problems, as they did over Iraq for years and risk doing now over Libya, even as embassies in Tripoli are evacuated.
The choice offered to the peoples of the region is the false one of authoritarianism or brutal religious extremism or chaos. This is deliberate. Every regime requires, even promotes, a truly awful opponent.
Bashar Al Assad has found Isis useful to scare Syrians, as has Maliki in Iraq; for Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Egypt, it is the Muslim Brotherhood; and for the Israeli government, it is Hamas. All too often it is a winner-loser scenario, where force is justified to gain outright victory.
The largest losers have been those who espouse the very values the West claims to support.
All the pluralistic, democratic and liberal forces in the region have been crushed.
Back in 2011, US and European ministers proclaimed their support for peaceful Arab protests but let everyone down, handing the field to counter-democratic forces, sectarian extremists and men of violence.
The West has simultaneously deserted its proclaimed values and endangered its interests. The situation can be turned around — but the flickering lamps will be kept alight only by a clear-sighted, well-informed and united international strategy. - The Independent