Threats of war cloud hopes for Middle East

Washington Post: BEIRUT — Fears of an as-yet-undefined Middle Eastern war are darkening the horizons of a region that only a year ago was celebrating the fall of dictators, the ascent of people power and the promise of a new era of democracy.

Iranian threats to mine the Strait of Hormuz raise the specter of conflict between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf. Warnings from Israel that it may strike Iran’s nuclear facilities open up the possibility of a region-wide conflict.

Most worrying of all, as shells rain down on the Syrian city of Homs and TV screens across the region replay gory scenes of casualties captured on videos posted on YouTube, there is now little doubt that Syria is in the early stages of a civil war, one whose potentially profound ramifications provokes jitters far beyond its borders.

Although a wider war is by no means inevitable, 2012 is already proving a dark sequel to the hope and possibility of 2011, as the demands of ordinary people for greater freedoms collide with the competing agendas of big powers in the region’s most volatile heart.

“There are two different trajectories in the Middle East,” said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. While “North Africa is moving toward more democracy,” he said, the Levant region —

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