It is an era of instability and disintegration which began in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 and in Europe and the US in 2016. These regions are very different, but their recent political convulsions have basic features in common, notably a feeling shared by people from the Mississippi to the Euphrates that they are unhappy with the status quo. Likewise, political elites from Damascus to Washington DC have demonstrably underestimated their own unpopularity and the narrowness of their political base.
Inequality has increased everywhere with politically momentous consequences, a development much discussed as a reason for the populist-nationalist upsurge in western Europe and the US. But it has also had a significant destabilising impact in the wider Middle East. Impoverished Syrian villagers, who once looked to the state to provide jobs and meet their basic needs at low prices, found in the decade before 2011 that their government no longer cared what happened to them. They poured in their millions into gimcrack housing on the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo, cities whose richer districts looked more like London or Paris. Unsurprisingly, it was these same people, formerly supporters of the ruling Baath party, who became the backbone of the popular revolt. Their grievances were not dissimilar from those of unemployed coal miners in former Democratic Party strongholds in West Virginia who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.