When Arab streets exploded with fury, from Tunis to Sanaa, pan-Arabism seemed like a nominal notion. Neither did the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" use slogans that affirmed its Arab identity, nor did angry Egyptian youth raise a banner proclaiming Arab unity atop the high buildings adjacent to Tahrir Square.

Oddly, the Arabism of the "Arab Spring" seemed almost a result of convenience. It was politically convenient for Western governments to stereotype Arab nations as if they were exact duplicates of one another, and national sentiments, identities, expectations and popular revolts were all rooted in the same past and corresponded with a precise reality in the present. Thus, many in the West expected that the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, especially since it was followed by the abdication of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, would lead to a domino effect. "Who's next?" was a pretentious question that many asked, some with no understanding of the region and its complexity.

After initial hesitation, the United States, along with its Western allies, moved quickly to influence the outcome in some Arab countries. Their mission was to ensure a smooth transition in countries whose fate had been decided by the impulsive revolts, to speed up the toppling of their enemies and to prop up their allies so that they would not suffer a similar fate.