After the 2008 defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, and the 90 percent decline in al Qaeda attacks there it was believed that Islamic terrorism was on the ropes. But terrorist attacks, most of them by Moslem religious radicals, more than doubled, from 7,200 in 2009 to 18,500 in 2013. The chief cause of this growth in Islamic terrorist activity was state sponsored Islamic terrorism by Pakistan and the "Arab Spring" uprisings that began in early 2011.
The Pakistani policy of covertly supporting and encouraging Islamic terrorist groups began in the late 1970s and after September 11, 2001 were increasingly out of Pakistani control. Pakistan found itself in the position of continuing to support Islamic terrorists who attacked India and Afghanistan while fighting a growing number of disaffected terrorist groups at home that had declared war on Pakistan.
The Arab Spring uprisings were a popular movement to replace the many dictatorships and monarchies that have long been the cause of most of the poverty and unhappiness that have made the Middle East such an economic, educational, scientific, military and cultural backwater. But these uprisings made the mistake of accepting Islamic terrorist groups, who had long been trying to overthrow all these authoritarian rulers, as allies. The Islamic terrorists considered the secular democrats who sparked and sustained the Arab Spring as competitors for power, not allies in creating new democracies. This misreading of the Islamic terrorist groups (most of whom consider democracy un-Islamic) proved to be very expensive in terms of lives, property damage and economic losses in general. These popular rebellions led to the fall of several long time dictatorships, and a rush to reform (or give the appearance of such) by most other Arab governments. The Arab Spring also proved a major boost for Islamic terrorist morale and numbers.
The result was a huge spike in Islamic terrorist violence. For the Arab Spring countries it meant prolonged unrest and more deaths. Worse, it isn't over, especially in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria. Over 160,000 have died so far in the Arab Spring countries, and millions more wounded, imprisoned or driven from their homes. The financial cost, so far, has been over a trillion dollars. Most of that is the economic damage from shrinking GDP. The rest is destruction of buildings and possessions. The lost wages and reduced economic activity have been particularly difficult for populations that were poor to begin with. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Bahrain have suffered most from the unrest, losing up to a third of their GDP because of the Arab Spring economic disruption. Then there is the cost in cash for wealthier monarchies and dictatorships that have spent money (sometimes borrowed) to placate their restless populations. The money spent here is not all Arab. The Assad dictatorship of Syria has been kept afloat by billions of dollars in support from Iran, and much smaller amounts from Russia. There has also been some unrest in non-Arab Moslem nations because of Arab Spring and that has cost billions to deal with.
In the midst of all this revolutionary exuberance thousands of very hard core Islamic terrorists were released from prison. The overthrown governments were bad in many ways, but they were good at catching (and often promptly killing) Islamic terrorists who threatened them. This was the main reason al Qaeda decided in the 1990s to make war on the United States and the West. These foreigners were easier targets than the thugs (or tribes) with flags back home. By recycling all these imprisoned Islamic terrorists after 2011 the terrorists now had the ability to do a lot more damage. As usual most of it was done against fellow Moslems. The Islamic world in general and the Arab world in particular has long been reluctant to confront the most dangerous aspect of their religion; the enthusiasm for terrorism and savagery in the name of God and the greater good. This has never worked and those who point this out tend to get shouted down or killed for preaching heresy. Islam needs some serious reform but few Moslems are eager to rebel against the tyranny of religious extremism.
The "Arab Spring" created several unexpected popular uprisings against dictators and monarchs. Most sort-of succeeded (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya), while others failed or never got going (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon) and Syria is not over but the rebels are still a contender despite Iranian intervention. None of these uprisings developed into a true war. The most violent, in Libya, was won by armed civilians assisted by NATO smart bombs and warships. Libya, like the other uprisings involving heavy combat, were a collection of dozens of separate battles over a large area.
The uprisings were mostly about corruption and the resulting widespread poverty and bad government. For that reason, the Saudi Arabian monarchy was able to buy its way out of an uprising. Yemen mutated into low level civil war, while Syria grew into a countrywide guerilla war. Egypt and Tunisia were over quickly but subsequent elections put Islamic conservatives in power, and then out of power as the voters realized what the Islamic radicals (a religious dictatorship).
In Egypt the military was able to maintain its corrupt grip on the economy. It's unclear how this will turn out because the Islamic and secular rebel groups are spending most of their time going after each other. Indeed, the biggest problem was that these dictatorships were not just the single dictator but that the segment of the population that kept the dictator in power and were well rewarded for doing that. These privileged groups were not eager to flee or give up their wealth. The dictator's supporters are striving to retain or regain their power. The Old Order has substantial economic and political resources and is willing to use them to retain power and wealth.
This arrangement was common to all Moslem nations, not just the Arab ones. Islam has a particular fondness for preserving ancient practices and traditions. Not all Moslems agree with this but the most traditional believers have long relied on violence and terrorism to block social, political and economic change. Thus the Moslem nations tend to be quite poor and backward compared to the rest of the world.
The Arab Spring is part of another reform movement in that is trying to address the root causes of poverty, corruption and mismanagement that are so common in the Islamic world. Naturally, a lot of vested interests, both secular and religious, are resisting these changes. The worst of the opposition is an ancient one, religious fanatics selling a radical solution that not enough Moslems want to buy into.