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‘The ABC Murders’ comes to my mind every time I think of Libya and Syria and the ‘Arab Spring.’ When do you notice an individual ‘regime change’ least? Answer: When it is in a series of ‘regime changes’.

“When do you notice a pin least? When it is in a pin cushion! When do you notice an individual murder least? When it is one of a series of related murders”.

So declares the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as he unveils the murderer in Agatha Christie’s classic mystery ‘The ABC Murders’.

The plot, for those who have never read the book, involves a serial killer who seems to be fascinated by the letters of the alphabet. A Mrs Ascher is found murdered in Andover. Betty Barnard is murdered in Bexhill. Sir Carmichael Clarke is murdered in Churston. Beside each corpse lies a copy of the ‘ABC Railway Guide’. It seems that the police are dealing with a madman who is murdering his way through the alphabet. But in fact, the murderer had sought to disguise one of his murders – one in which he gained substantial financial benefit – to make it look as if it was part of a series of murders.

Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo, Syria

The US and its closest allies saw the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Middle East in early 2011 as a great opportunity to bring down governments which were annoyingly independent and which did not suit their geopolitical interests. The fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia didn’t concern them unduly- they knew that the new government would be Islamist-led and wouldn’t radically change Tunisia’s foreign policy or economic policy. The same with Egypt: Hosni Mubarak was well past his sell-by date and the likely Muslim Brotherhood-led government which would take over could be guaranteed to be similarly obedient to Washington. Yes, the rhetoric on certain issues, like Palestine, would be different, but Cairo would still be heavily dependent on US aid and so policy wouldn’t change too much at all. The US and its allies could therefore pose as the ‘good guys’ in welcoming the ‘revolutions’ against western-backed leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, knowing that their strategic interests would not be seriously threatened.