The new reality could be a weaker Iran, but a far more religiously conservative Middle East that is less beholden to the United States.

Already, Islamists have been empowered in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, while Syria’s opposition is being led by Sunni insurgents, including a growing number identified as jihadists, some identified as sympathizing with Al Qaeda. Qatar, which hosts a major United States military base, also helps finance Islamists all around the region…

A Western diplomat seeking to explain the changes recently drew a cross through the region, the meeting point representing Syria. Along the East-West line, he wrote “febrile crescent,” a play on the traditional “Fertile Crescent” used to describe the stretch of the Middle East where civilization began. The febrile crescent represents the volatile fault line between Sunnis and Shiites, with Syria the prize.

The other axis was labeled “Sunni Struggles,” representing the wrestling within the dominant Muslim sect over what governments and what ideology will emerge triumphant from the current political tumult. The deepest change, of course, is that the era of dictators seems to be closing.