SYRIA: Unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed, according to U.N. figures. Most recently, activists say that more than 130 people were killed in a gas attack in a Damascus suburb. The United States, Britain, France and other countries have pressed for a team of U.N. inspectors already in Syria to be granted access to the site. The Obama administration is weighing how to respond if the allegations are confirmed. Story, 3A
LEBANON: A series of explosions and abductions are raising concerns about instability in Lebanon, where people are deeply divided — Sunni versus Shiite — over the civil war in neighboring Syria. The militant group Hezbollah has sent its fighters to aid the Syrian government, a move that escalated tensions. On Aug. 15, a car bomb in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut killed at least 21 people. On Friday, two explosions targeted mosques packed with Sunni worshipers in Tripoli, killing dozens.
ISRAEL: Israelis are nervously watching the developments in neighboring Syria and Egypt. In Egypt, Islamic militants have stepped up their activities in the Sinai near the Israeli border after the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Rockets were fired into northern Israel last week from Lebanon, and the next day, the Israeli military fired back with one of its own.
EGYPT: During the Arab Spring, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted by the military amid a popular uprising in 2011. On July 3, the military removed the nation's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. His ouster prompted massive protests by Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Security forces have killed more than a thousand and arrested at least as many this month. A new military-appointed government is promising to restore democracy. Story, 3A
IRAQ: Sectarian attacks have been on the rise in Iraq since a deadly security crackdown in April on a Sunni protest camp by the Shiite-led government. More than 3,000 people have been killed during the past few months, raising fears Iraq could see a new round of widespread bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
LIBYA: Security agencies remain unable to secure Libya, which is awash in heavy weaponry and militias following its civil war and overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Benghazi recently was hit by a wave of targeted killings. Analysts say the country does not have a self-sustaining democracy or real hopes for one any time soon.
TUNISIA: In the country that kicked off the Arab Spring by toppling the longtime president in January 2011, the transition to democracy has been rocky. The assassination of a left-wing politician in July — the second such killing in five months — has plunged the country into a political crisis, with the opposition accusing the Islamist-led government of failing to maintain security or restart the economy.
The great hope of the Arab Spring — a pro-democracy popular uprising that upended repressive regimes in several Mideast countries in 2011 — has given way to instability and uncertainty. Turmoil grips parts of the region, in some ways an apparent battleground between Sunnis and Shiites, the major Islamic sects. "This is what political development in the real world actually looks like, and anybody who expected smooth, quick, linear progress from tyranny to liberal democracy was naive or foolish," the Chicago Tribune quoted Columbia University political scientist Sheri Berman.