Protesters gather at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, November 23, 2012.
Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

In the fall of 2010, the Arab world continued its authoritarian slumber. Then many of its people woke up with a start, and within a year the political landscape of the Middle East had changed beyond recognition. Seemingly stable tyrannies in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria were toppled or contested; widespread protests emerged elsewhere; and popular governments sprang up out of the blue. A few years further on, with the protests suppressed, Egypt returned to tyranny, and Syria and Libya in chaos, it all seems like a dream—or a nightmare.

How will history look back on what came to be known as the Arab Spring? Certainly, the early hopes it raised of successful democratic revolutions were quickly and cruelly dashed—everywhere except Tunisia, whose new regime continues to limp forward. And the skeptics who warned about the uprising’s risks have had their pessimism confirmed. A recent report by Dubai’

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