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Islamists Aren't the Obstacle

How to Build Democracy in Egypt and Tunisia

Sunset in Old Cairo. (Amr Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters)

Two years after the Arab Spring swept through Tunisia and Egypt, many citizens of both countries are frustrated with the slow pace of change, discouraged by unmet expectations of more jobs and increased wages, and wary of lingering authoritarian political practices. Most recently, violent protests have broken out in Egypt and, in Tunisia, the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a prominent opposition leader, has spurred calls to dissolve the government. International observers are increasingly cynical about the prospects of democracy, arguing that the Arab Spring has turned into an Islamist winter.

This bleak prognosis is based on an incomplete understanding of the complex issues at hand and unrealistic expectations of a rapid, smooth transition. Analysts, such as Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pipes and Fareed Zakaria, use anecdotal evidence to explain the underlying political, economic, and social cleavages driving events on the ground. Even the

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