Below is an excerpt from my piece on TheAtlantic.com that appeared today. To read the full text, click here.
A couple of days before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was finally forced from office, it rained in Cairo. When the storm passed and the sun re-appeared, one of the protesters pointed out on Twitter that a rainbow had appeared over downtown — a sign, she believed, of the freedom and prosperity that was to come. Caught up in the romance of the barricades, it was hard for demonstrators and democracy activists, in Egypt and beyond, not to think that way. It seemed that Middle East was on the verge of a democratic breakthrough. It was one thing for Tunisians to force a tin-pot dictator like Zine Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Jeddah, it was quite another for Egyptians to dump the Pharaoh. That’s not supposed to happen. And as Tunisians inspired Egyptians, what the revolutionaries in Cairo accomplished gave impetus to Pearl Square, where Bahrain’s own protesters have gathered, and to Benghazi, the base of Libya’s rebellion against Muammar Qaddafi. Yet the successes of Tahrir or November 7 squares have not easily translated to these other places. It seems entirely possible that the Arab spring could end on the banks of the Nile. What went wrong?