There was something exhilarating about the Arab Spring uprisings, mainly because for a moment they seemed stunningly successful: in quick succession, longstanding autocrats were pushed from power, and many more regimes faced growing protest movements, some of which seemed to be moving in the direction pioneered by Tunisia and Egypt. For a while it was possible to convince yourself that everything had changed and that authoritarian rule was about to be cleared from the regional map through people power.

Two turns of events checked such expectations. One was the rise of military force, foreign involvement, and proxy warfare in Libya, then in Syria, and eventually in Yemen. The other was the failure of procedural democracy in Egypt, embodied most vividly in the military coup of 2013 and the steady return to autocratic rule. In coldly analytic terms, this sharp turn let...

You do not currently have access to this content.