Why democracy failed in the Middle East

Why democracy failed in the Middle East

And how it might, one day, succeed

“What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this?” So asked Leila Bouazizi after her brother, Muhammad, set himself on fire ten years ago. Local officials in Tunisia had confiscated his fruit cart, ostensibly because he did not have a permit but really because they wanted to extort money from him. It was the final indignity for the young man. “How do you expect me to make a living?” he shouted before dousing himself with petrol in front of the governor’s office.

His actions would resonate across the region, where millions of others had reached breaking-point, too. Their rage against oppressive leaders and corrupt states came bursting forth as the Arab spring. Uprisings toppled the dictators of four countries—Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. For a moment it seemed as if democracy had arrived in the Arab world at last.

A decade later, though, no celebrations are planned (see article). Only one of those democratic experiments yielded a durable result—fittingly, in Bouazizi’s Tunisia. Egypt’s failed miserably, ending in a military coup. Libya, Yemen and, worst of all, Syria descended into bloody civil wars that drew in foreign powers. The Arab spring turned to bitter winter so quickly that many people now despair of the region.