Egypt will be the most important test. It is home to more than a quarter of the Arab world and serves as a model that Sunnis everywhere look to. Right now it is clear that Islamists of various stripes will dominate its politics, even as the military is reluctant to relinquish its power or privilege. The young liberals who helped start the political upheavals have little sway. The economy is deteriorating rapidly, given the loss of tourism and investment along with the continuing unrest.
Certainly, democracy for the region is a worthy goal. But outsiders would be wise to place at least as much emphasis on protecting and establishing the prerequisites of democracy — the rule of law, a constitution with true checks and balances, robust civil society, open markets — as they do on elections. The U.S. government should make clear what a close relationship with Washington requires in the realm of foreign policy, including the necessity that any new government actively oppose terrorism and demonstrate a willingness to live in peace with Israel. U.S. officials and observers should underscore these priorities and not hold back criticism when justified; aid should be made conditional on implementing and then respecting specific political and economic reforms.
All of which argues for keeping the champagne on ice.