Two years later, an Arab Spring in chaos

Most of the uprisings have devolved into bitter struggles, as a mix of political powers battle over the rules of participation, the relationship between the military and the government, the role of religion in public life and what it means to be a citizen, not a subject.

Middle East historians and analysts say that the political and economic stagnation under decades of autocratic rule that led to the uprisings also left Arab countries ill equipped to build new governments and civil society. While some of the movements achieved their initial goals, removing longtime leaders in four countries, their wider aims — democracy, dignity, human rights, social equality and economic security — now appear more distant than ever…

“Most Middle East economies buffeted by the Arab Spring were already going in the wrong direction,” said Joshua M. Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Economic distress caused by swelling youth populations, joblessness, rising prices and drought, he said, had done as much to cause the uprisings as political oppression.

In many ways, he said, “the Arab Spring is the canary in the mine shaft for a broader problem — fragmented countries, too much population growth, terrible education systems, too little water — these countries are the losers.”

The current turmoil has left many Arab activists disillusioned with the movements for which they had invested tremendous effort and often risked their lives.