It is not so much the aspirations that are new, but a shared spirit of hope that success is possible against long odds. It's a feeling that is unlikely to dissipate quickly and could fundamentally reshape the region – though how democratic the changes will be remains to be seen.
"It would be wrong to say that Tunisia or Egypt ignited a new pattern of protest or generated new expectations ... they've existed, but the organizers in many of these countries sense a new opportunity," says Toby Craig Jones, a historian of the Middle East at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"There's this talk about a new Pan-Arabism, a new nationalist moment – I'm not sure that's right yet, but there is a perception that people across international borders are aware they have a common experience and interests given the autocrats and economic challenges they share, so whatever it is that exists up in the stratosphere, it's meaningful," Dr. Jones adds, referring to the spirit of revolt in the region.
Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran have all witnessed democracy protests in recent weeks, throwing into disarray America's decades-old regional policy of supporting autocrats in exchange for stability.