"Arabs are not going to accept a return to authoritarianism," says Shadi Hamid, a Qatar-based analyst with the Brookings Doha Center who witnessed the peak of elation in Cairo, where he said Egyptians experienced "true, unfettered freedom for the first time in their lives."
He describes a "new protest ethic" in the Arab world. "If the Egyptian military doesn't respect their demands, or a future government doesn't respect their demands, they are going to come out onto the streets again and again and again," says Mr. Hamid. "We used to talk about Arab exceptionalism in the sense that [Arabs] are anti-democratic, but now I think we can talk about another kind of Arab exceptionalism, where Arabs seem to have really unified ... behind the vision of a democratic Arab world."
Achieving that vision may prove harder than toppling calcified sultans. Though protests are rocking regimes from Libya to Bahrain to Yemen – with the media perhaps too loosely encapsulating an array of grievances and motivations in the label "pro-democracy" – there is no one-size-fits-all template for a democratic outcome.
On top of that is a growing sense that, despite eye-catching gains, the transformation is far from complete in the countries that have brought down their rulers – never mind those remaining chieftains who, in a bid to preempt people power, have rushed to make reforms, pay off citizens with cash handouts, or promise not to seek yet one more term in office.