In Libya, by contrast, Muammar Qaddafi's repressive rule has erased any vestige of public opposition and blocked the formation of civil society groups or institutions. And yet popular committees and even military officers that defected to the antiregime side in eastern Libya very quickly set about preventing a power vacuum by engaging in self-rule.
In Bahrain, sectarian issues play a role amid the complaints against the monarchy, as the majority Shiites demand more rights from minority Sunni rulers.
The equation is different yet again in grindingly poor Yemen, where key demands center on jobs and better living conditions.
And those challenges aren't limited to the newly "free," either. In Iraq, where a US military invasion ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the experiment with democracy has been messy and tangled since the early years of the American presence. An inconclusive election one year ago only yielded a coalition government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after nine months of political horse-trading. And poor services have continued to bedevil Iraqis even while their elected politicians draw salaries of tens of thousands of dollars a month and live in the fortified Green Zone.
Thousands have turned out for protests across the country, including for a proclaimed "day of rage" on Feb. 25, when several died in clashes with police.