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After Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, what comes next?

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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.

The solution is simple – and authoritarian – for Ayad Ali, an Iraqi Ministry of Interior worker. He told the Monitor in Baghdad before those clashes: "When the Americans occupied Iraq, they should have come with someone who could rule Iraq!"

It is that regional power vacuum that frightens Wided, a college graduate in the southeastern Tunisian town of Zarzis. Flush with the optimism of youth, she is pleased with the result of fallen dictators, who had ruled since long before she was born. She has never known anything – or anyone – else at the top. She is just starting a career in the tourism industry, though the hotel where she works, with its $7-per-night charge, is a modest place to start.

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