A YEAR after ousting Hosni Mubarak, Egypt appears poised this week to elect his former minister of foreign affairs, Amr Moussa, as its next president. Many commentators say his presidency will differ little from Mubarak's, disappointing those who hoped to see a liberal democracy emerge from the youthful uprisings last year.
Meanwhile, Yemen elected their ousted leader's vice-president on a single-candidate ballot, violence surrounds Libya's elections and Syrian protests get bloodier by the day. Was the Arab Spring all for naught?
The recent turn of events does not surprise demographer Richard Cincotta of the Stimson Center in Washington DC. The fact that the populations of these countries are all very young, he argues, predicted not only that revolutions would occur, but also that it may be some time before they make a successful transition to liberal democracies.
Cincotta studied revolutions between 1972 and 1989, focusing on the age structure of countries. He found that oppressive autocracies with a median population age between 25 and 35 had the best chances of becoming democracies.
All of the countries that made the transition when their median age was greater than 30 are still democracies today. Nine out of 10 countries with a median age less than 25 slid back into oppressive regimes following revolution. Any older than 35 and revolutions did not occur in the first place. The only other indicator that came close to predicting transition success with the same level of accuracy was wealth per capita.
If the pattern holds, Tunisia - with a median age of 30 - is the Arab Spring country most likely to hold a democracy permanently. Egypt and Libya have median ages of 25 and 26, respectively, giving them a fighting chance of moving to democracy in the next few years, according to Cincotta. But Syria and Yemen - at 21 and 17, respectively - will be lucky to end up with even partial democracies, he says.
You can read more about Cincotta's work, along with other analyses of the youth bulge, in the recently published book that Debbie Fugate and I co-edited on "The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity."