Steps Forward, Steps Backward

Saturday, February 25, 2012 | Tenadi, Mauritania (map)

At Tenadi, several hours' drive from the Mauritanian capital, two colleagues pause for the view atop a sand dune.
In the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 began with a bang that never let up. A transformational revolution in Tunisia sparked uprisings across the Arab world that, in one way or another, touched every country in the region.

The sudden explosion of the Arab Spring—which saw once dormant populations shock their rulers by gathering in the streets to demand a new political order—is a tremendously positive development for a part of the world that for so long seemed by turns stuck in the mud or actively regressing. Since the initial uprisings, however, the horrific violence, political roadblocks, and other deterrents which various regimes have deployed are a reminder of just how difficult a task the citizens of these countries still face.

The current year—a turbulent one already—is only reinforcing that conclusion. Just two months