The wave of uprisings in the Middle East in 2011 adopted part of its ethos from a desire for stronger human rights protections and government accountability. The fall of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen promised a new Arab world in its wake, but political and economic realities quickly quashed the resulting euphoria, replacing it with a sense of anger, confusion, and uncertainty. As political rivals clashed—often literally—to fill the power vacuum, the contours of a regime that never truly disappeared began to reemerge, albeit to varying degrees.

A comparison of the US Department of State annual human rights reports in 2010 and 2014 shows how much (or how little) human rights norms have changed in the transitioning Arab countries, among them Egypt in particular which has shown few discernible improvements. As a reflection of the new social contract in each country, this brief overview illustrates the difficulty in reorganizing long-entrenched social and security networks that seek to protect their interests in the midst of dynamic legal regimes and social upheaval. Adam Simpson’s work in the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East examines the positives and negatives in the evolution of human rights in his recent article on MENASource titled, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Human Rights in the Transitioning Countries.”