Arab spring: Gaddafi, elections ... and then what?
If there is one thing above all that unites the millions of people across the Arab world who have been out on the streets protesting since the beginning of the year, it must surely be their demand to be able to choose their own rulers and live their lives free from fear.
And nowhere, I suspect, is that truer than in Libya, where the death yesterday of Muammar Gaddafi must increase substantially the chance that Libyans will now also have an opportunity to map out a better future for themselves and their nation.
Naturally enough, they have been celebrating the news of his demise. But we know, don't we, from Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt, that the overthrow - even the death - of a hated autocrat doesn't necessarily spell the beginning of a bright new future.
It might do - you could even argue that it should do - but in the words of the old song, it ain't necessarily so.
Take Tunisia, for example, where this remarkable year of Arab upheaval and revolt began. This weekend, the people of Tunisia will get their first chance to exercise their newly-won freedom, by voting for a 217-seat Constituent Assembly. It will be, in all but name, a parliament, with a mandate to draw up a new constitution and appoint a transitional government.
Next month, Egypt will begin a similar process, under the baleful eye of the military, who have ruled the country since the overthrow of President Mubarak in February, and who - according to their many critics - have shown a marked reluctance to introduce the root-and-branch reforms that the Tahrir Square protesters were demanding.
In both countries, it is all too easy to find people who will tell you that they are deeply disappointed at how little has changed since those heady days in January and February. Economies are in a tail-spin, and jobs are as scarce as ever. Elections alone aren't likely to change that.
Perhaps that's one reason why in Tunisia only just over half of the people who are eligible to vote have registered to do so. A low turn-out on Sunday will do nothing to encourage the belief that a stable democracy is taking hold.
Another could be that, according to Erik Churchill writing this week in Foreign Policy, "many Tunisians have expressed doubts that the elections will be truly free and fair. Despite all evidence to the contrary, it is commonplace to hear arguments that the outcome has been predetermined by the West."
If the elections are fair - and the expectation is that they will be - it looks as if the Islamist party Ennahdha (Renaissance) will win the largest number of seats in the new assembly. And as soon as I write the word Islamist, I can almost hear the intake of breath.
So is Tunisia on its way to becoming another Iran? Not according to Ennahdha's leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, who wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday:
"Charges of theocratic tendencies continue to be levelled at us. However, we believe in a civic state, based on equality between all citizens, regardless of faith, gender or race. We believe that the right to political and social association and organisation should be guaranteed for every citizen. We believe in the independence of civil society from the state, within a free and fair democratic system based on the principle of protecting personal and public liberties and guaranteeing a balance between the state and society."
He also wrote: "We have long advocated democracy within the mainstream trend of political Islam, which we feel is the best system that protects against injustice and authoritarianism." And there are plenty of people, both in Tunisia and elsewhere, who wonder exactly what constitutes "the mainstream trend of political Islam".
All revolutions suffer from the curse of dashed expectations. But it's still less than 12 months since the end of the old order in both Tunisia and Egypt, and I can't believe that anyone seriously expected that decades of authoritarian rule would suddenly make way for the sunlit uplands of liberal democracy.
And as I've pointed out before, you need more than an election - even the most perfectly-run election - before you can boast of having introduced real democracy. An independent judiciary, equality before the law, religious and media freedoms - they are all essential ingredients as well.
On the other hand, you have to start somewhere. And that's what the people of Tunisia hope they'll be doing this weekend. We don't yet know when the people of Libya will get their chance to start mapping their new future.
We're going to be reporting from right across the Middle East and North Africa over the coming weeks: Paul Moss is already in Tunisia, and we'll be broadcasting the second of his reports from there tonight (Friday). Next week he'll be reporting from Morocco.
During November, we'll be reporting from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and Ritula will be in Turkey to look at the region's fastest-emerging new power and ask whether it could be a model for other would-be Islamic democracies. I'll wrap up the season from Egypt early in the New Year.