Global hopes that democracy could replace dictatorships in Arab spring nations risk being crushed by repressive regimes, the United States warned in its annual human-rights report.
Two years after the first uprisings against iron-fisted rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, some countries are encountering "harsh realities" and face "immense challenges", the State Department said in its assessment of the global human-rights situation in 2012.
"The hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions," the report said.
And despite some "encouraging democratic breakthroughs", old divisions held in check for decades are resurfacing and clashing with young people "impatient for reform and results".
Arab spring nations "witnessed a bumpy transition from protest to politics, brutal repression by regimes determined to crush popular will, and the inevitable challenges of turning democratic aspirations into reality".
While there was praise for countries such as Tunisia and Libya, where the new leaders include long-time human-rights advocates, there is growing concern in other states about moves to stifle civil society. From Syria - where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting to stay in power - to Bahrain at a "crossroads", as well as Yemen and Iraq, there were "inter-communal tensions and political violence".
There were also "serious hurdles to sustainable democracy in Egypt and Libya" as across the world "demands for democratic change surge against outmoded economic and political structures in many of these countries".