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Forecast: Extremely Hot in Doha

The weather forecast in Doha today is extremely hot. That’s appropriate enough for a region undergoing some phenomenal change.

The 9th annual US-Islamic World Forum kicked off today in Doha, Qatar. As the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, noted in some opening remarks Monday night, the changes that have occurred since the last time the Forum convened in Doha (in 2010) are extraordinary.

Hussain, whose appointment was announced at that forum, pointedly noted that no one at that meeting predicted the changes that would begin to unfurl in later months, let alone free elections in Egypt.

These changes toward democracy are still underway, with the Houla massacre serving as yet another painful reminder. That makes this year’s discussions regarding the challenge of change particularly appropriate. For just as claims of Twitter revolutions misled, so does the veneer of free elections.

Egypt’s enigmatic first-round presidential election results are a case in point. What is the explanation of the choice Egyptians have given themselves for the run-off between Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafik who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister and has been unapologetic about his comments that Mubarak was a role model? It’s a long way from images of Egyptians beaming up images of regime atrocities on their cell phones and tweeting the unfolding revolution to the world.

What seems most puzzling though is a voter turnout of about 50 percent. It’s hard for outside observers to square the images of Tahrir Square packed to overflowing in the lead up to Mubarak’s ousting with the type of voter turnout usually reserved for elections voters care little about.

But obviously something important is at stake. Demonstrators who "ransacked" and set Shafik’s campaign headquarters on fire suggest that this is going to be anything but a smooth transition.

The democratic change underway in Egypt might be easier to grapple with if it were an isolated case, but of course it is not. Massive democratic changes are underway in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and other uprisings are still calling for attention all while the United States and others struggle with an ongoing economic crisis of epic proportions. Stay tuned for updates from a forum in which the events have changed, but its relevance is as important as ever.