The protests in Tunisia and now Egypt have several Arab leaders concerned about the prospect of dissent spreading to their country.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh came to power in 1978. He rules over the poorest country in the Middle East and has already shown he has been seriously rattled by events in Tunisia and Egypt. It had been widely anticipated that he would try to pass power on to his son. He has now said he will not do this and will step down when his current term ends in 2013.
Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won power in 1999 with the backing of the army in an election that was widely viewed as fraudulent. In attempt to head off further protests, he has announced that a state of emergency, which has been in place since 1992, will be lifted. He has also announced plans for new job creation schemes.
Real power in Jordan rests with the Monarchy. King Abdullah II took over from his father King Hussein in 1999. He has sacked his government and announced a pro-reformist Prime Minister in the wake of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. It is thought people in Jordan will accept change under the monarchy rather than attempt to personally remove him from power.
The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of power. Political parties are banned and the opposition is organised from abroad. King Abdullah succeeded the late King Fahd in 2005. He is seen as being untainted by corruption and favours reforms which are balanced towards Saudi traditions. The Shia represent ten per cent of the Saudi population and feel deeply marginalised. There have been frequent confrontations and street fights with the security forces but Saudi Arabia is one of the least likely autocratic Arab nations to face upheaval.
Political power is held by a small elite and the opposition is repressed. The Alawite-controlled pan-Arab Baath party took control in 1963. Bashar al Assad came to power in 2000 after the 30-year rule of his father. The government justifies an existing state of martial law because it remains at war with Israel. A referendum in 2007 endorsed al Assad as president for a second seven-year term. He was the only candidate.
Colonel Gaddafi led a successful military coup against King Idris in 1969. Whilst introducing a system of governance based around ‘people’s committees’ he retains absolute power. In recent years he’s come in from the cold diplomatically on the world stage. There is growing anger that Libya’s resulting new wealth from its oil industry is not being passed down to its people. He is seen as a man who would do anything to retain power.
The al-Sabah family has ruled since 1991. There is an elected legislature which has become increasingly assertive in recent years – the first Arab country in the Gulf to have an elected parliament. In May 2009 four women were elected to the National Assembly. But the ruling family holds most of the key cabinet posts and political parties are not permitted.
Mohammed VI became the monarch in 1999. Under the constitution the king can dissolve parliament and dismiss or appoint the Prime Minister. Despite continuing reforms, ultimately power remains in his hands. He has initiated political and economic changes and launched an investigation into human rights abuses during his father’s rule.
The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006, leaving the President Mahmoud Abbas and parliament members in office after their elected terms have ended. In the wake of the protests Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said he will set election dates. Fatah is concerned about holding elections with the prospect of defeat. The Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza in elections in 2006.
Egypt has been ruled by President Hosni Mubarak for thirty years. Mass protests have called for social, economic and political reform. He insists without his guidance Egypt will fall into complete chaos and he refuses to resign immediately though he has promised to stand down in September.