Arab autocrats: Exiled, killed or fighting for survival

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2017 12:59 PM
Arab autocrats: Exiled, killed or fighting for survival

BEIRUT (AP) — Egypt's ousted former President Hosni Mubarak was released Friday after six years in custody but he is not the only autocratic ruler in the Middle East that was caught up in Arab Spring revolts that swept across the region in 2011.

Exiled, killed or fighting for survival, here's a look at the fate of other Arab leaders and where they are now:

TUNISIA: ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI

A young Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010, unwittingly setting in motion an unprecedented upheaval across the Arab world.

The young man's death triggered protests throughout the North African country that left 300 dead and thousands injured. Within a month, the country's autocratic ruler Ben Ali was forced to resign after 23 years in power, fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

He was later convicted in absentia by a Tunisian court for corruption and other crimes.

Ben Ali's downfall inspired protests across the Arab world that came to be known as the Arab Spring.

EGYPT: HOSNI MUBARAK

After a 30-year-rule hollowed out by corruption, economic inequities and reliance on a much-feared security apparatus to keep its hold on power, protests against Mubarak erupted in Cairo in January 2011.

After 18 breathless days of mass protests in the Egyptian capital's iconic Tahrir Square that captured the world's imagination but also saw deadly violence with security forces, Mubarak was forced to resign.

Mubarak was subsequently convicted of embezzling funds and stood trial on various corruption charges and charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the popular uprising that led to his ouster.

After legal proceedings and trials that dragged on for years, the ailing 88-year-old autocrat was acquitted by Egypt's top appeals court earlier in March. Leaving the hospital where he spent much of his detention, he returned to his home in an upscale Cairo neighborhood on Friday.

LIBYA: MOAMMAR GADHAFI

Libya's uprising against Gadhafi erupted in February 2011 as part of spreading unrest across the Middle East. Protests that began in the city of Benghazi overlooking the Mediterranean turned deadly when troops opened fire, killing 14. The protests then escalated into an all-out armed rebellion.

Gadhafi, who had led Libya for four decades, spent his final weeks shuttling from hideout to hideout in his hometown of Sirte until rebel fighters pulled him out of a drainage ditch and killed him on Oct. 20, 2011.

More than five years later, the country is still consumed by chaos, split between rival parliaments and governments in the east and west, each backed by a set of militias, tribes and political factions.

YEMEN: ALI ABDULLAH SALEH

The Yemeni president clung to power for nearly a year in the face of mass protests against his 33-year rule that erupted in 2011, staying in place even after a bomb blast left him with burns over much of his body.

Finally, under a U.S. and Gulf-brokered agreement, Saleh signed a deal in Saudi Arabia that transferred his executive powers to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

But even though he stepped down, Saleh remained in Yemen.

When a new conflict engulfed the Arab world's most impoverished country after the Shiite Houthi rebels swept across much of northern Yemen, capturing the capital, Sanaa, and threatening the south, Saleh allied himself with the rebels to fight against a Saudi-led coalition that in March 2015 backed President Hadi's forces and began hitting the Houthis.

The conflict has deepened Yemen's chaos, enabling al-Qaida in Yemen, seen as the militant group's most dangerous offshoot, to seize large swaths of land and entire cities starting from 2011.

SYRIA: BASHAR ASSAD

Syria's Assad is still hanging on to power, despite a blood bath and civil war that has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced half of the country's prewar population of 23 million.

Assad's forces unleashed a withering crackdown against a revolt that began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests, prompting many of his opponents — joined by army defectors — to take up arms against the government. The country soon descended into a civil war that has left much of the nation in ruins, ruled by hundreds of militia factions and warlords.

The momentum has swung heavily in Assad's favor in the past year, thanks to the help of Iranian-backed ground forces and Russian air power.

Syria's disaster has also enabled the rise of the Islamic State group, which in 2014 blitzed across both Syria and Iraq to seize nearly a third of each country. A U.S.-led coalition is now helping an array of Syrian opposition forces and rebels and IS has been losing ground but only after wreaking havoc and carnage and destroying much of Syria's priceless archaeological heritage.

BAHRAIN: KING HAMAD

Protests in Bahrain, a staunch American ally and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, erupted days after Egyptians overthrew Mubarak, with the tiny island nation's Shiite majority calling for greater equality and representation in the government and the public sector.

King Hamad, a Sunni in the Arab Gulf's only Shiite-majority nation, maintained his authority, often through harsh crackdowns. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds more wounded in heavy crackdowns on protesters around Pearl Roundabout in March 2011 when Saudi tanks rolled over the causeway into the island kingdom to bolster the king.

An intense crackdown on dissent in the island nation continues to this day. Activists have been expelled or imprisoned, and the main Shiite opposition group has been dismantled.