1. Egypt - Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak, who came to power in 1981 when Anwar Sadat was assassinated, tied his loyalties steadfastly to the U.S. in his three-decade regime, while the people of his country increasingly gravitated towards anti-Americanism. And that has been his bane. He failed to respond to the issues that are highly sensitive to his people while eagerly integrated himself with the West. He was one of the West's most-liked leaders in the Arab world, and this tag was predicted to land him in trouble. To make matters worse, vast chunks of people were alienated from the rising prosperity in the region and day-to-day issues like price rise and unemployment spiraled out of control.
2. Yemen - Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemen's long-serving autocrat came to power after the bloody death of his predecessor Ahmed al-Ghashmi who was killed in a bomb explosion in 1978. , Saleh’s stay at the top has not been without its share of gory sagas. He first quelled a rebellion aimed at overthrowing him and then fought the war that followed the unification of the North and South Yemen. Like Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, Saleh has been a staunch U.S. ally. He offered the U.S. key logistical support in its fight against the al-Qaeda.
The tribal leader who rose through the ranks of the army, was one of the first Arab leaders to declare support to Washington in its war on terror immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
Known as a pragmatist, he sensed trouble as Yemenis said they would hit the streets asking for his departure and pre-empted their move by announcing he will not seek re-election in 2013. Saleh has skillfully managed the warring factions and conflicting tribal loyalties Yemen. He has often likened the task of governing Yemen as dancing with snakes. Looks like he has now realized that the snakes are far too many to handle.
A Reuters report in August last year summed up the challenges he faced: ... the outlook for Saleh's impoverished country looks grim: it faces a Shi'ite revolt in the north, separatist unrest in the south and al Qaeda zealots...
3. Sudan - Omar Hassan al-Bashir
Unlike some of his counterparts in the region, Bashir did not prosper under the tutelage of the U.S. and the West, a fact that explains both his frailties and strengths.
His regime is smeared with blemishes of a grand scale. In the 90s, Sudan earned notoriety for hosting Osama bin Laden after the terror mastermind was expelled from Said Arabia. It was in Khartoum that bin Laden sharpened his terror ideology and expanded his network. Laden enjoyed warm relations with the country's rulers and spiritual ideologues.
During the last decade Bashir reportedly presided over one of the most gruesome genocides in recent times as the government-supported Janjaweed militias marauded southern Sudan and massacred hundreds of thousands of people, triggering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
Bashir was in the eye of a storm and he was called a war criminal by the West. The International Criminal Court's arrest warrant further dented his international standing. Though most Arab leaders stood by him, it is increasingly becoming clearer that he has few real allies left.
As international pressure mounted, Bashir announced last year he would respect the verdict of a referendum to determine if the majority of Southern Sudanese wanted to secede from the country. The referendum, held late last month, showed that close to 98 percent of southern Sudanese wanted to form their own country.
The formation of an independent southern Sudan would have been a saving grace of Bashir's blemished regime, but ironically the referendum's results spawned massive popular uprising in Khartoum ad many parts of Northern Sudan.
Popular discontent over the breaking up of the county, coupled with severe economic crisis in the impoverished land of clashing tribal factions can spell doom for Bashir' rule. Bashir, a brigadier in the army, had grabbed power in 1989 after deposing prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a bloodless coup.
4. Ivory Coast
As protests flared on the streets demanding his resignation, Ivory Coasts' president Laurent Koudou Gbagbo could not have missed a feeling of dejau. He himself had come to power a decade ago on the wings of popular struggles calling for the end of his predecessor's rule.
Following elections in October 2000, his supporters took to the streets saying he had won, though the military junta refused to accept the verdict. He finally grabbed power after Robert Guéï was topped by mass protests.
History is repeating and the former history teacher is on the wrong side of it now. Gbagbo, who taught history before founding the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in 1982, is now facing down popular calls for resignation and clinging to power.
In the November, 2010, elections which he managed to postpone several times, Gbagbo faced Alassane Ouattara. After the second round of voting, the Ivory Coast Election Commission named Ouattara the winner with 54.1 percent of the vote share. But Gbagbo and his supporters refused to accept the verdict, and raised allegations of election fraud.
The world's top cocoa producing country is divided since a civil war early last decade and the current political crisis will worsen the crisis.
With the African Union also joining other international organizations in demanding Gbagbo to accept the election verdict, his future looks quite grim. Analysts say his strength lies in his strong grip on the army.
5. Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe's three decades in power divided the country on ethnic and racial lines and witnessed the crumbling of its once healthy economy. Despite rising popular discontent and increasing pressure to stand down, Mugabe is clinging to power by all means.
The 87-yeaerl-old ruler can count on the fact that his faction-riddled ZANU-PF party will not be able to project a new leader who can replace him. He is 86 and has a fresh five-year mandate to lead the party. The leadership of ZANU-PF want him to die in office as president of the party, Reuters quoted a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe last year, as saying.
For one who has already weathered the strongest challenges to presidency in the last couple of years, it doesn’t seem unlikely that he will.
6. Algeria - Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Taking a cue from mounting anti-government protests elsewhere in the region, oil-rich Algeria's President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week announced the lifting of emergency in the country and opened up the digital media to the Opposition.
The announcement that the 19-year emergency will be lifted came even as Algeria's civil society groups, trade unionists and opposition parties are planning a protest march next week demanding political freedoms.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a tried and tested government functionary who belonged to the old guard preceding the country's bloody civil war years, became president in 1999 when he contested the elections as an independent. He had been supported by the military, however. Bouteflika worked for political reconciliation in the country and initiated plans to kick start the economy by launching the first five-year plan. Bouteflika, who was active on the word stage, was re-elected in 2004 with a huge margin of votes.
Bouteflika's win in the April, 2009, election was lambasted by the opposition which alleged that the victory was hollow as many parties had boycotted the election. Algeria has witnessed a turf war between al-Qaeda militants and government forces in past several years. Islamic insurgency has been a festering problem in the county for about 20 years.
It remains to be seen if Bouteflika's promise of more freedoms will satisfy the people. However, there are lots of factors going for him despite his tenuous grip on power. While the oil-rich government is in a position to dole out freebies to the populace to keep them in good homor, the people themselves are disillusioned with strife and revolts which have caused bloodsheds in the past.
7. Libya - Muammar Qaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is Africa's longest-serving leader, who has been in power since 1969.
Libya has occasionally witnessed popular uprisings propelled by economic grievances in the past, but none so far has assumed threatening proportions. Once the blue-eyed boy of the eternal Arab rebels of the Middle East and Africa, Gaddafi bought peace with the U.S. and the West in the last decade. However, he still fires away tirades against the West, as well as against 'enemies' closer home, such as Saudi King Abdulla.
His succession plan is not clear but the upside is that his reform-oriented son Seif al-Islam is well-received by people inside and outside the country, which is the wealthiest in the North Africa region.
8. Syria - Bashar Al-Assad
Syria's second generation leader Bashar Al-Assad, who assumed presidency only because his father's handpicked successor met with an untimely death, has been different from the regular Middle Eastern rulers. His decidedly anti-American stance and known sympathies for the Palestinian cause made him a poster boy of anti-Americanism in the region. Though his country was at the receiving end at times as it had to deal with sanctions and other trade curbs, he largely won the loyalty of the people.
In a recent interview to the Wall Street Journal he gave a peek into his success mantra. Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people ... When there is divergence ... you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.
Assad knew well he had to buy the loyalty of his people first to stay at the helm after he inherited the Baath party leadership and the country's presidency following his father's death in 2000. However, his regime is not immune to challenges in future as low-lying but resolute dissident groups can raise their head as regional dynamics change.
9. King Abdullah - Jordan
Like Egypt's Mubarak and Yemen's Saleh, Jordanian king Abdullah is a close ally of the U.S. in the region.
He succeeded the Hashemite throne in Amman in 1999 following the death of his father King Hussein, a strong ally of the U.S. who was personally close to leaders like Bill Clinton.
Abdullah, half-English, has formally committed to transforming his country into a democracy, and made public utterances to this effect, But ironically, he has also named his young son as his successor.
Jordan has a constitutional monarchy with extensive powers given to the King. Popular protests in the country recently were fanned by rising prices of essential commodities and alleged misgovernance and corruption. The King fired his government Tuesday, installed a new premier and admitted that reform in the country has slowed and stumbled.
Abdullah does face concrete challenges to his rule in the years ahead as several strong factions including Islamists and independent liberals have pressed for constitutional changes.
And like in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has considerable strength in Jordan too. The Brotherhood declined an offer to join the cabinet of the newly appointed prime minister this week, suggesting the demand for more powers for the people will only grow in the coming years.
10. Saudi Arabia - King Abdullah
As popular protests are bring down governments or seriously compromising rulers in the Middle East, one person looking at the turn of events uneasily is the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah. Saudi Arabia has come a long way since the time the government had to get the help of Western troops to evacuate rebels who took control of the holy mosques, but simmering unrest and growing islamization of the society do pause serious threat to the rule of the House of Saud.