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updated 2/4/2011 4:05:34 AM ET 2011-02-04T09:05:34

For more than a week, Zaki Abdel-Aziz had been out of work and nearly out of money, joining millions of Egyptians living more on hope than cash as the capital plunged into chaos and the economy ground to a virtual halt.

His wife and three children were hungry, tired and tense. There was just over $17 (100 pounds) in their apartment, and no way to borrow more. Then a chilling call came Tuesday night.

"The guy asked me, 'Zaki, you haven't worked for a week, right? You don't have money?'" Abdel-Aziz, 45, recalled. "He said, 'Come out tomorrow and you'll get 100 pounds and a bag of food. All you have to do is join us against those traitors in Tahrir."

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Abdel-Aziz, who works in a government records office, angrily rebuffed the offer. "I'm hungry, but I won't sell my soul to eat," he said. On Wednesday, supporters of President Hosni Mubarak converged on Tahrir Square in central Cairo, fighting deadly battles with protesters who seek the Egyptian leader's ouster.

Video: Emboldened by Egypt, protests spread (on this page)

The protests engulfing Cairo since Jan. 25 have shuttered businesses, forced factories to halt operations, closed banks and the stock exchange, and limited suppliers' ability to restock store shelves. Three days into February, many salaries had not been paid, even as rents are due. The price of some basic goods has spiked over 50 percent and other products have started to disappear from shelves.

The shortages and price increases are adding to the economic pinch that many protesters say was among the key catalysts for joining the demonstrations. But they have also fueled anger, both at the government and the protesters, pitting Egyptian against Egyptian.

Paid to attack?
Anti-government protesters allege that some of those who attacked them in Tahrir Square were paid to do so. And some Egyptians are losing patience with the demonstrators, saying Mubarak's offer not to run for office again was a major concession.

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"Enough," said Mamdouh Sweilam, a mechanic who has been out of work since the first day of the unrest. "Like them, I want to be able to live, to earn a decent salary. But this isn't living."

"The hope for democracy isn't going to put food on the table right now," he said.

Before the protests, Egyptians had complained of low salaries and rising costs. Analysts say the roughly 17 percent annual inflation in food prices will remain a key challenge, even if Mubarak steps aside.

Story: Global food costs hit a record in January

The unrest has only exacerbated the problem.

Staples like bread, lentils and rice have spiked by as much as 80 percent in some neighborhoods. Inexpensive Egyptian pasta has largely disappeared from others. Cigarette prices have spiked by at least 50 percent for some brands.

In Ma'sara, an impoverished neighborhood near Cairo's notorious Torah prison, residents complained the only things available in the local market were potatoes, tomatoes and onions, and prices have nearly quadrupled since the protests began. Residents say fighting has broken out over the lack of food, with some threatening the shopkeepers at knifepoint to get them to lower their prices.

And prices are likely to continue climbing. The depreciation in the Egyptian pound has typically been accompanied by price spikes.

"Tourism? It's dead. Foreigners coming to start businesses? Forget it," said civil servant Kamal Abdel-Hamid, who blamed both camps in Egypt's struggle. "This country's economy has been set back 50 years."

Dubai-based port operator DP World said Thursday the Sokhna port it operates on Egypt's Red Sea coast, near the southern entrance of the Suez Canal, has reopened after being shut earlier in the week because of the protests.

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Other companies have resumed operations, though many factories remained shut. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that the government's shutdown of the Internet for several days cost Egypt $90 million.

The losses are likely to climb as the world absorbs images of thousands fleeing this nation that relies heavily on tourism.

Egypt's new finance minister, Sameer Radwan, told the Arabic satellite news network Al-Arabiya that the stock exchange's current losses have far exceeded those it sustained during the global financial meltdown in 2008, though he did not provide a figure. The market is down about 21 percent since the start of January, shedding roughly 17 percent in the two days in which trading was held last week.

Slideshow: Egypt's Mubarak steps down (on this page)

The government has taken steps to ease the economic pain.

It has set up a compensation fund of more than $680 million for businesses damaged in the protests, and said it began distributing the pensions and salaries of over 1 million state employees via ATM machines at the branches of three local banks. It has also released goods from customs without requiring the prepayment of duties in a bid to allow businesses to restock.

For some Egyptians, the time for protest is over.

The demonstrators "say that we've waited patiently for 30 years for change and it won't hurt to wait a bit more," said Reem Nasser, a 32-year-old housewife who was out early in Cairo hoping to find shops that had restocked or reopened.

"But what do I tell my children? Wait for a month for your breakfast?" she said. "This needs to stop now."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
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    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  5. Image:
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    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

Video: Emboldened by Egypt, protests spread

  1. Closed captioning of: Emboldened by Egypt, protests spread

    >> again,0mq: we're here in amman where because of this wave, this/fp?> r( t&h?hp &hc spark of uprising here in the middle east , the feeling starting in tunisia, spreading across the region that,# ev we may be on the brink of some sort of big change. the king here in jordan suddenly decided this]o3# week to change his government before even the suggestion of it was forced-7?] on him. our own martin fletcher is here with us. he's a veteran of the middle jta0 east, but, martin, i think it's fair to say none of us have any experience in what we're seeing happen right now. this is new territory for everybody, including the king of qx today the king and prime minister of jordan met with the leaders of the muslim brotherhood for the first time in axj?t decade. the first official meeting in ten years, another sign they're hoping to avoid egypt's meltdown.sk?h ?spreading, "down the call is with the regime." more demonstrations in yemen today. b thousands in several cities, calling on their president to leave after 32 power. but also spreading demonstrations in his support. no clashes inlvfd so far, though. another sign more arab governments are getting the algeria, the govern ment today t#k?age. promised it would end its 19-year state of emergency , m? and in gaza today, more peaceful s$? egypt's anti-government movement. with protests against their own government planned this weekend?"? in syria, encouraged on facebook. 13,000 people like a page calle4??e? "the syrian revolution ." jordan 's calls for political change at home have also been quiet but determined.

    >> the myth of the strength of thedu?ox regime has disappeared and that has givenjpt a -- the courage to speak again.

    reporter: everywhere, same call, for political change, more jobs, cheaper ?cw/?food. we were shown around a poor neighborhood in jordan 's capital. almost nonein%y of the men here are working, he says, and there's no unemployment money, no medical pension. the poor are on their own. this]c?& man is 34 aund unmarried. he says he can't afford it.?e#r @(t&h?hp &h&

    >> yet i --

    >> reporter: as president mubarak said this week, within te-h@years, 100 million arab young men and women will bel?/e unemployed. also serving notice on the governments across the region, they won't take it lying down@h&) any more. poora people here wanted these things for decades, brian, jobs, food, ?.ebdignity. what's new now is they're saying it out loud and in this part of the world, that's a huge thing. broadcast, we may be back here in the weeks and months to come. ,z4gr' fletcher, thanks as always.

Explainer: On the ground in the Middle East

  • Since mid-December, the Arab world has been rocked by popular uprisings that led to the exile of the president of Tunisia and the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Middle East – and the rest of the world – is watching to see if anger at authoritarian governments spreads and whether the region will be reshaped by the demands of ordinary citizens. Here is a look at the current political situation in countries in the region.

  • Algeria

    Image: Tunisian president Fouad Mebazaa
    FETHI BELAID  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Tunisian president Fouad Mebazaa

    Leader: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

    Politics on the ground: Algeria is a Republic and multi-party state with a bicameral parliament. But shortly after independence in 1962 the country experienced a coup, and a long series of power plays that undermined the political process and sparked a militant Islamist insurgency. In the 1990s, terrorist violence in Algeria caused more than 150,000 deaths. President Bouteflika took office in 1999, and has been relected twice, albeit through flawed elections. He has vastly improved security in Algeria. But he also changed the constitution to eliminate term limits—a way to hold onto power until death. Political discontent, along with high unemployment and economic stagnation fueled recent unrest. Amid growing protest, Bouteflika vows that the country’s restrictive “state of emergency” dating to 1992 would be lifted in the “very near future.”

  • Bahrain

    Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa
    Khaled Desouki  /  AFP/Getty Images
    King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa
    msnbc.com

    Leader: Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, monarch since 1999

    Politics on the ground: Tens of thousands of protesters flood the capital, demonstrating against the monarchy as the king makes another concession — a promise to release some political prisoners. The Khalifa family has ruled since 1783 and Khalifa is set to be followed by his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. The government regularly cracks down on Shiite opposition groups, and youth in Shiite villages often clash with police. (Source: Reuters)

    U.S. interests: The Persian Gulf island nation provides a key naval base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. A 1991 agreement also grants U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities during future crises and the ability to pre-position materials. Bahrain is also an important U.S. listening post for Iran.

    More details:  BBC

  • Egypt

    msnbc.com
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak looks o
    Khaled Desouki  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

    Leader: President Hosni Mubarak

    Politics on the ground: Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. Egypt's military rulers swear in a new Cabinet that replaces several Mubarak-era ministers.

    U.S. interests: An important military and security partner, a role that grew out of Egypt’s 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel. The U.S. provides massive military and economic aid. Egypt hosts military exercises and regular visits by the U.S. 6th fleet. It also controls the Suez Canal, a key conduit for military and trade vessels between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

    More informationCouncil on Foreign Relations

  • Iran

    msnbc.com
    Image: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
    Vahid Salemi  /  AP
    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Leader: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, re-elected president in 2009

    Politics on the ground: Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saluted an "Islamic liberation movement" in the Arab world and advised Egyptians to unite around their religion and against the West. Khamenei warned them against compromising with any leader who might win Western approval and called on Egypt's army to back the protesters and "focus its eyes on the Zionist enemy" Israel. Ahmadinejad has maintained political control with a crackdown on the opposition, which took to the streets to challenge his 2009 re-election.(Source: Reuters, BBC and AP)

    U.S. interests: Iran is notable for its large size and population, central location in the region and large oil reserves. U.S.-Iran ties have been rocky since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ousted Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, then the strongest U.S. ally in the region. The ensuing hostage crisis — in which U.S. diplomats were held by radical Islamic students -- led to a break in diplomatic relations, which have not been restored. U.S. and many allies maintain economic sanctions on Iran for sponsorship of terrorism, nuclear weapons ambitions and human rights abuses, all accusations that Iran denies. Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the tension between Iran and Israel is a threat to regional stability.

    More information:  BBC

  • Iraq

    Image: File photo of Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaking during a news conference in Baghdad
    Thaier Al-sudani  /  Reuters
    Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
    msnbc.com

    Leader: Nuri al-Maliki, prime minister since 2006

    Politics on the ground: Maliki struggled to control a fractious government forged of fragile alliances. But in the last two years he has emerged stronger after sending the army to fight Shiite militias and presiding over a sharp fall in overall violence. Still, Maliki has turned many former allies into foes. He bristled at criticism in 2007 from U.S. lawmakers and has difficult relations with some U.S. military officials in Iraq. He harbors evident hatred of the Saddam regime, which repressed Iraq's Shiite majority and assassinated many of his political colleagues. Many Sunnis fear Maliki has little interest in giving them a fair share of power.
    (Source: Reuters)

    U.S. interests: Eight years after the start of the Iraq war, the United States still has about 50,000 troops in the country assigned to non-combat operations, with plans to remove them by December 2011. U.S. and Iraqi forces have made strides against al-Qaida in Iraq, and the U.S. also has an interest in countering the influence of Iran.

    More information:  Reuters

  • Israel

    msnbc.com
    Image: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
    Pool  /  Reuters
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

    Leader: Benjamin Netayahu, second term as prime minister since 2009

    Politics on the ground: The tumult in Egypt has plunged Israel into dismay, arousing fears that Islamic radicals, backed by Iran, are about to score another victory, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza — even though the anti-government protesters in Egypt are led by secular activists. Until the picture clears, Netanyahu is unlikely to rush into a deal with the Palestinians that creates even more uncertainty on his doorstep by turning over territory to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Source: AP)

    U.S. interests: Much of the anti-American feeling in the Mideast stems from the United States’ long-standing “special relationship” with Israel, which receives about $3 billion a year in U.S. assistance. President Obama has said that Arab-Israeli peace is a “vital national security interest” to the United States.

    More information: BBC

  • Jordan

    msnbc.com
    Image: Jordan's King Abdullah speaks at the opening of the first session of the new parliament in Amman
    Ali Jarekji  /  Reuters
    King Abdullah

    Leader: King Abdullah II, monarch since 1999

    Politics on the ground: Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood vowed to resume protests, saying that the government did not keep a promise of speedy reforms. The announcement puts added pressure on Jordan's King Abdullah II to give up some of his sweeping powers, but is not seen as a threat to his rule. Opposition figures have called on the king to surrender the authority to appoint Cabinets and dissolve parliament. (Source: AP)

    U.S. interests: The government of Jordan has been consistently pro-Western with close ties to the United States. Since the 2003 fall of the Iraqi regime, Jordan aided the U.S. effort to restore stability there by allowing the training of more than 50,000 Iraqi police officers in a facility near Amman. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, and is engaged in talks on a wide range of issues, including water sharing, finance and security.

    More information:  Council on Foreign Relations

  • Kuwait

    TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY OMAR HASAN (FIL
    Yasser Al-zayyat  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah
    msnbc.com

    Leader: Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, emir since 2006

    Politics on the ground: The ruling family is struggling to keep balance among the Islamist, tribal and liberal members of the National Assembly. Kuwait is home to the region's most outspoken parliament. Recently, the competition between the executive and legislative branches of government has become more pronounced: Five governments have resigned, a sixth underwent a major reshuffle and the dissolution of parliament has become a regular feature of the political scene. However, Kuwaitis, which represent a third of the population, are loyal to the 255-year-old Sabah dynasty.  (Source: Reuters and Jane’s Information Group)

    U.S. interests: The United States went to war in the Gulf in 1991 after Iraq seized Kuwait. The U.S.-Kuwaiti relationship has remained strong since then, and Kuwait was the main staging area for U.S. troops before the start of the Iraq war in 2003. The U.S. maintains troops at Camp Arifjan south of Kuwait City.

    More information:  Jane’s Information Group

  • Lebanon

    msnbc.com
    Image: Arab Thought Foundation FIKR 9 conference in Beirut
    Wael Hamzeh  /  EPA
    President Michel Suleiman

    Leader: Gen. Michel Suleiman, president since May 2008

    Politics on the ground: Lebanon’s political landscape is divided between the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition, which receives support from Iran and Syria. The U.S. considers Hezbollah, a Pro-Syrian Shiite political party, to be a terrorist organization. Lebanon has struggled to stay stable, particularly after a 2006 war with Israel. In January, Hezbollah forced the collapse of the government and had its nominee, Najib Mikati, appointed as prime minister to form the next government. (Source: BBC)

    U.S. interests: With the collapse of a coalition government in January, the United States is concerned about the rise of Hezbollah and resurgent Syrian influence.

    More information: Council on Foreign Relations

  • Libya

    Image: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a ceremony marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in Tripoli
    Ismail Zitouny  /  Reuters
    Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

    Leader: Moammar Gadhafi (de facto head of state)

    Politics on the ground: Moammar Gadhafi seized power by coup in 1967, supplanting a Western-backed constitutional monarchy, and proclaiming the new Libyan Arab Republic. Although Gadhafi gave up formal leadership titles — the official press refers to him as "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" — he is said to wield almost complete authority, either directly or through manipulation of Libya’s socialist-style committees. The government controls the media and the judiciary and there is no right to a fair public trial. Political parties and trade unions are banned. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and religion are restricted. Although oil revenues and a small population give Libya one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, the government's mismanagement of the economy has led to high inflation and increased import prices, fueling discontent.

    U.S. interests: Since the 1990s, Libya has been changing from a U.S. adversary on the Mediterranean Basin — subject to international sanctions — to a potential partner in counterterror, nuclear nonproliferation and energy development. After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the warming trend has accelerated. Gadhafi — who has also been a target for Islamist extremists — rushed to become a partner in the U.S. war on terrorism, and distanced Libya from its own past as a sponsor of such acts of political violence. Libya also renounced its pursuit of nuclear weapons, leading the U.S. to restore diplomatic ties. Libya has nearly 44 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, and probably much more. Since U.S. and U.N. sanctions were lifted, major oil companies from the U.S. and elsewhere have started investing in the sector.

  • Morocco

    Image: Morocco's King Mohammed VI presides a a
    Azzouz Boukalouch  /  AFP - Getty Images
    King Mohammed VI

    Leader: King Mohammed IV

    Politics on the ground: Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The monarch holds vast executive powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament at will. Executive power is exercised by the government but more importantly by the king himself. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The king can also issue decrees that have the force of law. The current monarch, King Mohammed IV, 47, succeeded his father King Hassan, who died in 1999 after 38 years on the throne.

    U.S. Interests: One of the oldest and closest U.S. allies in the region and a moderate Arab state in a strategic location between northern Africa and Europe. Morocco was quick to condemn the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States has been a solid ally in counterterror efforts.

  • Oman

    msnbc.com
    Image: Oman's leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said sal
    Mohammed Mahjoub  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Sultan Qaboos bin Said

    Leader: Qaboos bin Said, monarch since 1970

    Politics on the ground: Qaboos has absolute power and appoints the Cabinet. In 1992, Qaboos allowed a parliament called Majlis Shura, whose 84 members are elected by constituents in 61 districts. But the parliament only advises and has no legislative powers. There is concern about succession, as there is no heir apparent. In January, protesters marched in Muscat asking the government to stop corruption and address rising prices. Young Omanis called for political change. (Source: Reuters and The New York Times)

    U.S. interests: Since 1980, the United States has had access to Omani military facilities.

    More details: BBC

  • Palestinian territories

    msnbc.com
    Image:
    Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
    President Mahmoud Abbas

    Leader: Mahmoud Abbas

    Politics on the ground: Tension is high between the two Palestinian factions, Abbas’ Fatah party and the militant Islamic movement Hamas. Abbas is seen as a moderate who has attempted to resurrect peace talks with Israel, while Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, has continued its campaign of anti-Israeli attacks. Israel in turn maintains a land, air and sea blockade of Gaza. (Source: BBC)

    U.S. Interests: The United States has tried several times to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and has provided support to the Palestinian Authority for security and counterterrorism efforts.

    More information: Council on Foreign Relations

  • Qatar

    Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-
    Atta Kenare  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani
    msnbc.com

    Leader: Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir since 1995

    Politics on the ground: Domestic reform has been Sheikh Hamad's most noticeable weak point, and it is too soon to tell if his son, Tamim, heir apparent, will tackle this issue. Parliamentary elections have been continually postponed as the ruling family has refused to give up its monopoly on power. Qatar’s 2005 constitution allows for only a partly elected parliament. The Al-Jazeera satellite TV station is based in Qatar and considered the most free and unfettered broadcast source in the Arab world. In practice, however, it rarely criticizes the ruling  family. (Source: Reuters)

    U.S. interests: The United States uses Al-Udeid Air Base, south of Doha, as headquarters for its air operations in the Middle East.

    More information:U.S. Department of State

  • Saudi Arabia

    msnbc.com
    Image: (FILES) A picture taken on December 14,
    Yasser Al-zayyat  /  AFP - Getty Images
    King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz

    Leader: Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, monarch since 2005

    Politics on the ground: The king, convalescing in Morocco, expressed support for Mubarak after the protests began. But Saudi newspapers have toned down the king's support of Mubarak after it became clear his grip on power was looking shaky. The world's largest oil exporter, which plays a pivotal role as banker for the Arab world and steward of Islam's holy sites, is coming under greater scrutiny since granting refuge to Tunisia's ousted ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. (Source: The Associated Press)

    U.S. interests: Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States, and the U.S. has relied on it as a force for stability in the region. The United States also considers it a partner in the war on terrorism, although Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding militant groups; the nations’ relationship was strained during the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Arabia is a leading supplier of oil for the United States.

    More details: New York Times

  • Syria

    msnbc.com
    Image: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks to the media after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris
    Benoit Tessier  /  Reuters
    President Bashar al-Assad

    Leader: Bashar al-Assad, president since 2000

    Politics on the ground: Syrians are organizing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a "day of rage" in Damascus on Feb. 4 and 5, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia. Like both nations, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. The nation has seen subsidy cuts for staples like bread and oil. The authoritarian president has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime. He is seen by many Arabs, however, as one of the few leaders in the region willing to stand up to arch enemy Israel. (Source: AP)

    U.S. interests: Relations with the U.S. remain cool, with American officials concerned about Syrian interference in Lebanon’s affairs, human rights violations and its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

    More details: New York Times

  • Tunisia

    Leader: Fouad Mebazaa, interim president

    Politics on the ground: Tunisia is a constitutional republic, with a president serving as chief of state, prime minister as head of government, a bicameral legislature and a court system influenced by French civil law. While Tunisia is formally a democracy with a multiparty system, the secular Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD, has controlled the country as one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab World since its independence in 1956.

    The 2009 elections, in which the RCD captured the most seats, were widely regarded as rigged and contributed to the unrest that ultimately forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to give up power and flee the country. The Ministry of Interior officially announced the dissolution of the party on Feb 7. An interim government led by President Fouad Mebazaa is in place.

    U.S. interests: Tunisia is an active military and security partner with the U.S. It is a voice of moderation and realism in the region, and was among the first Arab nations to call for recognition of Israel.

  • United Arab Emirates

    msnbc.com
    Image: Gulf Cooperation Council opens its 31st summit in UAE
    Emirates News Agency/handout  /  EPA
    President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan

    Leader: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, president since 2004

    Politics on the ground: Sheikh Khalifa, also the ruler of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, seat of the seven-emirate federation, is the second leader of the U.S.-allied Gulf state since it was founded in 1971. There are no organized opposition movements in the UAE, which censors many political Web sites and has cracked down on small attempts to protest this month against fuel subsidy cuts. Analysts and diplomats say Sheikh Khalifa has appeared more frail in public of late. (Source: Reuters)

    More details: New York Times

  • Yemen

    msnbc.com
    Image: Yemen's President Saleh reviews an honour guard at the Presidential Palace
    Khaled Abdullah  /  Reuters
    President Ali Abdullah Saleh

    Leader: Ali Abdullah Saleh, president since 1978

    Politics on the ground: Saleh pledged not to seek another term in office in an apparent attempt to defuse protests inspired by Tunisia's revolt and the turmoil in Egypt. The impoverished country is wrestling with rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. Saleh's move posed questions about stability in a nation seen by the Obama administration as a key ally in its fight against Islamic militants.  (Source: AP, Reuters)

    U.S. interests: Yemen’s government is a U.S. partner in counterterrorism, aiding military, diplomatic and financial actions to thwart terror groups. The U.S. and Yemen are waging a battle with an al-Qaida offshoot group in Yemen, which U.S. officials say has become a serious threat to the U.S.

    More details: New York Times ; BBC

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