Image: Egyptian anti-government demonstrators
Pedro Ugarte  /  AFP - Getty Images
Anti-government demonstrators wave their shoes as they show their anger during a speech by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services

Protesters enraged by Hosni Mubarak's latest refusal to step down streamed into Cairo's central square Friday and took positions outside key symbols of the hated regime, promising to expand their push to drive the Egyptian president out.

The standoff posed a major test for the military as protesters stepped up calls for the army to intervene against Mubarak, a former air force commander and one of its own. The military's Supreme Council held an "important" meeting Friday morning, which was chaired by Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the state news agency reported.

"The council will issue important statement to the people after the meeting," MENA said.

Mubarak gave most of his powers to his vice president but refused to resign or leave the country late Thursday, hours after the military made moves that had all the markings of a coup.

"We are waiting for a strong reaction from the army to Mubarak's speech," said Mohammed Mustapha, a protest spokesman. He said "huge numbers" of protesters were expected Friday.

Organizers said protesters were already camped outside the presidential palace and buildings housing the Cabinet, parliament and state TV. They planned rallies at six separate protest locations, in addition to Tahrir Square, the center of the mass rallies that began on Jan. 25.

"We are going to camp everywhere to put more pressure on the regime," said Abdel-Rahman Samir, an organizer.

Hours after Mubarak's speech, hundreds of protesters converged on Egypt's presidential palace, where security is thick, Sharif Kouddous of Democracy Now said from Cairo on msnbc cable TV's "The Rachel Maddow Show." It was not known if Mubarak was there.

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Troops have pledged to protect the right to demonstrate.

However, the lengthening showdown may test that resolve, with many Egyptians eager to end the economic disruption of the protests and the army command keen to show it can impose order.

"My great fear is that if the demonstrations don't end that the military begins to split over this. You may have younger commanders who don't want to go down with the ship," said Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser.

"If the demonstrations build ... then you once again face the army with the choice they have sought to avoid — put the demonstrations down or get rid of Mubarak. They have managed so far not to make that choice, but if the people stay in the streets then they are going to have to make that choice."

Dilemma for army
In the United States, President Barack Obama expressed disappointment with Mubarak's move.

"The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient," Obama said in a statement. "The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity."

Businessman Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom and one of the so-called Wise Men who have been seeking to mediate out of the crisis, urged an end to protest.

"The continuation of this anarchy ... will lead to destruction," he told Al Arabiya television, saying people should go home from Tahrir Square. "I hope they leave ... We must preserve the dignity of the president."

Nobel Peace laureate and leading democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei predicted "Egypt will explode" and called on the military to intervene in response to Mubarak's refusal to step down.

"The Army must save the country now," he said in a Twitter post.

"This poses a real dilemma for the army," said Rosemary Hollis at London's City University. "Are they going to allow the demonstrators to escalate their demonstrations so that they push the point that Mubarak has got to go, and that means the army definitely does split with Mubarak? The demonstrators are very disappointed and there will be violence."

Video: Anger swells in Cairo after Mubarak speech

Hazem Khalifa, a young chemist in Tahrir Square, vowed protests would continue. "He's tried to divide people before, now the people understand him and they've learned his ways," he said.

"This will push the country to the edge of the abyss. Tomorrow, the army will intervene, if it does not, there will be chaos," said one activist, Waleed el-Korumi. "We will lay waste to our country if we march on the palace. It's a case of both sides sticking to its guns and at the end we will lose our nation," he said, though he added that marches would remain peaceful.

Hisham Bastawisi, a pro-reform judge, called on the military to take power.

"The president has lost his legitimacy long time ago," he said. "The ball now is the army's court. The armed forces must interfere and oust him before it is too late, today before tomorrow."

The rapidly moving events raised the question of whether a rift had opened between Mubarak and the military command. Hours earlier, the military announced it had stepped in to secure the country, and a top general announced to protesters in Tahrir Square that all their demands would soon be met, raising cries of victory that Mubarak was on his way out.

Instead, Mubarak delivered a firm 17-minute address that suggested little had changed.

Fate unclear
By clinging to office, Mubarak has defied the demonstrators clamouring for an end to his 30-year rule, setting the stage for further conflict in which the military's role could be crucial.

Even after Mubarak told the nation in a televised speech late Thursday that he was handing "some" powers to Suleiman, it remained unclear who was really in charge.

Video: Egypt protesters show strength in numbers (on this page)

According to Hassan Nafaa, an independent analyst and government critic, the president retained important powers and could regain those he had ceded.

"Suleiman cannot dissolve parliament, he cannot change the cabinet and he cannot even ask for constitutional reforms without the president's consent," Nafaa said. "Mubarak still holds the reins to power, and he can easily and at any time retrieve presidential powers from Suleiman."

'Moment of change'
In Mubarak's televised speech, translated by NBC News, the embattled leader said he was addressing Egypt's youth, acknowledging the honesty of the demands of the protesters and their intentions.

"By confirming the needs of the people, and by putting Egypt first, I will dissolve the upper levels of government effective immediately and hand my power over to my vice president," Mubarak said. "This is a major moment of change."

With that said, Mubarak added, "I will not separate from Egyptian soil until I am buried underneath."

Story: What you need to know about the unrest in the Mideast

Immediately after Mubarak's speech, Vice President Omar Suleiman said he was committed to doing everything possible to ensure a peaceful transfer of power .

Suleiman said the army had protected the "revolution of the youth" and encouraged protesters to "go back to your homes, go back to your jobs."

The pair of addresses followed a series of dramatic events Thursday evening that had raised expectations Mubarak was about to announce his departure. NBC News reported two sources had confirmed Mubarak's likely resignation.

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Mubarak said he had requested the amendment of five articles of the constitution to loosen the now restrictive conditions on who can run for president, to restore judicial supervision of elections, and to impose term limits on the presidency.

He also annulled a constitutional article that gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians accused of terrorism. He said that step would "clear the way" for eventually scrapping a hated emergency law that gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest, but with a major caveat — "once security and stability are restored."

The emergency law, imposed when Mubarak came to power in 1981, gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest.

Before the night's dramatic developments, protests had gained a spiraling momentum, fueled by labor strikes that erupted around the country. Protesters had been gearing up for even more massive demonstrations on Friday, when they planned to march from squares around Cairo into Tahrir.

After the speech, some protesters drifted out of Tahrir, tears of disappointment and anger in their eyes.

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'Huge numbers' of protesters expected
But the majority of the crowd remained, camping through the night and vowing to continue their campaign.

The mood among protesters was a mix of fury, disappointment, determination to go on and a grim realism that they should have expected little else from Mubarak.

"The speech is a provocation," said Muhammed Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old lawyer who had joined the protesters for the first time Thursday. "This is going to bring people together more, and people will come out in greater numbers."

Washington's approach to the turmoil has been based from the start on Egypt's strategic importance — as a rare Arab state no longer hostile to Israel, as the guardian of the Suez canal linking Europe and Asia and as a major force against militant Islam in the Middle East.

The dramatic developments capped 17 days of deadly anti-government protests, some drawing a quarter-million people, to demand Mubarak's immediate ouster. What began as an Internet campaign swelled into the stiffest challenge ever to Mubarak's authoritarian rule, fueled by widespread frustration over government corruption, rampant poverty and unemployment.

NBC News' Richard Engel, Charlene Gubash, The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Video: Mubarak stays put

  1. Transcript of: Mubarak stays put

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: He's refusing to go. Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo , along with this news organization, the White House , people around the world were expecting to see an aircraft, something, departing Cairo by the close of business today with Hosni Mubarak on board. Instead, this man's photo pretty much sums up the reaction of an entire country. When it came time for his speech to the nation on television, Mubarak seemed defiant instead. He said all regimes make mistakes, and he said he's cheated death before. So even while the protesters were chanting 'Get out, get out, Mubarak ,' even though the Egyptian army had started the transfer of power, Mubarak is still calling himself the president of Egypt though he has passed most of his powers, apparently, to his vice president. And there are now predictions tomorrow's protest will be the largest in Egyptian history . It is a fluid and highly confusing situation tonight -- volatile, in fact. We begin in Cairo once again with our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel . So, Richard , how is it? Again, this news organization, others, the White House , people in America , people in Egypt and around the world thought this day would end with Mubarak 's departure, and it didn't.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Sources, Brian , close to President Mubarak tell us this was simply not the plan or their understanding, but that over the course of the day President Mubarak grew more stubborn and changed his intention to step down. The day began with expectation. Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square , mostly planning a major demonstration and a series of work stoppages on Friday. But by late morning, word came that President Mubarak would finally meet the protesters' demands and resign. The Egyptian military made a surprise announcement, signaling that it was throwing its loyalty behind the demonstrators.

    Unidentified Man:

    ENGEL: A top military council held a rare meeting. A spokesman said the armed forces would defend the Egyptian people and their legitimate demands. Was a coup in the works? Two sources close to President Mubarak told NBC News that Mubarak would resign by the end of the day .

    ANN CURRY reporting: Two separate sources told NBC News that Egypt 's president, Hosni Mubarak , will step down tonight.

    Unidentified Man #2: Are there risks, in your mind?

    ENGEL: Other news organizations, including Arabic media, were told the same, President Mubarak would resign by nightfall...

    Unidentified Man #3: Widely expected to resign, at least those protesters there in Tahrir Square think that that's what he's going to do.

    ENGEL: ...and make that historic announcement in a speech to the nation . Word quickly traveled to Tahrir Square . Crowds of tens of thousands of protesters swelled to hundreds of thousands. The mood was excited, joyous. The army, they felt, was with them, and Mubarak would step down soon. As the crowds continued to grow, President Mubarak convened his close advisers. State television showed the president meeting Vice President Omar Suleiman and the prime minister. Then at 11 PM , several hours late, Mubarak finally addressed the nation . His tone didn't sound like a man who was leaving. He said he was speaking to Egyptians as someone who understood their desires, like a father. Mubarak promised to change the constitution and said Egypt has a road map and timetable to oversee democratic reforms ahead of elections next fall. The

    crowds in Tahrir were silent, waiting to hear two words: "I resign." Instead, Mubarak said he would transfer authority to Vice President Suleiman , a close associate for years. But Mubarak still called himself president. Minutes later Suleiman spoke on television, confirming that he would oversee a transition, and stressed that Mubarak is acting in the interests of the nation . In Tahrir Square , the reaction was utter disappointment.

    Unidentified Woman: We were hoping he was going to step down because, like, everyone -- it's obvious, like, that's the only thing that's going to, you know, defuse this bomb.

    ENGEL: Mubarak seemed to be looking for a middle ground, transferring authority but remaining president. Egypt seems to be trying to turn President Mubarak into a symbol, a symbolic leader, a grandfather of the nation . But to the protesters, it's clearly not enough.

    WILLIAMS: Ominous words from that young woman, the only thing that's going to defuse this bomb. What an unbelievable day there in Cairo , Richard . We'll come back to your reporting later

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
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    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
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    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
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    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
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    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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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