World·Photos

Arab leaders 2010 photo highlights power shakeup

A photograph from the 2010 Arab-African summit captures the former leaders of Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt, all deposed and one of them dead, looking untouchable before the Arab Spring revolutions rocked the Middle East.
A row of former leaders — from left to right, Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak — pose for a group photo with Arab and African leaders during the 2010 Afro-Arab summit in Sirte, Libya. (Amr Nabil/Associated Press)

Just two years ago, a coterie of longtime Arab leaders posed for what seemed a routine photograph.

But today, the snapshot from the 2010 Arab-African summit is a relic from a different time. The former leaders of Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt, all deposed and one of them dead, appear untouchable as they smile for the camera.

The photo showcases just how much the Middle East has changed since the Arab Spring revolutions began sweeping through the Middle East last year and ousting its embattled leaders.

In the photo, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi wears black sunglasses and distinctive robes, with his arms draped around Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, both of them grinning.

To one side is Tunisia's Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, standing with his hands clasped, smiling and relaxed.

Today, Saleh is out of power, Ben Ali is in exile, Mubarak is on trial and Gadhafi is dead, killed by rebel fighters. Their countries are enduring often-painful transitions.

At this year's Arab League summit in Baghdad, which began Thursday, the region's new order was apparent.

Gadhafi, a perennial source of drama at the summits with his outbursts, is gone, replaced by the head of Libya's transitional government. Tunisia's democratically elected interim president Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activist, is the country's first leader since the demise of Ben Ali's 23 year-long dictatorship.

Egypt and Yemen, caught up in their domestic turmoil, sent only mid-level officials.

Also absent from the Baghdad summit is Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader who is holding onto power despite a bloody uprising against his rule.

The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership, citing the government's deadly crackdown on dissent.

Where are they now?

  • Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali: Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011 after a monthlong uprising that sparked the larger Arab Spring. He has maintained a low profile since his ouster, but has been convicted in absentia for corruption and other crimes. Now a human rights activist is president, and a moderate Islamist jailed for years by the old regime is prime minister at the head of a diverse coalition, after the freest elections in Tunisia's history. But challenges remain. Unemployment has risen to almost 20 percent today from 13 percent a year ago, and economic growth has stagnated as investment dries up and tourism, once a pillar of Tunisia's economy, evaporates.
  • Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh: Saleh clung to power for nearly a year in the face of protests against his rule, staying in place even after a bomb blast in June left him with burns over much of his body. Finally, under a Gulf-brokered agreement, he handed over power to his vice president, who earlier this year was elected president. But Saleh remains the head of his party and his relatives and loyalists still hold powerful positions in the military, security forces and government. Many Yemenis accuse him of using those tools to undermine his successor in hopes of one day returning to power.
  • Egypt's Hosni Mubarak: Mubarak is on trial, facing charges of complicity in the killing of protesters. His first appearance in court on Aug. 3, lying down on a gurney behind bars, was a sign for many of the end of an era. It was also the first trial of an Arab leader by his own people, and was celebrated as the beginning of the end of decades of impunity.    The trial has dragged on, however, and the country is facing deep divisions over the military council that took over from Mubarak. The council has promised to transfer power to a civilian administration by July.
  • Libya's Moammar Gadhafi: After leading Libya for four decades, Gadhafi spent his final weeks shuttling from hideout to hideout in his hometown of Sirte until rebel fighters captured and killed him in October. More than six months later, the central government in Libya has proved incapable of governing at all, with breakaway movements emerging in the east and south. Post-Gadhafi, Libyans dreamed their country could become flush with petrodollars, a magnet for investment. Now they worry that it is turning more into another Somalia, a nation that has had no effective government for more than 20 years.