Aug. 22, 2011 — -- What a difference ten months makes.
In this photo taken on Oct. 10, 2010, Moammar Gadhafi, Hosni Mubarak, and the presidents of Tunisia and Yemen smile for the cameras in the front row of the Afro-Arab Joint Summit meeting in Sirte, Libya.
Less than a year later, two of the long-time leaders have been pushed from power, one has agreed to cede power after surviving an assassination attempt, and the other seems to be just days or hours from the end of his reign.
Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on the left in the blue suit with his hands clasped, was the first leader to fall. The revolution that began when Mohamed Bouazizi, a disgruntled jobseeker, burned himself to death in December, led to Ben Ali's ouster on January 14, and sparked the wave of revolts that have swept Arab countries ever since. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, on the far right in the dark suit with his fingers entwined, resigned on February 11 after a popular revolt powered by social media that lasted nearly three weeks. Mubarak ruled for 30 years, but at age 81 is now being tried on charges of corruption and allegedly ordering the killing of protestors. He has appeared in court on a gurney and in a cage.
Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, with a gray moustache to Ben Ali's left, agreed to step down on April 23 after massive street protests. He had ruled for 33 years. He said he planned to hand over power, but then refused to sign an agreement ceding power. He barely survived an RPG attack on the presidential compound on June 3. The next day he was evacuated to a military hospital in Saudi Arabia and a vice president became acting president of Yemen.
In July Saleh appeared on television, bandaged and burned, to say he welcomed power sharing. He has pledged to hold elections, but not before 2013.
Moammar Gadhafi, instantly recognizable by his distinctive robes, and with his arms draped around Mubarak and Saleh, had the longest run of any of the leaders, taking power in a bloodless coup in 1969 before he had turned 30. Street protests that began in February, however, turned into full-scale civil war, and after a seesaw battle lasting six months, and after intervention on the side of the rebels by NATO, Gadhafi was said to be surrounded in Tripoli on August 22.