On December 17, 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of an administrative building to protest the treatment he had received at the hands of government officers. After Bouazizi’s radical act, the region erupted in anger, with demonstrators flooding the streets of countries from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula, demanding an end to the repression and violence their governments (many the long-time beneficiaries of US aid) have wielded over them for decades.
Though the grievances of these protesters vary, their defiant displays share a common thread: at the helm of all of these countries is a repressive leader who has fallen out of favor with his people. Here are the 7 strongmen whose autocratic leadership lies at the heart of the protests in the Middle East.
Credit: Reuters Pictures