by Jessica Rettig

Muammar Qadhafi's death was cause for celebration around the Middle East, especially for the Libyan people who had lived under his rule for more than four decades. With a fate visibly worse than the others, Qadhafi, along with former Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was the third leader of the Arab Spring to go -- all three leaving a disjointed people to find a new way to live in and govern their countries.

Elsewhere in the broader Middle East, the region overtaken by the Arab Spring early this year, the situation is arguably worse. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, his regime responsible for the deaths of thousands of protesters since March. And in Yemen, the return of injured leader Ali Abdullah Saleh has only brought more protests and more state-sponsored violence. While protesters in Syria and Yemen appear re-energized by the killing of Qadhafi, there's no telling when and if their leaders might fall -- nor what might happen if they do.

In all these cases, the popular protests against tyrannical regimes originally brought hope for freedom and democracy in the region. However, even with marginal victories, like Qadhafi's death, the future of these countries remains extremely delicate and uncertain. And as the Obama administration moves ahead with plans to pull troops out of Iraq, Americans could have a role to play in making sure the region moves in what the United States sees as the right direction politically.

Here's the latest update on the countries most affected by this year's Arab Spring uprisings:


(Former) Leader: President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali

Status: Ousted

Who's in charge now: Interim President Fouad Mbazza

What to watch: October 23 elections

A fatal act of protest last December by a young Tunisian fruit seller, Muhammad Al Bouazizi, was the spark that started the Arab Spring. Protesters in Tunisia were also the first in the region to push aside their leader, President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled the nation for almost 24 years. And despite real struggles ahead, the people of Tunisia have a chance to keep their status as the vanguards of democratization in the region, with the country's post-revolution elections to be held this Sunday, October 23.

Still, without a model to follow, putting a fairly-elected assembly in place -- the one that will be responsible for drafting the country's new constitution -- will be no easy feat. Tunisians -- or at least those who have managed to register for the elections -- have to elect, from a hundred-some political parties and several thousands candidates, a 217-member assembly representing 33 districts. Once elected, the assembly must also deal with the country's roughly 19 percent unemployment rate and lingering security and law enforcement challenges. In addition, as in other countries in the region, there are serious tensions between Islamists and secularists in Tunisia that could keep the country and its governance in an indefinite state of unrest.

Even so, the elections, which will be internationally monitored to ensure fairness, mark a significant step forward, and the world community is looking toward Tunisia with hope. "We are at a critical juncture and successful elections will be key to keeping the momentum going. For the first time in Tunisia's history, an election is being supervised by an independent authority rather than by the Ministry of Interior," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday. "Many millions of people around the world, including myself, will be watching Sunday's vote with goodwill and optimism -- but also some trepidation. Our greatest hope is that Tunisia will once again act as an inspirational role model for other countries in the region, and elsewhere in the world, in the conduct of these elections and in the new social and political landscape they can help to shape."


(Former) Leader: President Hosni Mubarak

Status: Ousted, on trial

Who's in charge: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

What to watch: Parliamentary elections in November

January 25, 2011, will go down in history as the day when the Egyptian people decided enough was enough. And just over two weeks later, on February 11, the end of President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule marked a new beginning for Egypt. Since then, as Mubarak and his associates remain on trial for abuses committed during his reign, Egyptians are left to wonder what their revolution really accomplished.

Though Egyptians cut the head off of the Mubarak regime, much of it remains in power. In particular, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military arm of the Mubarak regime that abandoned him just before his fall, has been in charge of the country and is responsible for organizing the upcoming parliamentary elections, now scheduled for late November. Criticism of the military is reaching new heights following its crackdown against Coptic Christian protesters early this month, and many now question whether the military will fulfill its promise to hand Egypt over to civilian rule.

Like the Tunisians, Egyptians face a rough road ahead both economically and politically, as more than a hundred groups around the country, including Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood, vie for control of the constitutional process.

And what comes next in Egypt will matter not only for Egyptians and others in the region, but for the United States as well. "Egypt is a country that matters significantly. It has a disproportionate impact on the future of the broader Middle East, so we certainly have an interest in having Egypt as an ally of the United States and continuing to have that relationship," Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, told U.S. News earlier this month. "The outcome of the election is important, and we should look at it very closely."


(Former) Leader: Col. Muammar Qadhafi

Status: Killed

Who's in charge: the Transitional National Council

What to watch: Will violence continue? Can the TNC establish a solid political process post-Qadhafi?

After a NATO-backed victory against ruler Col. Muammar Qadhafi, Libyan rebels-turned-leaders, the Transitional National Council, will likely find bigger challenges ahead. The top priority for Libyans now is to get the security situation under wraps following the country's civil war, which includes collecting and securing dangerous weapons from the previous regime and making sure that any remaining pro-Qadhafi forces are under control. According to Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group, to ensure peace moving forward, it will also be important for the TNC to prevent any attempts of "score-settling" against members of the Qadhafi regime.

Politically, the Transitional National Council, the internationally recognized government of Libya, will have to prove to the rest of Libyans that it's capable of leading the democratic transition, which will likely include elections and the drafting of a constitution. The council, which had previously been a regional power in Benghazi, must now expand to represent the vast elements of Libya's tribal society.

Libya is beginning to recover from the conflict economically, as its oil industry revives production and as the Qadhafi regime's previously sanctioned assets are unfrozen. The TNC, since the start of the conflict, has made an effort to reach out to other nations worldwide, and although they plan to end their military involvement, NATO countries like the United States have promised to help Libya in both its economic recovery and political transition. "We're under no illusions -- Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy. There will be difficult days ahead," President Obama said Thursday from the White House Rose Garden. "But the United States, together with the international community, is committed to the Libyan people."


Leader: President Bashar al Assad

Status: In power

What to watch: When and if Assad's regime will collapse

"Your turn is coming, Bashar." That's the chant reported from the streets of Syria following the death of Libya's Qadhafi on Thursday. But still, President Bashar al Assad's regime continues its violent repression of the Syrian people. According to estimates from human rights organizations, Assad is now responsible for killing about 3,000 Syrian people since anti-government uprisings began in March.

Countries around the world, including the United States, have increasingly put pressure on Assad to give up his power. In mid-August, President Obama, along with other international leaders, explicitly called for Assad to step down. The United States in August also imposed aggressive sanctions on Assad's government, blocking all property of the Syrian government and banning American citizens from investing in or exporting services to Syria or its petroleum industry.

However, unlike with Libya, the international measures taken against Assad will likely stop with sanctions, since there's little chance that foreign nations will intervene militarily on protesters' behalf. According to President Obama in August, "the United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement."

For now, it's a waiting game to see just how long Syrian protesters can keep up their energy, and how long Assad's regime can survive amid increasing isolation in the region and a severe shortage of resources.


Leader: President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Status: In power

What to watch: How long can Saleh stay afloat?

Many in Yemen hoped it was the end for President Ali Abdullah Saleh in June when he left the country to receive medical treatment for injuries he suffered during an attack on his palace. Nevertheless, his return from Saudi Arabia in September has brought another round of violent protests against his rule. Amid international condemnation, Saleh continues to hold onto power in Yemen; but experts think that his ouster-after 33 years of control -- might finally be near.

The UN Security Council was set to vote on a resolution that would put added pressure on Saleh to resign. In May, the United States backed an initiative put forth by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a union of other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, that would grant Saleh immunity if he gave up control of Yemen's government. Saleh has refused to sign such an agreement, and his government forces continue to carry out violence against protesters.

Political stability in Yemen, a hotbed for terrorist groups, especially for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, remains a top concern for U.S. policymakers. Though the Obama administration has supported attempts to get him out of power, Saleh has been a marginal partner in fighting terrorists within Yemen's borders, allowing U.S. drone strikes against terrorist targets, like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in a strike last month. If and when Saleh leaves power, it's possible that the resulting instability could allow terrorist groups to flourish. Not to mention, Yemen faces a whole host of economic problems, and as a fragmented society, the people there will have a chaotic time trying to form a unified post-Saleh government.



"Arab Spring: Fall Update "