News of Col. 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 by the end of the year, 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
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."