Leader: Ali Abdullah Saleh
Record: Saleh first took power in Northern Yemen in a military coup in 1978 and has ruled the entire country since unification in 1991. Opposition parties are marginalized, parliamentary elections have been indefinitely postponed, and civilians are frequently caught up in military strikes in the country's lawless south.
Yemen is both one of the world's least stable countries, with an ongoing insurgency by Shiite rebels in the country's south, and one of the most repressive: Arbitrary detention and torture are pervasive and "honor killings" of women by family members frequently go unpunished. Inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrators have taken to the streets of the capital Sana'a for near-daily protests since mid-January, demanding Saleh's removal as president.
U.S. support: Saleh might seem like an unlikely U.S. ally. In addition to his autocratic style and tolerance of official corruption, he was a close ally of Saddam Hussein and supported Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But counterterrorism makes for strange bedfellows: Extremist groups within Yemen have been the source of numerous anti-American terrorist attacks, from the USS Cole bombing in 2000 to the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot to the 2010 printer bomb attempt. It's also reputedly the home of noted terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Given the dangers emanating from Yemen, U.S. policymakers have decided that Saleh's efforts to restore order the country are the best bet for preventing further attacks, and military aid to the country has more than doubled since the Christmas plot. U.S. military aid to Yemen will likely reach $250 million in 2011, in addition to substantial increases in development aid.