With the destabilized regime of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the Obama administration faces something of a dilemma. On the one hand, Obama says he wants the will of the Egyptian people to prevail. On the other, the embattled Mubarak has long been a key American ally. Egypt is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. military aid — only Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel receive more — and Mubarak has been hailed as Israel's greatest friend in the region. Of course, the Egyptian leader isn't the only autocrat to receive U.S. backing, covert or otherwise. Here, five more:
1. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
The U.S. has had a good relationship with Saudi Arabia since 1974, when Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit the country. The ties strengthened during George W. Bush's tenure — Saudi Arabia was certified as an anti-terrorism ally in 2007 — and King Abdullah maintains a good relationship with President Obama. And yet Saudi Arabia is indisputably an authoritarian regime. There is no elected parliament, public protests are banned, and the media is controlled by the state. The United States' support of Abdullah may one day backfire, says Alex Welch at The Daily Campus. "On the day the Saudi monarchy collapses, the United States may find itself powerless to defeat any anti-American sentiment that may foster as a result."
2. President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen
Yemen's leader for 32 years has been "one of America's foremost allies in the 'war on terror,'" says Kim Sengupta in The Independent, and has worked with the U.S. to target the country's large network of al Qaida operatives. Leaked WikiLeaks cables described how Saleh had covered up U.S. military strikes in the country and offered American forces an "open door" to execute more attacks. However, Saleh's grip on power will soon come to an end — an Egypt-style revolt has forced him to announce he will step down in 2013.
3. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said of Oman
The sultan of Oman has ruled over the country in a benevolent dictatorship since 1970, and has established an absolute monarchy under which all substantial decisions are made by him. Even so, Oman is one of America's oldest Arab allies, and one of the few Arab countries with which a free trade agreement has been signed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently praised the "remarkable gains" made in Oman under the sultan's leadership.
4. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea
The ruler of Equatorial Guinea was described as a "good friend" of the U.S. by Condoleezza Rice back in 2006, reports Justin Elliot at Salon, and continues to enjoy the support of the Obama administration. And yet, Human Rights Watch says Obiang's country is "mired in corruption, poverty, and repression," and his government "regularly engages in torture and arbitrary detention." The president's son reportedly spent more on luxury goods between 2004 and 2007 "than the country's annual education budget."
5. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan borders Afghanistan, and the U.S. has pursued a strategic alliance with President Berdymukhamedov to allow arms and supplies to travel through his country. Turkmenistan received $2 million in military aid last year, and its leader has met with Secretary of State Clinton and General David Petraeus. But "Turkmenistan is run by one of the most repressive regimes in existence," says Justin Elliott at Salon. Restrictions on freedom, religion, the press, and movement are widespread, as are torture and detention of political prisoners.
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