Here are profiles of various leaders throughout Arab and Islamic nations, ranging from Northern Africa to the Hindu Kush.
President of the Palestinian National Authority since Jan. 15, 2005. Abbas was also briefly Yasser Arafat's prime minister in 2003. Under Abbas' rule, the Palestinian territories have essentially fractured into separate autonomous territories. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh continues to operate out of Gaza, Abbas continues running things out of the West Bank, and Hamas and Fatah continue to fight. Hamas and others are opposed to Abbas efforts to negotiate a Mideast peace with Israel. Abbas comparatively moderate stance in this process has earned his government recognition from other nations over the shadow administration in Gaza.
The exiled political leader of Hamas. He currently directs operations out of Damascus, Syria, and has been the highest-ranking members of Hamas since the 2004 death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi. While a student at Kuwait University, Mashal campaigned against Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization on campus. While making some cooperative overtures toward Fatah, Hamas and Fatah remain bitterly divided on political and operational issues.
The 14th president of Pakistan. Zardari assumed office Sept. 9, 2008, after Pervez Musharraf was forced from the presidency. Zardari is also the widower of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed Dec. 27, 2007, while campaigning again for public office. Nicknamed "Mr. 10%" for spending most of the 1990s in corruption scandals, including allegations that both he and Bhutto took kickbacks from Swiss company SGS, Zardari spent eight years in prison before being released in 2004. After threatening Musharraf with impeachment if he did not step down, Zardari was elected president of Pakistan.
A former foreign minister of Afghanistan under President Hamid Karzai and candidate in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election. A trained opthamologist who was a close adviser to Northern Alliance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida on Sept. 9, 2001. Abdullah heavily used grass-roots campaigning and new media to rally support for his opposition platform, which borrowed heavily from the hope-change mantra successfully used by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2008, promising to stamp out corruption in Kabul.
The dictator of Libya since 1969 and the third-longest serving world ruler. Also known as being one of the most eccentric world rulers, from his days of sponsoring terrorism to recent years when he tried to make nice with the world and be seen as wise problem-solver. His first trip to the United States to address the General Assembly in 2009 solidified his reputation as an eccentric, with a rambling 96-minute address on loose-leaf notebook paper that reportedly drove his personal translator to tears.
The king of Saudi Arabia, formally known as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. (These are Mecca and Medina.) Abdullah is also prime minister and commander of the National Guard. He succeeded King Fahd upon his death in 2005, but had already been running most of the country's affairs since Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995. After Abdullah became king, women were allowed to run (and won) for the first time in an election (Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry), and he has expressed the desire for men and women to study side-by-side at his university. Reportedly, women will even be able to drive on campus. He has also called for global interfaith dialogue among monotheistic religions.