TIME magazine’s annual “100 Most Influential People in the World” list includes several notable figures from Middle Eastern politics and cultural life.
Activist Manal al-Sharif spearheaded the Women2Drive campaign and posted on YouTube a video of herself driving in her native Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from doing so, and was jailed for nine days. Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim (pictured) sued the Egyptian military after Egyptian soldiers detained her during the Arab Spring protests and subjected her and other female demonstrators to forced “virginity tests”. In December 2011 a court order was issued to end the practice but the doctor responsible for Ibrahim’s test was later exonerated.
Also included is scholar-politician Rached Ghannouchi, who returned to Tunisia after decades spent in exile and saw his moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, win a resounding election victory in 2011. He is considered amongst the foremost ideologues of the modern Muslim world.
Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is the first Iranian ever to win an Oscar after his film, A Separation, won the accolade for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011. Detailing the conflict of two Tehran couples — one middle class and secular, the other working class and religious — A Separation is deemed by TIME as both Iranian and universal.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ali Babacan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are included on account of Turkey’s dual domestic and foreign policy approach, which TIME argues has made it a “model for economic growth and democratization” in the region and enabled it to remain influential and active in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Qatari leader Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani features for having played an important role in the development of his country, the rise in his people’s level of affluence and orchestrating the increase in Qatar’s influence in the international arena, including brokering a peace deal between Palestinian factions.
At a time of rising tensions, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei’s influence on Iran’s future course of action ensures his inclusion. TIME notes that, although his authority as the Middle East’s longest-serving dictator derives from religion in a formal sense, he is a savvy political player who outmanoeuvred more-liberal clerics to move into the position he now holds.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is listed as someone who has excelled during a lifetime of service to the state of Israel. Twice elected as Prime Minister, he has also served as a soldier, diplomat and economic reformer who took on the difficult and politically perilous task of challenging the status quo.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, initially believed to be a reformist autocrat upon his accession in 2000, has ruthlessly cracked down on those in his country who have protested his rule, much as his father Hafez slaughtered thousands to preserve the regime in the 1980s. TIME says that Bashar intends to prove he is the player in Syria to be placated – if only because he can kill most efficiently.
To view the full profiles of those mentioned above, as well as the remainder of TIME‘s 2012 “Top 100″ list, please click here.