?–661 - Arab
Fourth caliph of Islam, cousin of Mohammed, and husband of the Prophet's daughter, Fatima. He was assassinated, but his life gave birth to the Shia branch of Islam (contrasted to the Sunni branch). The Shia branch also later gave birth to Sufism, a mystical interpretation of Islam.
fl. 550 - Arab
Legendary Arab figure. He was reputedly the son of a Bedouin chief and a black slave, who grew up to be a fierce warrior as well as an important Arab poet. The later Romance of Antar portrayed him as an exemplar of the highest Bedouin ideals of courage, hospitality, generosity, and strict adherence to "the code of the desert."
1929–2004 - Palestinian
Leader of the Palestinian people after the separation of Palestine from Jordan following the 1968 Arab-Israeli War. Was he a freedom fighter, devoted to the independence and well-being of his people, or was he a terrorist, as many Israelis insisted? Did he seek peace, as suggested by his shared Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, or was this a tactical deception? When he eventually rejected Prime Minister Barak's and the Israeli Labor government's final peace proposal, was it because he feared assassination, as he allegedly told U.S. President Clinton, the broker of the talks, or because he truly believed the proposal inadequate?
250–336 - Libyan
Theologian. He founded Arianism, the doctrine that Christ was of similar but not identical substance to God, and therefore subordinate. Arianism was sharply and successfully opposed as a form of polytheism by St. Athanasius and others at the Council of Nicaea, but remained influential for many years, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean. It still has an echo in contemporary Unitarianism.
Hafez al Asad
1928–2000 - Syrian
General and president. He was a member of the Ba'ath Party that ruled in Syria (and in Iraq until 2003) with a combination of romantic Arab nationalism and ruthless repression. Asad seized power in 1970 and within a few years became known throughout the world for his cruelty to opponents, but also for his shrewdness, cunning, and adaptability.