June 1, 2011 / 11:32 AM / 8 years ago

FACTBOX-Somalia's political leaders

NAIROBI, June 1 (Reuters) - A power-sharing deal might offer Somalia’s feuding leaders a way to save face and reach agreement on political reform, the U.N.’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa nation said on Wednesday. [ID:nLDE7500E5] Here are some facts about Somalia’s two most powerful politicians:

SHEIKH SHARIF AHMED, PRESIDENT

* Moderate Islamist and former rebel Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president by Somali lawmakers in Djibouti in January 2009.

* Ahmed was chairman of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militia that in June 2006 seized Mogadishu after defeating U.S.-backed secular warlords. Washington accused the ICU’s leaders of having ties to al Qaeda and sheltering a number of its commanders.

* The ICU ran Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, for six months before Ethiopia’s military invaded with tacit U.S. approval and drove them from power.

The ICU’s hardcore broke ranks and formed militant groups including al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, waging an insurgency against the government.

* Ahmed was among less militant members of the ICU who fled to Eritrea where they formed the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

* After two years at the helm of the United Nations-backed government, Ahmed has failed to form alliances with other moderates, build a broad government and defeat the country’s hardline rebels.

* Analysts say Ahmed’s rhetoric is strong but his leadership is weak. * The 66-year old Sufi Muslim studied in Sudan and Libya and worked as a secondary school teacher of geography and Arabic.

SHARIF HASSAN SHEIKH AHMED, SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT

* As speaker of parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Ahmed is Somalia’s second most powerful politician. Once a close political ally of Ahmed’s, their relationship has soured over the last year to the point where some analysts say it is irretrievably broken.

* Hassan harbours his own presidential ambitions and many regional experts put much of the political infighting down to the battle over the top job.

* A former finance minister, the 68-year old is considered a wily operator, adept at marshalling support and using his wealth and political nous to his advantage.

“While his star is rising in parts of the international community at the expense of the president, his history is problematic, and he has generally exercised a negative and destructive influence within the Transitional Federal Government,” the International Crisis Group said in a 2011 report. (reporting by Richard Lough; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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