Special Report

Most Important People of 2018

Source: Pool / Getty Images

11. Angela Merkel
> Occupation: Chancellor

Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany since 2005, and as leader of Europe’s largest economy, she was one of the most powerful people in the world in 2018. Merkel, who has announced she will step down as chancellor in 2021 rather than seek a fifth term, navigated her country through the global economic crisis of 2009 by implementing unpopular austerity measures and using Germany’s economic clout to call for similar measures across the European Union. Merkel was praised globally for her open-door policy for asylum seekers flowing into Europe from the Middle East, a policy that angered the country’s far right. To save her coalition government from collapse, Merkel pulled back on the policy.

Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images

12. Robert Mueller
> Occupation: Attorney

Special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not have the fate of U.S. President Donald Trump in his hands, but if he does he has been running a tight ship to avoid leaks, only carefully disseminating information to the public as needed. In order to avoid influencing the November midterms, Mueller’s team was unusually quiet about the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But now, the Mueller team is expected to be more vocal in the last weeks of 2018, even possibly wrapping up the investigation before the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. On Dec. 4, Mueller’s team filed a sentencing memo recommending that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn serve little to no time in jail for making a false statement to the FBI. This suggests Flynn provided important information related to the investigation in return for leniency. Mueller, a Republican, may be the greatest threat to Trump’s presidency because his work could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

13. Elon Musk
> Occupation: Business executive

Depending on who you ask, Elon Musk is a brilliant innovator who will lead the world to a greener existence, dig superspeed rapid transit tunnels under cities, merge human brains with artificial intelligence, and colonize Mars. Critics argue Musk is a modern day P.T. Barnum who has extracted billions from capital markets by selling his lofty ideas while becoming the billionaire owner of five Bel Air homes. In 2018, Musk’s public image was tainted when he suggested in a tweet that a rescue diver trying to save a youth soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand was a pedophile after the diver chided Musk’s own plans to design a submarine to rescue the boys. In another misstep, Musk suggested in a tweet that he would take his electric car company Tesla private at $420 a share, drawing the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission for making false and misleading comments. Musk also had to pay $20 million for his mistake.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

14. Satya Nadella
> Occupation: Business executive

Not that long ago, Microsoft was the boring tech company whose primary products were a desktop operating system and office document software. The products could not compare with with Apple’s sleek, intuitive software/hardware virus-free environment. Today, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, who replaced Steve Ballmer in 2014, Microsoft has rebounded so strongly that its market valuation runs neck-and-neck with Apple. Reasons for Microsoft’s rebound are various, including adding more capacity to its mobile operating systems, offering a line of enticing tablet devices, and expanding its cloud-computing business.

Source: Skoll Foundation

15. Eman al Nafjan
> Occupation: Saudi blogger/activist

Eman al Nafjan, a Riyadh-based blogger and Saudi women’s rights advocate, was detained earlier this year by Saudi Arabia authorities. She remains in custody and is believed by rights groups to have been beaten and tortured. Al Nafjan is not the only woman to have been arrested in Saudi Arabia recently after advocating for women’s rights. Her online following and ability to write in Arabic and English — and her courage to do so from inside the country — helped her to reach a larger international audience. Saudi Arabia has been in the news a lot lately, especially following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who incurred the ire of Saudi leadership because of his advocacy for women like al Nafjan.