For years, the Republic of Wadiya has been ruled by Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), a childish, tyrannical, sexist, anti-western, and antisemitic despot who surrounds himself with female bodyguards, sponsors al-Qaeda (specially giving shelter to Osama Bin Laden after “they killed his double one year ago”) and is working on developing nuclear weapons to attack Israel. He also refused to sell Wadiya’s oil fields, a promise he made to his father on his deathbed. After the United Nations Security Council resolves to intervene militarily, Aladeen travels to the UN Headquarters in New York to address the council.
Shortly after arriving, Aladeen is kidnapped by Clayton (John C. Reilly), a hitman hired by his treacherous uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), whom Aladeen’s father passed over as successor in favor of his son. Tamir then replaces Aladeen with a dimwitted political decoy named Efawadh (Baron Cohen), whom he intends to manipulate into signing a document nominally democratizing Wadiya while opening the country’s oil fields to Chinese and other foreign vested interests. Aladeen escapes after Clayton accidentally kills himself in a botched torture attempt; when his corpse is discovered Tamir thinks Aladeen has been killed. However, Aladeen is practically unrecognizable as Clayton shaved off his trademark long beard prior to his death.
Wandering through New York, Aladeen encounters Zoey (Anna Faris), a human rights activist who offers him a job at her socially progressive, alternative lifestyle co-op. Aladeen refuses the offer and encounters “Nuclear” Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), the former chief of Wadiya’s nuclear weapons program, whom Aladeen thought he had previously executed over an argument about the warhead’s shape. Aladeen follows him to New York’s “Little Wadiya” which is populated by refugees from his country, and meets him in Death to Aladeen Restaurant, run by and visited by numerous people whom Aladeen had personally ordered executed. Nadal saves Aladeen from nearly being recognized by angry refugees and reveals that rebels infiltrated the secret police, and all the condemned were sent into exile instead of being executed. Nadal agrees to help Aladeen thwart Tamir’s plot and regain his position as ‘rightful’ dictator, on condition that Aladeen makes him head of Wadiya’s WMD program again. Aladeen agrees and accepts Zoey’s job offer, as she is catering at the hotel where the signing is to occur. Aladeen grows closer to Zoey after she refuses his sexual advances and teaches him how to masturbate, and eventually falls in love with her after seeing her angry. Turning around Zoey’s struggling business, Aladeen begins imposing strict schedules on everyone, forming a personality cult around Zoey and intimidating an inspector into giving the store a good review.