Tawakkul Karman is undoubtedly the female face of the Arab Spring. The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - aged just 32 - Karman has found herself touring the world, bringing Yemen’s plight before diplomats and fighting for women’s rights.\nIn her own country, of course, she has been working hard to promote freedom of speech for years. In 2005, she set up the campaign group Women Journalists Without Chains, and commenced holding protests in the Yemeni capital, two years later. But Karman really hit the international headlines last year, when she led a series of protests calling for the departure of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. One year on – due in part to those same protests - Saleh has quit his post and is now in the US.\nAlthough the demonstrations led by Karman and others were peaceful, they resulted in a strong backlash from the Yemeni government. Hundreds were killed, and thousands were injured. In a recent newspaper interview, Karman herself expressed surprise that she was still alive. For now, she believes that the West needs to help the Arab Spring states further, and is campaigning for that support. “I have always believed that resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence. I have always believed that human civilisation is the fruit of the effort of both women and men,” she said in her Nobel prize acceptance speech. Karman is married with two daughters and a son.
The wife of HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, Princess Ameerah is now one of the world’s most recognised philanthropists through her work at her husband’s foundation. She supports a wide range of humanitarian interests both in Saudi Arabia and across the world.\nPrincess Ameerah has opened an orphanage in Burkina Faso, and spearheaded humanitarian trips to Pakistan and Somalia. In a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative last year, Princess Ameerah said: “People take their voices to the streets when they are not heard by their governments. If we want stability in the region, we must build institutions of civil society so people can channel their demands through these institutions. If we want prosperity in the region we must invest in young people through encouraging enterprise.” She is a member of the board of trustees at the Doha-based Silatech organisation, and formally opened the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Islamic Studies at Cambridge University in the UK, alongside Prince Philip. Princess Ameerah received the Humantarian Award on behalf of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards in 2010.
Known as the Arabs’ ambassador and the Jewel of Lebanon, Fairuz is still considered one of the greats of the Middle East music scene.\nBorn in the Cedar Mountains area in Lebanon in 1935, under the name Nouhad Haddad, Fairuz grew up in a modest orthodox family who lived in a single room, traditional Lebanese stone house and shared a kitchen with the neighbours. Fairuz received her education in Beirut and started her musical career as a chorus singer at the Lebanese radio station. In the 1950s, her career took off as her music became more popular and her status grew dramatically. Today, she is revered in the region and is often received by royalty, presidents, and other dignitaries. Although she has never sung in Jerusalem, the key to the holy city - presented to her during a private visit with her father, is among her most prized possessions. Fairuz is the mother of singer and composer Ziad Rahbani, and of the director and photographer Rima Rahbani.
The youngest daughter of the late former Lebanse prime minister, Riad El Solh, Leila El Solh was the first woman in her country’s history to hold a cabinet position when she took on the Minister of Industry brief in 2004.\nToday, she is best known for her work with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation in Lebanon. Chaired by HRH Prince Alwaleed, the foundation has managed to reach many areas in Lebanon to provide funds for development projects and alleviate poverty. Under El Solh’s stewardship, the foundation has become a pillar of support for education, health and social organisations throughout the country. In 2008, she was awarded the Pontifical Medal by Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of the efforts made by the foundation to encourage religious tolerance.
Sheikha Hessa Bint Saad Abdullah Salem Al Sabah has headed the Arab Women’s Business Council since its founding in 1999. Like her counterparts over the border in Saudi Arabia, Sheikha Hessa is extremely vocal about women’s empowerment, not just in niche areas such as social media technology, but in all areas of business. Sheikha Hessa holds a degree in public administration.
A high-flying and inspiring business executive in Qatar, Buthaina Al Ansari received a Qatar Business Women Award for her Qatarisation work at Al Rayan Investment. Using her degrees from universities in Qatar, London and Cairo, she founded and manages Qatariat, a company that specialises in helping Qatari women advance into the workforce. Qatariat has three elements: the Qatariat Training and Development, Qatariat Magazine, and the Qatariat Development Consultancy.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid became the first Saudi national to head a UN agency when she took over as executive director of the UN Population Fund and under-secretary of the United Nations in 2000. Obaid also served as chair of the committee on Management of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. In March 2011, she announced her plans to publish three books; one in defence of Muslims, with the other two focusing on women’s issues.
Nawal Al Saadawi is famous for her 60-year long campaign against female genital mutilation. The Egyptian feminist, writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist has written more than 70 books tackling problems faced by women in Egypt. In 1972, Al Saadawi published Women and Sex, for which she lost her job as a director at the Egyptian Ministry of Health, and in the 1980s she was jailed for three months for “crimes against the state”. She is currently writing a novel about the Egyptian revolution.
28-year old Lina Ben Mhenni’s English and Arabic language blog, A Tunisian Girl, was propelled into the international spotlight during the political unrest that toppled her country’s longstanding President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Mhenni’s blog published photographs and videos of those injured during the country’s unrest, taken during her regular trips to hospitals. In October, Mhenni was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts during the revolution.
Palestinian director Susan Youssef’s Habibi Rasak Kharban (Darling, something’s wrong with your head) premiered in August last year at the Venice Film Festival before going onto to win the Best Film Award at the Dubai International Film Festival. The Holland-based director spent ten years working on the film, which she describes as a modern rendition of Romeo and Juliet. The film was funded through a who’s who of non-profit film funders, including Cinereach, the Jerome Foundation and the Princess Grace Foundation.
In 2008, the then ten-year-old Nujood Ali made an appearance in a Sana’a court, demanding a divorce from her husband, a man in his 30s. Ali, whose family lived in a suburb of the Yemeni capital, undertook an arranged marriage two months previously, and was regularly beaten by her in-laws and raped by her husband. Ali eventually case, divorced, and in the process became a figurehead against forced marriage in the impoverished country. Later that year, Ali visited the US, where her cause was recognised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Eman Obeidy rose to international fame after bursting into Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel on March 26 last year to tell international reporters that she had been beaten and raped by fifteen men after being seized at a checkpoint east of Tripoli. Her public statement challenged both the Gaddafi government and the taboo against discussing sex crimes in Libya. After being dragged away from the hotel, she was released and fled to Tunisia. Obeidy was granted asylum in the US via the help of Hillary Clinton last June.
Egyptian-born Dalia Mogahed was propelled onto the international spotlight when she became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House.\nMogahed was selected as an advisor to US president Barack Obama on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships in 2009. Mogahed also heads up the Gallup American Centre for Muslim Studies, a non-governmental research centre that provides data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world, and is the co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. The book, which is based on six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews, represents more than 90 percent of the world’s Muslim’s community, making it the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind. In her role as Gallup scientist, Mogahed is a frequent expert commentator in global media outlets and international forums. She also serves as a Global Expert for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
Nayla Al Khaja, the UAE’s first ever female filmmaker, has already made three short features in her brief career.\nOne of Al Khaja’s films won a prize at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007. In addition, the Emirati has also set up her own production company (D-SEVEN), and she also heads up the UAE’s first official film club.\nAl Khaja’s career choice coupled with her willingness to tackle taboo subjects has often led to controversy. Her last short film, which was released in 2010, took a look at the issues raised by arranged marriages. In ‘Malal’, a young Emirati couple visit Kerala on a honeymoon that is soured by the wife’s boredom with her new husband. In January she told Arabian Business she thinks she has ‘mellowed’ somewhat. Her first feature — which tells the story of a young Arab girl and a British traveller’s chance meeting in the deserts near Hatta in the 1960s — is currently on the drawing board.
Due to celebrate her 40th birthday in October, Elissar Zakaria Khoury has had a phenomenal career and is due to release her eighth studio album later in the year. A recent recipient of the World Music Award for the best-selling artist in the Middle East, the singer is so famous she prefers to be known by just her first name, lining up alongside the likes of Madonna, Cher and Kylie. The Lebanese singer has won the World Music Award accolade three times, a feat yet to be matched by any other Lebanese performer.
Not only is Muna AbuSulayman at the helm of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, but she is also one of HRH Prince Alwaleed’s most trusted advisors, and the co-host of one of MBC TV’s most popular social programmes. Charged with spending up to $100m a year on good causes, she has also spoken and written about issues related to society, such as women rights and community development. In 2004, she was named a Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Tunisian actress Hend Sabri is well known in the Arab world for her role in “Mothakarat Morahiqa” or “A Teenager’s Diaries”. In 2010, the Middle Eastern star was also appointed as ambassador against hunger by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). She began her acting career and rise to stardom at the age of 15, with a movie by the name of “Mawsim Al-rijal”. Following her success in the film industry, she recently starred in a comedy Ramadan series Ayza Atgawez. She is currently taking time off to look after her baby.
Lebanese superstar Nancy Ajram is one of the most successful Arab singers of all time. With seven studio albums and numerous chart-topping singles to her name, many consider her to be among the top Arabic music icons of the decade. In 2008 she was named the best-selling artist in the Middle East at the World Music Awards, and two years later achieved wide acclaim when she sang ‘Wavin’ Flag’ for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. US TV icon Oprah Winfrey has also branded her one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East.
35-year-old Haifa Wehbe is one of Lebanon’s most colourful entertainers. Born to a Lebanese father and Egyptian mother, she first rose to fame as a runner up for Miss Lebanon. She made her debut in 2002 with the album ‘Houwa El-Zaman’, but her provocative dance moves have seen her win a host of accolades. 2006 was a pivotal year as she was the opening act for US rapper 50 Cent’s Beirut show and she became a spokesperson for drinks company Pepsi and featured in ads with French footballer Thierry Henry.
Fatema Mernissi has published several books on the position of women in the rapidly changing Muslim communities in Morocco. In 1975 she published the result of her first fieldwork: Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society. Much of her work has been translated in many languages and is widely read, also in Islamic countries. She has served as a member in many national, pan-Arabic and international forums on women and development in the Islamic world.
Arguably the best known auteur in the Arab music video world, the 36-year-old Lebanese actress and director is often credited for bringing new artists onto the burgeoning Arab pop scene.\nHer 2007 breakout debut, Caramel, became an international sensation which showed the less-seen side of Beirut — a romantic comedy centered on five women who gather regularly at a beauty salon to discuss love, life and sex. The movie landed Labaki on Variety’s annual list of ten directors to watch. Her second feature film, Where Do We Go Now?, has been collecting prizes around the world, including the people’s choice award at the Toronto Film Festival. As a songwriter, her regular collaborations with pop star Nancy Ajram have helped Labaki push forward a more modern take on the current state of Arab womanhood.
Syrian actress Sulafa Memar is a familiar face both at the cinema and on the small screen. Having firmly cemented her status as a media darling, she has won numerous accolades for high-profile and challenging roles. In 2007, she walked away with top prize at the Algerian Film Festival for her efforts in ‘Tahta Al Sakef’. Memar won legions of loyal fans for her key role in ‘Disgraced Time’, a show which netted the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Prize for best Arabian Drama. In 2009, she was awarded the ultimate accolade when presented with Best Actress In The Arab World Award.\nShe is, however, not just a pretty face. In addition to excelling in the performing arts sector, the popular actress studied English Literature at Damascus University before progressing to study drama at Syria’s Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts.