REVEALED: Most powerful Arabs in the arts and entertainment

See photos of some of the world's most influential Arabs in the arts and entertainment
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455 Tayem Hassan\nActor\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nTayem Hassan had a starring role in the Egyptian film ‘Michano’, his first crossover into the Middle East’s largest movie market. The film, in which Hassan played an architect with amnesia, won critical acclaim from critics and fans. His most recent appearance has been in the TV show 'Shaheen the Eagle'.\nSee the full list of the 500 most influential Arabs in the world here
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392 Ibrahim Al Koni\nAuthor\nLibya\nArts & Entertainment\nIbrahim Al Koni is one of the Arab world’s most prolific novelists. He studied comparative literature at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, before working as a journalist. Al Koni has written more than 80 books, and they have been translated into 35 languages.
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341 Sayed Badreya\nActor\nUS (Egypt)\nArts & Entertainment\nEgyptian-born filmmaker and actor Sayed Badreya always wanted to be a star. His dream came true when he won roles in major Hollywood films such as The Insider, Three Kings, and Independence Day. After attending New York University film school, he moved to Hollywood and worked in the film industry, first as an assistant to actor/director Anthony Perkins, then with director James Cameron on True Lies.
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333 Haifa Wehbe\nSinger\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nWehbe has released four albums and is one of the region's best-selling singers.
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323 Alaa Al Aswany\nAuthor\nEgypt\nArts & Entertainment\nEgypt's most famous author was also one of the most prominent protestors during the revolution to overthrow Hosni Mubarak in 2011. His best-known novel, The Yacoubian Building, addressed widespread social taboos and the issue of corruption, and was made into a big-budget film.\nAl Aswany's works have been translated into 31 languages. He is currently working on his latest book, The Automobile Club of Egypt, and was named in first position in Foreign Policy magazine's top 100 global thinkers in 2011.
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318 Kazim Al Saher\nSinger\nIraq\nArts & Entertainment\nKazim Al Saher is one of the most successful singers in the Arab world, with over 100 million albums sold since the start of his career.\nAlso a composer and a poet, in the past, he has been dubbed variously as the ‘Emperor of Arab Music’ and ‘Iraq’s Diplomatic Ambassador to the World’.\nAl Saher’s range of music is varied. It extends from romantic ballads and political work to pop and classical Arabic music, making him one of the most versatile artists in the Arab region. In1999, Al Saher won a UNICEF award for his song, ‘Tathakkar’.
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316 Karl Wolf\nSinger\nCanada (Lebanon)\nArts & Entertainment\nRapper Wolf is still producing albums; he is also managing new urban music artists.
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306 Hany Abu Assad\nFilm director\nPalestine\nArts & Entertainment\n'Paradise Now’ told the story of Palestinian friends Said and Khaled who have been recruited as suicide bombers for an attack on Tel Aviv. The 2005 film, which won a Golden Globe for best Dutch film and received an Oscar-nomination for best foreign film, soon ensured director Hany Abu Assad also became well known in the industry. In 2010, he was appointed President of the Jury for the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF). His latest film, ‘The Courier’ - starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan - was released in 2012.
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305 Omar Sharif\nActor\nEgypt\nArts & Entertainment\nThe star of Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia is the Arab world's most famous movie star.
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292 Mustafa Ali\nArtist\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nMustafa Ali, Syria’s foremost sculptor was born in Latakia in 1956. Known for elegant, monumental sculptures that pierce the consciousness and underscore the fragility of mankind, he has been widely collected in the Arab world for nearly three decades.\nHe has exhibited extensively on the international art circuit since 1979 and has participated in a number of high-profile events such as Latakia Sculpture Biennial (where he was awarded the Golden Prize) (1997), the Biennial of Alexandria, Egypt (1994), the Sharjah Biennial (1995), and the International Symposium for Sculptors in Valencia, Spain (2001). Ali’s work is housed in private and public collections, including a number of official institutions in Syria such as the National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
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287 Mika\nSinger\nUK (Lebanon)\nArts & Entertainment\nMika released his first full length studio album, Life in Cartoon Motion, on Island Records in 2007, which went on to sell more than 5.6 million copies worldwide and helped the Beirut-born singer win a Brit Award for Best British Breakthrough act and receive a Grammy nomination.\nThe singer, the third of five children to a Lebanese mother and American father, released his second album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, in 2009 and his third album, The Origin of Love, in 2012, which features his first French track. As a child Mika was trained by Alla Ablaberdyeva Russian opera soprano, and later attended the Royal College of Music, London.
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285 Elissa\nSinger\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nElissar Zakaria Khoury, known to millions across the Arab world simply as Elissa, is one of the region’s biggest stars.\nBorn to a Lebanese mother and Syrian father, Elissa made her debut in 1992 in Studio El Fan, a popular music competition, where she won a silver medal. Her debut album, Baddi Doub, on EMI followed in 1999 and since then she has released seven more studio albums. She is the recipient of the World Music Award for best-selling artist in the Middle East and has won the World Music Award accolade three times, an achievement yet to be matched by any other Lebanese performer.
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283 Marcel Khalife\nMusician\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nAn exceptionally accomplished composer, singer and oud player, Marcel Khalife has the wonderful gift of being able to connect with Arabs of all ages and locations. The Lebanese-born artist uses his popularity to promote good causes.\nIn 2005, for instance, he was named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his artistic achievement and humanitarian contributions. Khalife was famous for translating poetry into music, and for many years, he teamed up with the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. In fact, his most recent album, ‘Fall of the Moon’, paid homage to Darwish.
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280 Najwa Karam\nSinger\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nNajwa Karam is a multi-platinum recording artist who has sold over 50 million records worldwide. Karam dominated the region’s music scene between 1994 and 1999, earning herself the title of bestselling Middle Eastern artist for five years with a blend of traditional and contemporary Arab music.\nShe has collaborated with composer Melhem Barakat as well as ‘the voice of Lebanon’ Wadih El Safi. More recently, Karam has won thousands of new fans through her appearance as the main judge on MBC’s Arab’s Got Talent. She is one of record label Rotana’s highest paid artists and was last year appointed as L’Oreal Paris’ first Arab Ambassador.
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279 Emel Mathlouthi\nSinger-songwriter\nFrance (Tunisia)\nArts & Entertainment\nAlthough already well known in her home country, Emel Mathlouthi was propelled onto the international media when her protest songs, Ya Tounes Ya Meskina (Poor Tunisia) and Kelmti Horri (My Word is Free) became anthems during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Mathlouthi first started writing as a student and become well known in Tunisia when she started writing political songs.\nIn 2006, she was a finalist in the Prix RMC Moyen-Orient Musique competition but moved to Paris in 2008 when the Tunisian government banned her songs from the radio and TV. She released her first album, Kelmti Horra, in January 2012 and has spent the last year performing across the world, including Baghdad and Belgium.
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215 Dia Azzawi\nArtist\nUK (Iraq)\nArts & Entertainment\nOne of the pioneering Arab artists, Azzawi is famous for the visual impact and bold colour of his artwork, spanning paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings and book art.\nDuring the beginning of his career he focused on antiquity and cultural heritage and later became known for his representations of human suffering and turmoil, particularly in reference to Palestine. Azzawi’s renowned works include the iconic mural Sabra and Shatila). \nAzzawi’s artwork has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide.
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143. Nancy Ajram\nSinger\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nLebanese superstar Nancy Ajram is one of the most successful Arab singers of all time. With eight 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.
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136. Nadine Labaki\nFilm Director\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nArguably 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?, scooped 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.
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130. Yousra\nActress\nEgypt\nArts & Entertainment\nYousra is perhaps the Arab world’s biggest entertainment superstar. She first started making films in the 1970s, and quickly developed a strong working relationship with the legendary Egyptian actor Adel Imam. Perhaps her best-known collaborations were with director Youssef Chahine, with whom she made three films. Yousra’s portfolio also includes a number of TV shows that have been popular during Ramadan, and a supporting role in the Yacoubian Building, which had the highest budget of any Egyptian film at the time it was made in 2006. She is also a well-known singer, and has worked as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
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128.Cheb Khaled\nSinger\nAlgeria\nArts & Entertainment\nBetter known as Khaled, he is a Rai singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born in Algeria. He began recording in his early teens under the name Cheb Khaled (Arabic for “Young Man” Khaled, as opposed to the traditionalist Sheikh elders) and has become the most internationally famous Algerian singer in the Arab world and across many continents. His popularity has earned him the unofficial title “King of Raï”. His most famous songs are “Didi”, “Aïcha” and “C’est la vie”. His signature song, “Didi”, became extremely popular in the Arabic-speaking countries and also in several other countries, including Europe, where it entered top charts in France, Belgium and Spain, and in Asian countries, including India and Pakistan. The song was used also used in a Bollywood film titled Shreeman Aashiq. Khaled and Don Was appeared on the The Tonight Show on February 4, 1993.
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126. Fairouz\nSinger\nLebanon\nArts & Entertainment\nKnown as the Arabs’ ambassador and the ‘Jewel of Lebanon’, Fairuz is still considered one of the greats of the Middle East music scene. Fairuz received her education in Beirut and started her musical career as a chorus singer at the Lebanese radio station. Today, she is revered in the region.
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123. Nayla Al Khaja\nFilm Producer\nUAE\nArts & Entertainment\nNayla Al Khaja, the UAE’s first ever female filmmaker, has already made three short features in her brief career. One 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. In December, the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority commissioned Al Khaja and Ali Mostafa to make films for a new initiative, Soul of Dubai.
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101. Rasha Sharbatji\nFilm Director\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nThe Syrian director is best known for her show , Banat El ‘Aileh (The Family Girls), a Syrian production, which tells the story of seven cousins, and the challenges facing young women at work, at home, and in relationship contexts – according to She is also behind the Ramadan series “Al Wilada Min Al khasera”. According to the same website, Shurbatji has been a stern critic of the Syrian regime. Sharbatji holds a BA in education and psychology from Cairo University, as well as a BA in paediatrics.
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91. Amr Diab\nSinger\nEgypt\nArts & Entertainment\nThey call him the ‘Father of Mediterranean music’ and Diab, perhaps Egypt’s most famous singer, has dominated the Arab music scene since the late 1980s. He has initiated a charity campaign “Masry Begad” (“Real Egyptian”), a social national programme aimed at serving and rebuilding Egyptian society. His online radio station Diab FM often presents talks and discussions about what Diab FM team can offer to the community as well as applying it practically by being present in different sites across Egypt. Diab is believed to be the best selling Arab recording artist of all time. He was awarded the World Music Award for Best Selling Middle Eastern Artist four times and has sold well over 50 million albums.
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75. Safwan Dahoul\nArtist\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nBorn in Hama, Syria in 1961, Safwan Dahoul is among the highest grossing Middle Eastern artists to date with record-breaking auction sales and blockbuster shows that have made his paintings popular with regional and international collectors alike.\nAfter graduating from the Faculty of Fines Arts in Damascus in 1983, Dahoul went on to receive a scholarship to study abroad from the Ministry of Higher Education in 1987. Choosing to travel to Belgium due to its rich artistic heritage, particularly its 16th century Flemish school of painting, Dahoul obtained a doctorate from the Higher Institute of Plastic Arts in Mons in 1997. Since then, he has participated in international art fairs and individual exhibitions throughout the Middle East, Europe and the US.
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61. Al Laith Hajo\nDirector\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nAl Laith Hajo is a prominent Syrian television and film director. He has said he will feature scenes about the current events in Syria in his new television series “Kharba”. quoted the director as saying: “We preferred to add to the script the reality of what is going on in Syria and the Arab region, in order to portray the societal problems being faced.”\nHe added: “New ideas are being incorporated everyday according to updates in events in Syria and other countries witnessing turmoil.”\nHajo added the additional scenes that have been shot for Kharba were not included in the original script by writer Mamdouh Hamada. Hajo is currently working on a series called Saanoud Baad Qalil (We’ll Be Right Back), which is written by Rafi Wahbe, and which will be shown to audiences this Ramadan.
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49. Qusai Khouli\nActor\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nQusai Khouli is the flavour of the month in Arab cinemas and on Arab TV screens. Born in Tartous, he studied at the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts in Damascus. Khouli graduated in 1999 and first appeared in TV show called ‘Orientals’. Ever since, he has taken on a series of varied roles, from comedy to drama. Perhaps his most famous turn came in the historical drama Bab Al Hara (Neighbourhood›s Gate), a smash-hit production that followed the fortunes of a small Damascene suburb in the 1930s. More recently, Khouli played a blind man with a talent for playing the piano in the serial Al Ishq Al Haram.
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30. Khaled Samawi\nFounder\nAyyam Gallery\nUAE (Syria)\nArts & Entertainment\nKhaled Samawi’s Ayyam Gallery is considered the benchmark for Arabic art. With galleries in Damascus, Beirut, Cairo and Dubai, the gallery is pushing the envelope in the promotion of top Arab art.\nAyyam Auctions is also the first regional auction house with auctions in Dubai and Beirut. Ayyam Publishing has published more than 50 art books in the last five years. The recently inaugurated Ayyam Art Center in Dubai is the first private museum in the Gulf dedicated to the exhibition of Arab art.\nRecent gallery openings in Jeddah and on London’s Bond Street have seen Samawi’s stock rise even further. Watch out for bigger things next year.
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22. Haifa Al Mansour\nFilm producer\nSaudi Arabia\nArts & Entertainment\nFilmmaker Haifa Al Mansour’s movie, Wadjda, tells the story of a rebellious ten-year-old girl who dreams of owning a green bicycle.\nFilmed in Saudi Arabia, Al Mansour was forced to direct her first feature film from a van with a walkie-talkie in some areas where she could not be seen in public with her male colleagues. Despite the challenges Al Mansour faced – she was regularly heckled during filming – she felt the responsibility to tell a story often ignored by the world’s media. “For me it was very important to maintain an authentic voice and I tried also to be very close to my roots and show things that were very intimate about Saudi women away from what we see in the news,” she recently said.
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18. Iyyad Najjar\nFilm producer\nSyria\nArts & Entertainment\nIyyad Najjar wears many hats; he has been a diplomat, a film producer, and currently heads up one of the most effective trade unions in the Arab world.\nBorn in 1972, Najjar became one of the region’s most popular producers when he set up Clacket Productions in Damascus. The firm became one of the biggest players on the local TV scene, and Najjar found himself working with the likes of Rasha Sharbatji, Al Layth Hajo, Rami Hanna and Hatem Ali. He also worked with some of the Arab world’s best known actors, like Maxim Khalil, Sulafa Memar, Duraid Lahham and others.\nElsewhere, he was also the youngest diplomat in the Arab League, and currently sits at the head of the biggest Arab transport union. The Arab Union for Logistics and Goods Forwarders has membership across most regional countries, and controls goods transporation between Europe, America and the Arab world. It is considered to be the most effective union in the region.
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15. Emad Burnat\nFilmmaker\nPalestine\nArts & Entertainment \nEmad Burnat didn’t exactly have an easy trip to the Oscars this year.\nOn arrival at Los Angeles airport, the Palestinian documentary filmmaker was detained by immigration officials, who refused to believe his reason for entry.\n“Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank,” the director said at the time.\nBurnat is believed to be the first Palestinian filmmaker to be nominated for the Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. Although his film, Five Broken Cameras - a first-hand account of life in Bil’in - didn’t win in Los Angeles, Burnat did pick up the Directing Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.