This year Yemeni blogger-in-exile Afrah Nasser added to her wide array of accolades by receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2017 International Press Freedom Award. The Sweden-based independent reporter has been winning awards since she started blogging in 2011. Her commentary on Yemeni politics, women’s rights, human rights violations and press freedom soon saw her forced into exile and she has been in Sweden since 2012.
Amal Clooney is one of the world’s most recognisable faces. While she might appear more in the press for her outfits, her new twin babies and her Hollywood husband, George Clooney, she is also a well-known, well respected and very accomplished human rights lawyer. A barrister with Doughty Street Chambers in London, Clooney (nee Alamuddin) has represented clients such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, jailed journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, among many other high profile names.
NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin got his own weekend show on MSNBC Live this year and also welcomed his first baby into the world. The Egyptian-American news anchor has had a successful career so far and was said to be one of the first Western journalists permitted to report on the trial of the deposed former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Mohyeldin was born in Cairo to an Egyptian father and Palestinian mother and lived in Egypt until his family moved to the US when he was just five years old.
Gigi Hadid is one of the most famous models in the world, along with her sister Bella. The 2016 International Model of the Year, named by the British Fashion Council, was born Jelena Noura Hadid in Los Angeles to a Dutch-American mother and Palestinian-American father, Mohammed Hadid. She was signed to the IMG Models agency in 2013 and just one year later made her catwalk debut at New York Fashion Week in 2014, ranking in the Top 50 Models at Models.com in the same year. Since then, she has fast become a household name and seriously influential on social media.
Hassan Al Damluji
Head of Middle East relations, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Culture and society
One person who is most definitely working to affect positive change in the Middle East is Hassan Al Damluji, who is head of Middle East relations for the world’s largest private foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the past, he has led a $2.5bn development fund in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank that aims to tackle poverty in the Islamic World. He also focusses on health issues, including polio and malaria, which he says are major concerns in the region.
Culture and society
On January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of people joined the Women’s March, which followed Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. It was the largest single-day protest in US history and was co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American political activist and writer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sarsour is the oldest of seven children. She has been involved in a range of campaigns, including Black Lives Matter, when she helped organise the American Muslim community’s response to the shooting of Michael Brown.
With his millions of fans and followers, Maher Zain is one of the world’s biggest Islamic music stars. The Swedish R&B singer, songwriter and music producer of Lebanese origin emigrated to Sweden when he was just eight years old. In 2009, he released his first album ‘Thank You Allah’ and it went on to become the highest-selling album of 2010 in Malaysia, and went multi-platinum in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Since then, he has released two more albums – 2012’s ‘Forgive Me’ (which also went multi-platinum in Malaysia) and 2016’s ‘One’.
Also known as the “Egyptian Messi”, Mohamed Salah, who plays for Liverpool FC, is currently making headlines as the top goal scorer in the English Premier League. He has also ensured Egypt’s qualification to the World Cup for the first time since 1990 (meaning the 25-year-old has never actually seen them compete in the international tournament) by sealing a 2-1 win over Congo, making him a national hero. He’s played for Basel, Chelsea and Roma – where he was named Player of the Year in 2015-16 – and then signed to Liverpool FC this summer for a club-record fee.
Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek is best known for playing the lead role in acclaimed US TV series ‘Mr. Robot’, for which he won multiple awards and nominations. You may also recognise him from other films and series, such as the ‘Night at the Museum’ trilogy, ‘Larry Crowne’ and ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’. Although Malek – who has an identical twin – was born and raised in America, both his parents are Egyptian. In 2018, he will star in the upcoming biographical drama ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, portraying legendary musician Freddie Mercury.
Sama and Haya Khadra
These days just over 560,000 followers on Instagram might not sound like a big deal, but Sama and Haya Khadra – better known as Simi and Haze – sure are. The social media influencers and “It” girls are LA-based DJs who hail from Palestine and were born in Saudi Arabia. The identical twins are well known for their quirky, whimsical style, often topping the world’s “best dressed” lists, and have collaborated with the likes of 7 For All Mankind and Cartier (they recently DJ-ed at a Dubai gig on behalf of the brand). They also happen to be in Kylie Jenner’s inner circle.