In Pictures: 100 under 40: The world’s most influential young Arabs 2016 - Arts and entertainment

Welcome to the 2016 Arabian Business guide to the world’s most influential young Arabs.
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15. Maher Zain
\nAge: 34
\n10 (2015)
\nSweden (Lebanon)
\nArts and entertainment

\nMaher Zain is the world’s biggest Islamic music star – and a legend to his 26 million fans on Facebook.

\nZain, whose family emigrated to Sweden when he was just eight, entered the music industry as a producer working alongside Grammy award-winning music executive RedOne, famous for his work with the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez.

\nBut in 2009 he returned to his Islamic roots and focused on writing and singing his own contemporary R&B music with a strong Muslim influence. His first album, ‘Thank You Allah’, was released on November 1, 2009, by Awakening Records. It became the highest-selling album of 2010 in Malaysia and went multi-platinum in Malaysia and Indonesia, where he has had his biggest successes. His second album ‘Forgive Me’ released in April 2012, also went multi-platinum in Malaysia. Zain sings mainly in English but has released some of his most popular songs in languages such as French, Arabic, Turkish, Malay and Indonesian. He also supports UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency and recently visited Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, where he performed a concert.

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28. Rajaa Al Sanea
\nAge: 34
\n37 (2015)
\nSaudi Arabia
\nArts and entertainment

\nRajaa Al Sanea became a face for feminism in Saudi Arabia when her book Girls of Riyadh attracted international attention after its publication in Lebanon in 2005. The unconventional story of four girls living in the highly conservative Islamic society has been so popular it was translated into English in 2007 and several other languages, although it was banned in the kingdom because it “incited vices” and subverted the foundations of Saudi literary tradition.

\nThese days Al Sanea is a practising dentist, following in the footsteps of many members of her family who are physicians of various kinds, but she is forever facing questions about the novel and being called on as a spokesperson for the rights of women. She told Washington-based radio network NPR last year that there had been some progress on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, such as greater access to educational opportunities that had allowed her to study in the US. But many injustices remained, including a ban on women driving.

\nHowever, Al Sanea said the country’s conservatives would always argue against change, no matter what it was, to begin with before accepting it. She expects women will be allowed to drive “sooner or later”.

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29. Naji Abou Nawar
\nAge: 34
\nNew entry
\nArts and entertainment\n@TheebFilm

\nAs a child, Naji Abou Nawar was fascinated by his father’s stories about Bedouins who lived in the Arab desert. Two decades later, he brought some of the tales to life in the award-winning film ‘Theeb’, which literally starred real desert dwellers.

\nThe movie, filmed in his native Jordan and released in 2014, tells the story of a young Bedouin boy in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, who guides a British officer to his secret destination. Nowar, who describes ‘Theeb’ as a “Bedouin western”, and screenwriter Bassel Ghandour lived for a year in Wadi Rum and Wadi Arabeh in Jordan’s south to better understanding the way of life.

\nThe captivating and personal film received widespread critical acclaim, including a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 88th Academy Awards, the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer and the Director Prize at the 2014 Venice Horizons, and became the first Jordanian film to receive an Oscar nomination.

\nNawar was born in England to Jordanian parents and the family moved to Jordan when he was ten years old. He returned to England to complete school but again moved back to Jordan in 2004, where he remains based. He has dual citizenship.

\nNawar’s other works include ‘Death of a Boxer’ (2009), which screened at the Dubai International Film Festival, and ‘Till Death’ (2012).

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37. Mohammed Assaf
\nAge: 26
\n46 (2015)
\nArts and entertainment

\nThe winner of the second season of the television pop contest Arab Idol, Mohammed Assaf’s Palestinian cause and resemblance to revered Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez, has garnered him a strong following across the Arab World.

\nBorn in Libya, he was four years old when his family returned to the Gaza Strip and lived in Khan Younis refugee camp. Despite his surroundings, his stunning voice was recognised as young as five and he was still a pre-teen when he first sang in public, on a popular local television programme, and later began performing professionally at weddings.

\nHis arduous journey to reach the Arab Idol trials in Cairo is well-known: he travelled for two days by car before being locked out because he was late. Having jumped a wall, it was only the selflessness of a fellow Palestinian contestant who gave up his position to Assaf that saw him selected for the show. Since winning, Assaf has not deliberately sought to politicise his fame but he has been described as having the ability to unite Palestinians in a way that political factions have not been able to.

\nHowever, his short engagement to Palestinian-Russian TV presenter Lina Qishawi last year drew some controversy, with suggestions it was because she refused to quit her job in the media and remain out of the spotlight — a demand he had made public. Assaf’s life also inspired the film, ‘The Idol’, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. (Getty Images)

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48. Nancy Ajram
\nAge: 32
\n19 (2015)
\nArts and entertainment

\nAn established figure on the Arab pop and celebrity scene, Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram began performing as a child and released her first studio album when she was just 15. Her career breakthrough came in 2002, when she collaborated with the producer Jiji Lamara for the first time to release the hit track ‘Akhasmak Ah’ on her third studio album ‘Ya Salam’ in 2002.

\nShe released her second international bestselling album ‘Ah W Noss’ in 2004, cementing her status as an Arab pop icon. In 2009 she was even described by Oprah Winfrey as ‘the Britney Spears of the Middle East’. Successive albums include‘Ya Tabtab...Wa Dallaa’ (2006) and ‘Shakhbat Shakhabit’ (2007), while ‘Betfakkar Fi Eih?!’ (2008) won Ajram her first World Music Award for the World’s Best-Selling Middle Eastern Artist. She has since won a string of other awards, including the Murex d’or Award. In January 2015 she released her newest single, El Masri Man. She is well known for her glamorous, high-budget promotional videos.

\nAjram is also the first and only female to be sponsored by and a spokesperson for Coca-Cola in the Middle East, and last year was appointed as Chinese technology giant Huawei’s brand ambassador for its Ascend Mate 7 smartphone. She has two daughters with her dentist husband.

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54. Gigi Hadid
\nAge: 20
\nNew entry
\nUS (Palestine)
\nArts and entertainment

\nPalestinian by descent, rising fashion model and reality TV star Gigi Hadid (born Jelena Noura Hadid) was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Yolanda Foster, was also a model and her father Mohammed Hadid is from Palestine. As a teenager she appeared in several episodes of ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ and in 2011 signed with the IMG Models agency. After graduating from Malibu High School in 2013, she moved to New York and began her modelling career.

\nHadid became the face of Guess in 2012 — she reportedly first appeared in a Guess campaign when she was just two years old — and made her catwalk debut at New York Fashion Week in 2014. Since then she has appeared on numerous magazine covers and in pop music videos, and is fast becoming a household name. She is also an influential social media sensation, and has 1.75 million followers on Twitter.

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55. Hisham Samawi
\nAge: 38
\n54 (2015)
\nUAE (Syria)
\nArts and entertainment

\nHisham Samawi first visited Dubai in 2002 while he was studying for an MBA at Columbia University in New York. He returned to the city to set up home in 2006, determined to pursue business opportunities there. His first two years in Dubai were spent working in business development and strategy for Tatweer, a member of Dubai Holding. However, recognising an opportunity to develop the region’s art scene, he left Tatweer to set up the Ayyam Gallery, one of the region’s best-known arts organisations, with his cousin Khaled.

\nThe gallery first opened in Samawi’s home city of Damascus, Syria, in 2008. However, in 2011, he moved the gallery from Damascus to Dubai as the Arab Spring wreaked havoc across the Middle East. Remarkably, he also managed to persuade 15 artists and their families to move to the UAE.

\nAyyam Gallery has grown steadily over the years to include two spaces in Dubai, one in Beirut and its latest on New Bond Street in London. It represents many of the leading artists from around the Arab world and Iran. In addition to hosting exhibitions, the gallery holds a series of auctions called The Young Collectors Auction, and has a publishing house that produces a wide range of artists’ books and catalogues. Recognising another business opportunity, Samawi introduced one of his favourite New York eateries, Clinton Street Baking Company, to Dubai, opening its first location at Burj Views in 2014. The restaurant has established itself as Dubai’s go-to place for all-day breakfast and high quality casual dining. Having signed the master franchise for the MENA region, Samawi is looking to grow and develop the brand.

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56. Majid Al Ansari
\nAge: 28
\nNew entry
\nFilm director
\nArts and entertainment

\nMajid Al Ansari is an Emirati filmmaker who began his career as an intern at Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a media and entertainment company that produces Arabic language films, documentaries and TV series. During his four years with the organisation, Al Ansari worked on several international and regional productions, including ‘From A to B’ and ‘Contagion’, and did a stint in the LA office of Image Nation’s partner Participant Media.

\nHe directed his first film in 2012, a short feature film called ‘The Intruder’, which premiered at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF). ‘The Intruder’ received strong reviews and accolades including the Golden Palm for Best Short Film at the Mexico International Film Festival, an honourable mention at Boston’s Sci-fi Film Festival and an excellence award at the Puerto Rico Rincon Festival.

\nHis first feature film, ‘Zinzana’ (‘Rattle the Cage’) aired last October, produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi and starring Ali Suliman and Saleh Bakri. The film tells the story of a prisoner awaiting bail who is forced to play a madman’s game to save his family’s lives, according to critics at IMDB. The film scooped Ansari Variety magazine’s award for Middle East Filmmaker of the Year in February. He told the press this year: “I knew I wanted to make films, so I started out interning, even at places where I just cleaned the equipment or bathrooms at first. I never had a stable job initially and pay was very bad, but that’s kind of a test of whether you really want to do it or not.”

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58. Fahad Albutairi
\nAge: 30
\n32 (2015)
\nSaudi Arabia
\nArts and entertainment

\nOften dubbed ‘the Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia’, comedian Fahad Albutairi was one of the first stand-up comics to appear on stage professionally in the kingdom. He worked for some time at Saudi Aramco, but is now a full-time writer and comedian, having honed his craft as a student at the University of Texas, US, where he studied geophysics. He made his stand-up debut in Manama in 2008 but has since become a pioneer of Saudi’s ‘new media’ movement — using YouTube as his main distribution platform.

\nTogether with a team of fellow stand-up comedians including Ibraheem Alkhairallah, Albutairi has launched several YouTube shows, including ‘La Yekthar’, which loosely translates as ‘Zip it’. What started as ad-libbed monologues soon developed into scripted episodes that have garnered 40 million hits. The group also started shows such as ‘Khambalah’ and ‘Temsa7LY’, and also launched Telfaz11, a channel for distributing online entertainment content.

\nIn 2013, his YouTube video ‘No Woman, No Drive’ went viral with 12 million hits. It shows Albutairi and fellow comedians Hisham Fageeh and Alaa Wardi singing a parody of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ that satirises Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. Albutairi’s wife, Loujain Al Hathloul, got into trouble with the authorities in 2014 for taking part in a demonstration against the ban.

\nAlbutairi recently branched out into acting, playing a lead role in the 2015 Arab road movie ‘From A to B’, directed by Emirati Ali Mostafa. He has more than 1.7 million Twitter followers.

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64. Yassin Alsalman
\nAge: 33
\n59 (2015)
\nActor, Musician, Journalist
\nCanada (Iraq)
\nArts and entertainment

\nYassin Alsalman is often most recognised for his role as “Khalfan” in the 2009 multilingual Emirati film, ‘City of Life’, directed by Ali F. Mostafa. But as well as an actor, he is a hip hop MC and journalist.

\nWhile he hails from Iraq, Alsalman was born in Dubai and grew up between the UAE and Canada. In 2000, he settled in Montreal to work on what he calls his true passion – music - where he is best known by his stage name, The Narcicyst. In Canada he produced four albums in a local recording studio - Fear of an Arab Planet, The Narcicyst, Mr. Asthmatic, and his latest work, World War Free Now! (2015).

\nIn January 2011, a single titled #Jan25, featuring Alsalman and several other artists, was credited as having played an influential role in the Egyptian revolution, which started on the 25th of January, 2011. The song was an ode to Twitter and its role in giving a voice to the people of Egypt during the revolution. Alsalman’s other successful singles include Fly Over Egypt (2012) and Leap of Faith (2012).

\nThe young journalist, also known as Narcy, once co-taught a course on hip hop history at Concordia University.

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82. Ali Mostafa
\nAge: 34
\n92 (2015)
\nFilm director
\nArts and entertainment

\nThe British Emirati film-maker, director and producer is perhaps best known for directing the first Emirati feature film ‘City of Life’ in 2009. But he has gone on to do far more and just this month announced he is reteaming with Image Nation Abu Dhabi for his next feature, ‘The Worthy’, set to go into production later this year.

\nHe will be joined by Hollywood veterans Peter Safran (‘The Conjuring’, ‘Annabelle’) and Steven Schneider (‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Insidious’) who will produce the dystopia film with Mostafa’s regional producer Rami Yasin.

\nMostafa once said he created ‘City of Life’ to show the positives and negative sides of Dubai, and to change the global perception of the city as an artificial and glamorous place. His idea delivered, as the movie ranked second in the local box office and made over AED500,000 ($136,000) in its first weekend, according to Italia Film International.

\nMostafa also directed several short movies including ‘Under the Sun’, which won the Emirates Film Competition in 2006 and was screened in the Dubai International Film Festival, Rome, Rhode Island and San Francisco International Film Festivals. He owns a production company, AFM Films, and has worked on many commercials for brands such as Range Rover, Sony, and Etisalat.

\nThe 33-year-old has a Master’s in practical training in film technique from the London Film School. He is the Middle Eastern brand ambassador for Dunhill and is also the goodwill ambassador for Visit Britain.

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92. Diala Makki
\nAge: 34
\n89 (2015)
\nTelevision presenter
\nUAE (Lebanon)
\nArts and entertainment

\nBorn in Iran and raised in Beirut, television presenter Diala Makki started her career in Lebanon, where she hosted a fashion programme directed towards young people. She then moved to Dubai in 2004 to become a reporter at Dubai One. Today, Makki hosts her own talk show, ‘Mashaheer’, on Dubai TV.

\nShe has covered red carpet events and major film festivals, and has interviewed the likes of Angelina Jolie, Karl Lagerfeld, and Prince Harry. Recently, she covered the Dubai International Film Festival, Paris Haute Couture Week, and IWC Love of Cinema alongside Cate Blanchett.

\nMakki is good friends with Syrian designer Rami Al Ali, and was the face of his 2012 bridal couture collection. She has acted in two movies by Emirati director Ali Mostafa: ‘La Tahkom Ala Mowdao Min Khelal Al Sora’ (2013) and ‘Rise’ (2014). The TV personality is considered a style icon in the Middle East, with 136,000 followers on her Instagram account.

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96. Tima Shomali
\nAge: 30
\n88 (2015)
\nArts and entertainment

\nDescribed as ‘The Tina Fey of the Arab World’, Tima Shomali became the first female comedian in Jordan to gain a following when she launched her own web series on YouTube, three years ago.

\n‘FemaleShow’, a romantic comedy focusing on one couple’s path from dating to marriage and told from the woman’s point of view, has become the most popular web show in Jordan, attracting 25 million viewers. In one of Shomali’s most famous routines, she urges Jordanian women to stand up to verbal harassment on the street.

\nWhen Shomali graduated from high school, with no specialised courses to follow her passion, she studied a degree in business administration, all the while continuing to write her own show. She started taking extensive filmmaking workshops, until she produced and directed her first short movie, which helped her to apply to The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts where she graduated with a Master of Arts in writing and producing.

\nHer first online work was a show called Bath Bayakha, which she wrote and starred in back in 2011, eventually leading to the ‘FemaleShow’.

\nSince then she has produced the TV series ‘Zain’ and worked as a supervising producer on ‘Nida’A Show’, a talk show aimed at Arab women.

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98. Myriam Fares
\nAge: 33
\n99 (2015)
\nSinger, actress
\nArts and entertainment

\nLebanese pop singer and entertainer Myriam Fares set records on the music streaming service Anghami for most played artist and most played album for her fifth album ‘Aman’ last year.

\nReferred to as the Queen of Stage, Fares released her first album ‘Myriam’ in 2003 and the release of the single ‘Ana wil Shoq’ – and accompanying video – proved to be a turning point for her. The song was played throughout the Arab world and shown across Arab TV.

\nShe further gained popularity via her YouTube videos, which showcased her fusion style of traditional music and pop.

\nShe followed the success of Myriam with her second album Nadini in 2005, and a third studio album ‘Bet’oul Eh’ (April 2008) and her fourth album, ‘Min Oyouni’, which was released in September 2011.

\nFares made her acting debut in the hit Lebanese-Egyptian drama series ‘Itiham’, released in 2014.

\nShe married her long-term boyfriend Lebanese American businessman Danny Mitri in August 2014 after 10 years of dating and gave birth to their first child last month.

\nA prolific social media user, Fares has 5.1 million followers on Instagram, where she first posted news of her new born son, Jayden.