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1. Chaker Khazaal
\nAuthor, War reporter, Activist
\nAfter a year in which refugees have dominated the global political agenda, Chaker Khazaal is living proof of the fact that displaced people can go on to huge achievements and inspire others. A Palestinian-Canadian author, reporter and entrepreneur, Khazaal spent his early life living in Bourj El Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.
\nHe later emigrated to Canada after winning the Global Leader of Tomorrow Award from York University in Toronto, for his excellent academic and leadership skills, in 2005.
\nKhazaal’s career as an author and entrepreneur made him a popular and influential figure on social media, with many considering him a voice for refugees and young writers around the world.
\nHe released his critically acclaimed novel Confessions of a War Child in 2013, the first in a thriller-romantic trilogy of fiction inspired by true stories of refugees and war around the world, mainly in the Middle East. Khazaal travelled in war zones for interviews that inspired the three books.
\nBesides writing, Khazaal formed a group of professional refugees from around the world offering them contractual remote employment in e-marketing, graphics, social media management, and different web solutions. His role in the business is to recruit clients and build the marketing strategies. Among the first clients was the Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Picture, ‘Omar’.
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10. Sultan Al Qassemi
\nSultan Al Qassemi is something of a rarity in the Gulf — a prominent national who is completely unafraid to speak his mind. As such, he has become one of the most respected GCC residents on Twitter, with nearly 430,000 followers hanging onto his every word. The Sharjah native came to worldwide prominence during the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions, when Al Qassemi’s rapid Twitter output established him as an authoritative voice on Middle Eastern affairs. “I felt, in a tiny, minuscule way, that I contributed — among many, many other people — to what happened,” he told The Guardian newspaper in 2011.
\nBut Al Qassemi’s first love lies in the world of art. He founded the Barjeel Art Foundation in 2010, which aims to showcase the works of established and emerging contemporary artists from the Arab world. It also houses over 200 pieces from Al Qassemi’s private collection. Al Qassemi is also a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government. (Getty Images)
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11. Lina Atallah
\nChief Editor, Mada Masr
\nLina Atallah was the editor of Egypt Independent before it was closed down by the country’s authorities. Undeterred, she gathered together the cream of the paper’s young journalists and founded Mada Masr, an online newspaper. Mada, which means “span” or “range” in Arabic, but is also the spot where a stone is placed on a ring, a symbol of taking a position, and Masr is often referred to as Egypt. The website was launched on June 30, 2013, the day that a mass demonstration calling for the resignation of Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s president, was planned.
\nMada Masr was Attalah’s seventh news venture; many of the previous ones had closed because of successive governments’ attitude towards independent-minded journalists.
\nAs well as editing Mada Masr, Atallah has written for numerous publications including Reuters, Al Masry Al Youm and Cairo Times, and has worked as a radio producer and campaign coordinator for the BBC World Service trust. In a country where the situation for journalists has become “intolerable”, according to Reporters Without Borders, Mada Masr has become one of the few independent, critical voices.
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23. Waleed Aly
\nPresenter, The Project
\nThe Australian Sunni Muslim, who was born to Egyptian parents, is widely praised for his insightful commentary on Islam. Aly, who is a trained lawyer, first came to prominence a decade ago as the head of public affairs for the Islamic Council of Victoria. His frequent commentary in the media later led him to take up a fulltime career in the sector, co-hosting various television programmes and writing columns for the country’s top newspapers, often taking up various causes.
\nHe is now fulltime host of Network 10’s The Project, a nightly one-hour talk show. In November, Aly used his nightly editorial to present a powerful four-minute monologue outlining strategies to stop ISIL after the Paris attacks. He condemned current and former Australian politicians who he said had incited hate through their divisive comments and claimed the group was weak.
\n“And they don’t want you to know it, which is why it’s something we should talk about,” he said.
\nThe video was viewed 13 million times on Facebook alone. However, Aly refuses to be on social media.
\nHe is also a lecturer at the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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31. Hossam Bahgat
\nJournalist and activist
\nHossam Bahgat has been writing investigative reports in English and Arabic for online journal Mada Masr for several years and was founding executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based human rights organisation, between 2002 and 2013.
\nHis reports and activism had always caused a stir in Egypt, but in November, Bahgat was arrested and detained by Egypt’s military intelligence agency in connection with articles he wrote describing criminal convictions against 26 military officers for plotting a coup. The military deemed them to be a threat to its security.
\nActivists including Amnesty International argued it was a “flagrant violation of his right to freedom of expression”. Bahgat was released after two days, hours before planned protests calling for his release.
\nUndeterred, as Egypt prepared for the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution in January, Bahgat told The Guardian that the scale of state repression in Egypt is greater today than it has been for generations, citing restrictions on media, an increase in the number of political prisoners, forced disappearances, and alleged extrajudicial killings of Islamists by the state.
\nBahgat also has served on the boards of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Fund for Global Human Rights.
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32. Afrah Nasser
\nBlogger and activist
\nAfrah Nasser launched her journalism career while still studying at Sana’a University in Yemen, contributing to two national newspapers. But when the so-called Arab Spring arose in 2011, Nasser, who was by now well awake to the unequal state of the world around her, relinquished her objectivity and began blogging.
\nHer commentary on Yemeni politics, women’s rights and democracy soon forced her into exile and she has been a political refugee in Sweden since May 2012. From the relative safety of her new home, Nasser has continued to draw attention to the human rights abuses in her homeland, writing on her eponymous blog, organising events and occasionally running workshops.
\nShe deliberately writes in English, referring to her blog as “a megaphone to the world”. She has contributed to media outlets including Al Jazeera English, CNN, The National, Al Arabi magazine, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Doha Center for Free Media and Swedish International Radio. Her blog has been ranked among the best in the Middle East by numerous organisations and in 2014, she won the Dawit Issak Prize, which recognises those who fight for freedom of expression.
\nThrough the Yemeni Salon Organisation that she and colleague Hana Al Khamri founded in 2012, Nasser has helped to empower the ever-growing Yemeni diaspora by organising cultural and media empowerment projects.
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44. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin
\nCalifornia-born Ahmed Shihab-Eldin holds a master of science in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and still works as an adjunct professor for the institution, teaching digital media. Of Palestinian descent and with Kuwaiti parents, he is a lifelong expat, having been raised in Kuwait, Egypt, the US and Austria.
\nHe started his journalism career in the US as a news producer with the New York Times in 2008. He then worked at Qatar’s Al Jazeera English for six months. Also in Doha, he worked as a reporter and producer for the Doha Film Institute, during which time he helped launch the first Doha Tribeca Film Festival.
\nIn 2011, Shihab-Eldin created, produced and co-hosted Al Jazeera English’s social media show ‘The Stream’, an interactive talk show that earned him an Emmy nomination for Most Innovative Program in 2012 for an episode about Bahrain’s political crisis.
\nHe has also blogged for the Huffington Post. His Master’s digital media project earned him a Webby Award for “Defining Middle Ground: The Next Generation of Muslim New Yorkers”. He is currently a correspondent and producer at VICE Media in the US.
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52. Ayman Mohyeldin
\nEgyptian-American journalist Ayman Mohyeldin is a Los Angeles-based foreign correspondent and news anchor for NBC News. He previously worked for Al Jazeera and CNN, and was reportedly one of the first Western journalists permitted to report on the trial of the deposed former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.
\nMohyeldin was born in Cairo to an Egyptian father and Palestinian mother and grew up in Egypt until his parents emigrated to the US when he was five years old.
\nHe studied at the American University in Washington, DC, earning a Bachelor’s in International Relations and later a Master’s in International Politics with a focus on peace and conflict resolution. His graduate thesis, entitled ‘The News Media Paradigm in the War on Terrorism,’ was accepted by the International Association of Media Researcher’s Conference in Barcelona, Spain, in 2002.
\nHe began his journalism career at NBC, working as a desk assistant in the Washington, DC bureau. He then moved to Iraq and worked as a foreign news producer with CNN from 2003 to 2005. He later covered the 2011 Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring protests for Al Jazeera English.
\nMore recently, Mohyeldin has become the host of digital show ‘Road Map’ on Shift, and is a self-proclaimed keen foodie and photographer.
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76. Mahmoud Kaabour
\nFilmmaker, writer, speaker
\nFounder of Veritas Films production company, Mahmoud Kaabour is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, writer and public speaker.
\nKaabour graduated from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal and went on to join the National Film Board of Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
\nHeavily interested in documentaries, Kaabour founded Veritas Films in the UAE in 2008. It exclusively produces non-fiction content.
\nThrough Veritas, he has created documentaries and films for the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Executive Affairs Authority in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, Dubai Holding, and Dubai Investments subsidiaries.
\nBut Kaabour is most recognised for his first feature film, ‘Being Osama’. The documentary shows the lives of six men sharing Osama Bin Laden’s first name in the period after the September 11 terror attacks. The film received four international awards and was aired on 12 international channels, making Kaabour the youngest commissioned filmmaker in the history of Canadian television.
\nKaabour’s other works, including the films ‘Teta, Alf Marra’, also won five major Audience Awards and Best Film awards as well as recognition from publications including The New York Times, and a special jury mention at its world premiere at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.
\nImpressively, it was the first documentary produced in the GCC to qualify for an Academy Awards nomination.
\nKaabour’s third film, ‘Champ of the Camp’, was probably the most controversial of his works. It is set in UAE labour camps and follows a Bollywood singing competition that moves across 70 camps to select a winner. The movie was narrated and sung entirely by real-life labourers.
\nIt premiered at the Tenth Dubai International Film Festival in 2013 with a special screening at the Burj Khalifa.
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97. Zaina Erhaim
\nAleppo-based journalist Zaina Erhaim picked up the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in October last year, for her fearless reporting on the civil war in her home country. Despite having a safe job in the UK, Erhaim chose to return to Syria and document the harrowing stories unfolding in the war-torn country.
\nErhaim is the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international organisation that supports journalists in countries undergoing conflict, crisis or transition.
\nOver the last two years inside Syria, she has trained about 100 citizen reporters, approximately a third of them women, in print and TV journalism, and has helped establish many of the new emerging independent newspapers and magazines in the war torn country.
\nShe works both in Arabic and English to teach and contribute her own reporting to Arab and Western media, including the British magazine The Economist as well as The Guardian newspaper. She also often speaks to other media outlets as an on-the-ground journalist witness.
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100. Futaim Al Falasi
\nEmirati YouTube sensation Futaim Al Falasi has an audience in the hundreds of thousands. Better known as Taim to her listeners, Falasi started on her path to fame with two humanitarian campaigns and published her online entertainment magazine during her time at Zayed University, where she studied visual communications.
\nFor her magazine, she produced videos with four celebrities that went viral to over 1 million viewers on YouTube.
\nShe harnessed that after college, starting her own YouTube channel, which now has close to 400,000 subscribers and has had more than 63 million views since it started in 2012. The videos feature blogs from wherever she is in the world.
\nFalasi also started an online radio show, which has been rated as the most listened to in the Arab region.
\nNaturally, Falasi has a strong social media presence with 1.8 million Instagram followers.