The 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015 in Arts and Media

Welcome to CEO Middle East’s fifth annual list of the world’s most powerful Arab women — our yearly look at the most important female influencers across the Arab world.
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9. (12) Amina Al Rustamani
\nTECOM Investments

\n“We are very aggressive in our plan,” said Amina Al Rustamani in an interview with Arabian Business last year.

\nThe CEO of TECOM Investments was talking about the Dubai Design District (d3), TECOM’s flagship project which could change the face of creativity in the region.

\nThe executive has won huge praise – and awards – for her leadership of the project which will boost Dubai’s economy through fashion, design, art, and other sectors. The $1 billion masterplan has been approved and construction is well under way, meaning the coming months and years will be as busy and exciting for Al Rustamani as ever.

\nStarting her career in 2001 as a project engineer in Dubai Media City, she has risen to become one of the Arab world’s most powerful and respected women, looking after upwards of 4,500 companies across a number of industries at TECOM Business Parks.

\nShe is also a board member of Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), as well as Lamtara, Tunisie Telecom, and the Dubai Holding Audit Committee.\nAdd to this her role in developing innovative media initiatives, such as People Meter and the Digital Video Broadcasting project, and you have a good idea of why Al Rustamani is held is such high regard.
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13. (2) Haifaa Al Mansour
\nFilm director
\nSaudi Arabia
\nArts and entertainment

\nLast summer, Haifaa Al Mansour was making headlines in the film industry again with her latest directorial plans - a period romantic drama based on the relationship between Mary and Percy Shelley.

\nA Storm in the Stars, which should start filming this year, would represent the follow-up to Al Mansour’s debut feature film - and cultural landmark - Wadjda. The festival smash from 2012 thrust  the Saudi director into the limelight and brought into focus numerous societal talking points, prompting widespread acclaim for Al Mansour, as well as some criticism and even hate mail from some quarters.

\nWadjda tells the story of a rebellious young girl who dreams of owning a green bicycle, and Al Mansour was forced to direct parts of the film from a van with a walkie talkie, so not to be seen in public.

\nAlso a backer of the campaign to allow women to drive in her home country, she say she has received death threats for her views from local conservatives.\nIn an interview shortly after the release of Wadjda, Al Mansour made clear her reasons for becoming a film maker.

\n“I want to do stories about embracing life and hop and empowering girls, it’s very dear to me to make things like this,” she said.
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26. (10) Samia Halaby
\nUS (Palestine)
\nArts and entertainment

\nWith a career going back to the 1960s, Samia Halaby is one of the Arab world’s best known and most distinguished female artists.

\nHer recent retrospective, Samia Halaby: Five Decades of Painting and Inspiration, highlights the breadth and popularity of her work, showcasing the artist’s development over the years, as well as her recurring themes.

\nOne of these themes is her home country of Palestine, where she was born - in Jerusalem - in 1936. Fleeing with her family to Beirut in 1948, and later to the US in 1951, Halaby studied design at the University of Cincinnati and painting at Indiana University.

\nShe later taught at some of the world’s most prestigious art institutions, such as The Cooper Union, Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, and the University of Michigan. She was also the first female art professor to teach at the Yale School of Art.

\nDescribed as the ‘master of abstraction’, Halaby has explained that her approach is to look at the general rather than the specific, seeking patterns in her surroundings, and that she draws inspiration from “the advanced art of revolutionary periods from all over the world”.
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28. (22) Somayya Jabarti
\nSaudi Gazette
\nSaudi Arabia

\nLast year, Somayya Jabarti became the first woman ever to take control of one of Saudi Arabia’s newspapers.

\nThe editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette replaced replaced Khaled Almaeena in February 2014, and the appointment was noted as a milestone in a country where women’s rights are sometimes limited.

\nSpeaking at the time, Jabarti said: “There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door. Being the first Saudi woman [editor-in-chief] is going to double the responsibility… One’s actions will reflect upon my fellow Saudi women.”
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35. (65) Joelle Mardinian
\nTelevision personality
\nArts and entertainment

\nRenowned television personality Joelle Mardinian has had another great year, signing an agreement to expand her business - Maison De Joelle - into Morocco.

\nThe move represents the first time the prominent make-up artist and beauty expert has taken her company outside the Gulf, though her reputation has already gone beyond borders. Her weekly MBC reality show, Joelle, has made her a familiar face across the region, focusing on the beauty transformation of individual women. Mardinian is also the official regional creative director for world famous cosmetics brand Max Factor, for which she created a summer 2014 look.
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36. (38) Noura Al Kaabi

\nWith the UAE continuing to push to become a world leader in innovation, Noura Al Kaabi’s stock continues to rise.\nThe head of Abu Dhabi’s media free zone - twofour54 - has had another impressive year. In August 2014 the CEO was awarded an honorary degree by the Protocol School of Washington at a ceremony in Washington DC, after which she delivered a keynote address on Women in Leadership Roles to an audience of more than 250 protocol and diplomatic professionals.

\nAs a member of the Federal National Council she has brought a media and technology slant to proceedings, calling once for regulations to ensure photos of abused children do not appear publicly, and another time encouraging governmental bodies to make better use of social media.

\nThe role of twofour54 in the global film market is also increasing, with the new Star Wars and Fast and Furious movies being shot in Abu Dhabi, and the free zone continues to create innovative content, promote digital media, and foster local talent.
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57 (30). Randa Ayoubi
\nRubicon Group Holding

\nHit kids’ film Postman Pat: The Movie emphasised the strides Rubicon Group Holding has taken under the leadership of Randa Ayoubi.

\nJordanian animator Ayoubi, the CEO of RGH, and executive producer of the film, has also tied up a deal with former Beatles star Sir Paul McCartney to bring his children’s book to life - testament to the hard work she has put into the company she founded in 1994 and ran for a decade on an initial investment of $140,000.

\nNow the company is working on a $1.5 billion theme park in Aqaba, and continues to produce its successful series Ben & Izzy - a cartoon aimed at promoting cross cultural understanding between the Middle East and the West.
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58 (57). Mona Al Marri
\nDirector general
\nDubai Media Office

\nAt the end of 2014, the Arab Union of Electronic Media named Mona Al Marri the most influential Arab media personality, solidifying her position as an important cog in the emirate’s machinery.

\nThe director general of Dubai government’s media office was appointed to her role in 2012, having already established herself as a PR guru and media whizz. As well as shaping Dubai’s image to both the media at home and abroad, Al Marri is also vice president of the Dubai Ladies Club, and a board member of Young Arab Leaders. She has continually used her position, speaking engagements and appearances at conferences to change people’s minds about UAE women.
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63 (51). Nashwa Al Ruwaini

\nWhen her talk show, Nashwa, launched in 2006, Nashwa Al Ruwaini became a household name across the Middle East.

\nKnown as the ‘Oprah of the Arab world’, Al Ruwaini has gone from strength to strength, though it hasn’t always been an easy ride. Born in Cairo, she started her career on Qatari radio before becoming the youngest Arab woman on TV, working for Qatar TV. Moving to London, and then to Cairo, Al Ruwaini found her way to the UAE where she established her own production company, Pyramedia, in 1998. Pyramedia is now one of the largest production companies in the region. Recently, Hollywood Reporter magazine named her as one of the 25 most powerful women in global TV.
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66 (49). Nadine Labaki
\nFilm director
\nArts and entertainment

\nOne of the most successful female film directors and actresses from the Arab world, Nadine Labaki continues to make and star in top feature films.

\nAfter 2013 smash hit Rock The Casbah, Labaki had a busy 2014, appearing in three films - Mea Culpa, Rio, I Love You, and La Rancon de la Gloire. Perhaps still best known for her directorial debut, Caramel, which she also starred in, Labaki is a known name within the global film industry, having been listed on Variety’s annual run-down of ten directors to watch.
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69 (68). Mona Eltahawy
\nJournalist and activist
\nUS (Egypt)

\nSince coming to prominence in 2011, when she was assaulted in Egypt’s Interior Ministry after being arrested during a protest in Tahrir Square, Eltahawy’s has been a familiar voice in the campaign for women’s rights.

\nA regular in some of the world’s best-read newspapers and websites, Eltahawy has been heralded by many as displaying courage in the face of adversity by offering an uncompromising stance against patriarchal behaviours, governments and societies. Her first book - Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution - is expected to be published in April, and is based on a controversial article she wrote about misogyny in 2012, entitled Why Do They Hate Us.
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70 (40). Hala Gorani
\nTelevision journalist
\nUS (Syria)

\nProminent US-based journalist Hala Gorani in known for her hard-hitting news reports from the region, which have covered major events including the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war and the Arab Spring.

\nThe French-raised Syrian-American is an anchor and correspondent for CNN, known for The World Right Now with Hala Gorani, among other shows, and has been honoured for her work with numerous awards. Recently she covered the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo Paris shootings. Among her high-profile interviews have been Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, Nouri Al Maliki and the Dalai Lama.
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72 (64). Nancy Ajram
\nArts and entertainment

\nOne of the most recognisable names and faces in the Middle East, Nancy Ajram is one of Arabic music’s biggest stars.

\nThe Lebanese singer boasts more than five million Twitter followers, built on the back of eight hit albums - the most recent of which, Nancy 8, was released during 2014. A regular award winner and live performer, Ajram has put her fame to good use, participating in numerous charity events and concerts. In 2009 UNICEF chose Ajram as the first female regional ambassador for MENA. Her appeal and recognition is not confined to the Arab world, however. Oprah Winfrey branded her one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East.
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78 (52). Badreya Al Bishr
\nNovelist, journalist
\nSaudi Arabia

\nControversy and Badreya Al Bishr have never been far away from one another. The author, journalist and TV host has never shied away from tackling major issues and taboo topics.

\nWriting in her daily column for Al Hayat, and hosting her own talk show on MBC, Al Bishr takes on numerous themes affecting Arab women today, as well as religion and extremism. The multi-award-winning Saudi writer is a PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the US State Department International Visitor programme. She also lectures at King Saud University’s Department of Social Studies.
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80 (37). Hanan Solayman
\nEl Mandara

\nFreelance journalist Hanan Solayman has steadily been bringing media to Egypt’s masses through her Mandara Media Foundation.

\nThe foundation, which aims to create news websites and media platforms in underserved communities in rural Egypt, was launched in 2012. Its first project was to train 90 journalists in Upper Egypt, allowing them to contribute to a local portal covering all 11 districts in the southern part of the country. A regular writer for publications across the region, Solayman plans to develop Mandara, aiming to build a “leading model of independent and non-profit local journalism… to engage citizens outside the capital in society”.
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86 (58). Fairouz
\nArts and entertainment

\nPerhaps still the most iconic Middle Eastern female singer, Fairouz has been one of the region’s best known and popular singer for decades.

\nStarting her musical career in the 1950s, the ‘Jewel of Lebanon’ enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top, singing about her home country’s beauty, and calling for peace and freedom.

\nOften received by royalty and presidents, one of Fairouz’s most prized posessions in the key to Jerusalem, though she has never performed in the Holy City.
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87 (80). Nayla Al Khaja
\nArts and entertainment

\nConstantly in demand, and constantly working, the UAE’s first ever female film director has been as busy as ever.

\nNot only does she have five short films under her belt, and not only has she launched her own production company, D-SEVEN, Nayla Al Khaja is also part of the Reel Dubai filmmaking competition, helping six shortlisted contestants turn their cinematic dreams into reality. A graduate from Dubai Women’s College, and Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, Al Khaja’s films touch on taboo topics, such as arranged marriages, child abuse, and secret dating in the UAE. Having to fight the wishes of her parents, who did not want her to become a filmmaker, Al Khaja is now an award-winner several times over, including the Emirates Woman Award, which she collected a decade ago.
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88 (29). Yousra
\nArts and entertainment

\nThe irrepressible entertainment superstar continues to be a well listened-to cultural spokeswoman, have acquired ‘icon’ status long ago.

\nThe Egyptian actress and singer, whose career goes back to the 1970s, has turned her talents to a variety of genres, including comedy, drama, and political satire. In 2006 she played a supporting role in The Yacoubian Building, which is believed to have had the highest budget of any Egyptian production to date. Yousra’s singing career came later, with her first album being released in 2002. More recently, she participated in the Ramadan series Saraya Abdein in 2014. The entertainer has also worked as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, for which she is believed to have received more than 50 awards.
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89 (75). Ahlam Mosteghanemi
\nArts and entertainment

\nPerhaps the most successful female writer in the Arab World, Mosteghanemi in a multi-award-winner whose poetry and fiction focuses on some of the more controversial topics for the region.

\nHer novels were brought out of Arabia when her best-known work - a trilogy including Memory in the Flesh, Chaos of the Senses, and Black Suits You So Well - was published in English. Writing about love, sexuality, women’s rights, corruption, politics and colonisation, Mosteghanemi’s books have sometimes caused controversy, but her huge following on social media, and constant recognition from the literary community confirm that her words have won more admirers than critics. Born in Tunis, but very much Algerian, Mosteghanemi studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before moving to Beirut.
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90. Hayv Kahraman
\nUS (Iraq)
\nArts and entertainment

\nLiving and working in the US, Hayv Kahraman’s artwork reflects issues of gender, honour killings and war in her home country of Iraq.

\nBorn in Baghdad in 1981, the artist has painted, drawn and sculpted from a young age. She began oil painting at the age of 12 after moving from Iraq to Sweden, and later staged a number of successful exhibitions there.

\nDeveloping a style with references to Japanese and Arabic calligraphy, art nouveau, Persian miniature, and Greek iconography, Kahraman now lives and works in San Francisco, and has had numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world over the past 12 years.

\nIn November 2014 she was recognised by the Global Thinkers Forum for Excellence in Cultural Creativity.
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93 (84). Ahlam
\nArts and entertainment

\nThe Emirati singing star is as popular as ever, largely thanks to her judging role on talent show Arab Idol - popularity that is backed up by 4.46 million followers on Twitter.

\nThe musician, who has 10 albums under her belt since launching her career in 1994, was born in Abu Dhabi to Bahraini and Emirati parents, and actually lived the early part of her life in Bahrain before returning to the UAE to finish her education.

\nAhlam Ali Al Shamsi - to give her her full name - recently switched record labels, signing with new label Platinum Records earlier this year. Platinum Records is owned by Saudi artist Rashid Al Majid, in partnership with television channel MBC, which screens Arab Idol. She had previously been with Rotana Production Company.