43. Amr Diab They 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. Recent months have seen his popularity slide; his absence from Egypt during the uprising has led to denunciations from some quarters that his silence was a tacit expression of support for the former regime — but certainly he has not been included on a list compiled by activists of Egyptian stars who showed support for Hosni Mubarak. 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.
50. Bassam Kousa A prominent film and television actor in the Arab world, Bassam Kousa is known for his unconventional roles and his willingness to push the boundaries. Born in Aleppo, Syria on November 7, 1963, Kousa broke into the public consciousness with a string of prominent roles in Syrian TV shows such as ‘Ayyam Shamiyah’. One of his most popular roles was on ‘Bab Al Hara’, one of the most-watched TV shows in the Arab region. Although he only appeared in the first season of the show, his character, Idaghshiri, became instantly identifiable to an audience stretching from Gaza to the Arabian Gulf. Kousa has also acted in a number of feature films, including Usama Muhammad’s ‘The Box of Life’, which was screened at the 2002 Cannes Festival winning the Un Certain Regard award. In 2010, Kousa won the prestigious Adonia award, Syria’s version of the Emmys, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in ‘Wara’a al Shams’. In the show, Kousa plays a man struggling with autism, a role that has raised eyebrows in a traditionally conservative region.
52. Nadine Labaki She has been the darling of the Arab film industry for years, but it appears that the long overdue global recognition is finally coming. Her latest movie, which she also wrote, ‘Where Do We Go Now?’ made its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival last year and walked away with the hugely prestigious audience award – following in the footsteps of ‘The Kings Speech’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. The movie tells the story of what lengths a mother would go to in order to stop her son becoming involved in Lebanon’s sectarian violence. She is also well known as a director in the Arabic music video industry. In 2007, Labaki co-wrote, directed, and starred in her feature-film debut, ‘Caramel’, which became an sensation at global box offices.
56. Al Laith Hajo Al 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”. Elnashra.com 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.” He added: “New ideas are being incorporated everyday according to updates in events in Syria and other countries witnessing turmoil.” Hajo added the additional scenes that have been shot for Kharba were not included in the original script by writer Mamdouh Hamada. Elsewhere, Hajo has recently been shooting the Egyptian television drama ‘Al Khawaja Abdul Qader’, which stars Sulafa Memar.
81. Safwan Dahoul Born 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. After graduating from the Faculty of Fines Arts in Damascus at the top of his class 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 and collective exhibitions throughout the Middle East, Europe and the US.
140. Nayla Al Khaja Nayla Al Khaja, the UAE’s first 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. Al Khaja’s career choice coupled with her willingness to tackle taboo subjects has often led to controversy. Her last short film, which was released in 2010, took a look at the issues raised by arranged marriages. In ‘Malal’ a young Emirati couple visit Kerala on a honeymoon that is soured by the wife’s boredom with her new husband.
144. Nancy Ajram Visit virtually any city in the Middle East, and the face of Nancy Ajram will inevitably be staring down on you from the nearest billboard. Although she advertises pretty much every product known to man, she is — of course — best known as a singer. Winner of a 2008 World Music Award for best-selling Middle Eastern artist, Ajram has even been named by no less than Oprah Winfrey as of the most influential personalities of the Middle East. A legend in her own lifetime, Ajram has sold over 30 million records. Born in Beirut, she took part in a Lebanese TV reality show at the age of twelve, winning a gold medal. She released her first album in 1998, aged just fifteen, and her next two albums, in 2002 in 2004, cemented her position as a regional superstar. In 2010, she was nominated by Coca Cola to sing a track written for the World Cup. Ajram’s Facebook page has well over three million fans.
226. Ziad Rahbani Musical star Ziad Rahbani is the son of the composer Assi Rahbani and the Lebanese diva Fairouz. nHe continues to make the Arabian Business Power 500 given his continued popularity within the Arab world, and his ability to improve political relations with his talent. In 2008, he was invited to perform in Damascus – a move which was considered a gesture of goodwill from Syria, which shares a long and fractured history with Lebanon. Of course, Rahbani demonstrated a creative streak from an early age, when he wrote poems. Today, he has built a name for himself as an accomplished comedian, playwright, composer, singer and radio host. He was first recognised aged seventeen, when he was given the task of writing music for a theatre production in which his mother was due to play the leading role. Standing in for his ill father, the teenager composed the music to accompany the lyrics his uncle had written. His song ‘Saalouni El Nass’ (The People Asked Me) gained him international acclaim.
230. Hany Abu Assad ‘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 Mickey Rourke - will be released this month.
237. Kazim Al Saher Kazim 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. Also 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’. Al 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. By 1999, Al Saher was one of the biggest names in Arabic music and he won a UNICEF award for his song, ‘Tathakkar’, which he performed for the US Congress and the UN.
238. Haifa Wehbe Having been on the cover of over 100 magazines, Lebanese model, actress and singer Haifa Wehbe is well known across the Arab world. She rose to fame as runner up Miss Lebanon, before releasing her debut album Houwa El Zaman in 2002. She has since released several more albums selling millions of copies across the region, and starred in films including the 2008 Pepsi-produced Sea of Stars. In 2006, she was on People magazine’s 50 most beautiful list.
248. Susan Youssef Susan Youssef spent a long time deciding what she wanted to do with her life, but in the end it was worth the wait. The 34 year-old film maker and director, whose film Habibi won the award for Best Arab Feature Film at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival, is now recognised around the Middle East for her talent. Youssef spent most of her early life in the US. When she finally moved to Lebanon aged 22, she began her career as a school teacher, and later then worked as a journalist at the Daily Star in Beirut. It wasn’t until she submitted a short film about her grandparents to film schools in the US that she received a scholarship from the University of Texas to pursue her dream. She has since directed several short films, and her first feature film, “Habibi Rasak Kharban” — a love story set in Gaza — has been described as a daring romantic drama with an intense, but uplifting political message.
250. Fatima Mernissi Fatima Mernissi has published several books on the position of women in the rapidly changing Muslim communities in Morocco. Born in Fes in 1940, she published the result of her first fieldwork: ‘Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society’ in 1975. Much of her work has been translated in many languages and is widely read in Islamic countries. In the 1990s, Mernissi stopped working on women’s issues and switched to civil society. Having studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, she is currently a lecturer in sociology at the University of Rabat.
256. Elissa Celebrating her 40th birthday in October, Elissar Zakaria Khoury has had a fantastic journey. In fact, her eighth album is set for release this year. Simply known as Elissa, the Lebanese singer is a recipient of the World Music Award for best-selling artist in the Middle East. She has won the World Music Award accolade three times, an achievement yet to be matched by any other Lebanese performer. Elissa has recently resigned from her post as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, as her requests to create a program to include onsite visits to affected areas of the Arab World were ignored.
257. Marcel Khalife An 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. In 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 new album, ‘Fall of the Moon’, is a homage to Darwish. Khalife is scheduled to perform in Toronto this coming October at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
267. Omar Sharif A superstar to cinema audiences in the West and the East, Omar Sharif is the undisputed father of the Egyptian film scene. His most famous roles were in David Lean classics ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’. He has been nominated for an Academy Award, won two Golden Globe Awards and was given a medal by UNESCO in recognition of his significant contributions to world film and cultural diversity. nBack in Cairo, the former bridge maestro condemned former president Hosni Mubarak in January of last year, saying “given that the entire Egyptian people don’t want him and he’s been in power 30 years, that’s enough.” He recently assigned a writer, Salwa Baker, to work on his memoirs.
272. Rachid Bouchareb Rachid Bouchareb has been nominated three times for an Oscar. The French-born film director, who is of Algerian descent, has a global following due to films such as, ‘Dust of Life’, ‘Days of Glory’, and ‘Outside the Law’. Bouchareb’s Paris-based company Tessalit is set to produce “Affaire etrangeres” (Foreign Affairs), a political thriller steered by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri.
286. Sayed Badreya Egyptian-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. nAfter 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. Today, he runs his production company, Zoom In Focus, and is this year set to star in the Sacha Baron Cohen film, The Dictator.
304. Sulaf Fawakherji Sulaf Fawakherji is perhaps Syria’s most popular television and film actress.
310. Adunis Arts & Entertainment tAdunis is one of the Arab worlds foremost essayists, poets and thinkers.
322. Mika The Beirut-born singers portfolio has waned since his second album was released in 2009.
324. Karl Wolf Rapper Karl Wolf has moved from headlining to mentoring young talent.
343. Ahdaf Soueif Ahdaf Soueifs latest book documents the events that took place in Tahrir Square last year.
351. Mohammed Bakri One of the most famous homegrown film directors in the region, Bakri focuses his work on the internal struggles of the Palestinian people.
374. Bahaa Taher Taher won the first International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008, with Sunset Oasis.
392. Ghassan Massoud Ghassan Massoud is an accomplished film actor, playing roles on both sides of the Atlantic.