Today the whole world faces numerous challenges; whether economic, political, cultural or religious, conflicts, abuses, and human rights violations seem to be everywhere; from the latest tragedy in Las Vegas to the sounds of fights whose echoes reach from far beyond the Atlantic Ocean. What time could political and human rights activists be needed more than today?
Honestly, they are always needed, since the history of humankind is full of dark times. Today the Arab World faces many challenges such as poverty, state of the refugees, political corruption, restrictions on free speech, censorship on art and media, extremists, and threats of terrorist groups. In these hard times, a group of activists in different fields continues to fight for a better world. In this topic, we picked you ten Arab Muslim activists whose enlightening efforts have touched and inspired many.
10 Mona Seif
Mona Ahmed Seif was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1986 to a family whose members are human rights activists. “I actually celebrated my 25th birthday at a demonstration, in front of the ministry of prosecution. My friends were all there, and it was very funny”. This statement of Saif to the CNN says a lot about the young activist. She has been looking for and protesting against human rights abuses and beatings of protesters and torture of prisoners. She is well-known for her participation in the Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011. Mona Seif was part of the social media campaigns that eventually led to the 2011 event, and she live-streamed the protests of Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolution. Alongside being a social activist, she is a cancer research lab worker who has been investigating the breast cancer gene BRCA1. Her father, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, was a human rights lawyer; and her mother, Leila Soueif, is a professor of mathematics and tough activist. Her elder brother Alaa is a computer programmer who was accused of demonstrating without permission in 2015 and sentenced to five years in prison.
Mohammed Qraiqae is a 16-year-old artist from Gaza, Palestine. He started drawing at the age of five and never stopped since then. His art reflects hard life and abnormal childhood; a common thing among those who live in the shadows of war and conflict. He has experienced the constant threat of Israeli attacks and bombs on Gaza.
A quiet boy who reflects his madness only in painting; this is how Qraiqae described himself to Middle East Eye in 2016. The teenage artist is eager for learning and developing himself and art. He stated on his Facebook page that 2016 was “the year of strength” during which he managed to travel and see new places and people; he also has expanded his artistic vision and learned about new art schools and techniques, promising his fans of a better art. Qraiqae has participated in national and international festivals and art galleries around the Arab world and the US. He received awards from the European Union, Independent Commission for Human Rights, the International Festival of Fine Arts in Mahres, Tunisia, etc.
From the United Arab Emirates comes Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, a social activist, writer, businessman and art collector. Specialized in Arab affairs, he writes to national and international newspapers and websites like the New York Times. He has been renowned particularly for his coverage of the revolutions occurred in Arab countries as Libya and Egypt and known as the Arab Spring. He has been a social media activist whose Twitter feeds were selected by Time magazine on its list of “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011“. In an attempt to revive art in the Arab world, Qassemi initiated Barjeel Art Foundation to be a museum and culture institution for the modern and contemporary art of talented Arab artists. He has advocated national causes inside his country such as naturalization in the UAE, youth empowerment, entrepreneurship, etc.
Insaf Haidar is a Saudi Arabian lady who has turned a human rights activist after her husband Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes in 2014. Being a blogger, Badawy used to harshly criticize the Saudi religious establishment. After her husband imprisonment convicted of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” Haidar fled with their three children to Canada where they were granted a temporary residence. Haidar has initiated a worldwide campaign to raise the awareness about her husband case and demand a release of him. And she told their account in her published book entitled “Raif Badawi, the Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story“.
A Lebanese writer and director, Lucien Bourjeily is a strong activist against censorship on the arts in Lebanon. He is also known as a participant in anti-corruption campaigns launched by the Lebanese movement You Stink. Bourjeily has been widely recognized for his work in immersive and interactive theater; his first movie is expected to be launched and displayed in international film festivals at the beginning of 2017. The surrounding political events often influence Bourjeily’s work; his 2012 hard-hitting play “66 Minutes in Damascus”, for example, was an echo of the current events in Syria. In the same year, the CNN listed Lucien Bourjeily among the eight leading cultural activists who are making an impact in Lebanon and internationally. The Lebanese General Security banned Bourjeily’s recent work Beirut Syndrome, which explores political corruption, from public performance in Lebanon, so as his earlier anticensorship play expressively entitled “Will It Pass or not!”.
Mary Nazzal is entirely worthy of her place among Forbes Middle East list of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen in 2017. She is entrepreneur and human rights activist from Jordan, alongside being a mother of three. Nazzal is the founder and chairwoman of Landmark Amman Hotel Co. which is one of the most famous hotels in Amman, the capital, and the first 5-star hotel owned and run by Jordanians. Being a social activist, she has supported the women employees in the hotel by establishing a day nursery for their babies and children. As a specialist in international human rights law, she defends the Palestinian legal rights. She is the co-founder and chair of a non-profit organization, the Palestine Legal Aid Fund (PLAF), whose primary expertise is facilitating legal actions on behalf of the victims of human rights abuses. And in 2015, Mary Nazzal-Batayneh was chosen to be the SEP Jordan ambassador; SEP Jordan is a brand of hand embroideries made by Palestinian refugee women from Jerash Camp.
Ahmad Mazen al-Shugairi is a Saudi Arabian media man who has adopted an open tendency towards modernity, encouraging Muslims to open their minds to new ways of thinking. He doesn’t see a contradiction between that and Islam. Al-Shugairi has presented some TV programs that mainly target the youth. His show Khawater, meaning Reflections, whose seasons reached eleven has notably expanded his popularity to many Arab countries. The first season was aired in 2005 and the last in 2015. With the progression of the show, its idea and themes expanded. Through it, Ahmed al-Shugairi explores religious and spiritual topics as concentrating and praying with reverence, linking between Mohamed, the prophet of Muslims, and great humans like Gandhi; there are also social and cultural themes and a display of successful and impressive experiences and projects from different countries. Aiming to promote reading among the Saudi Arabians and Arabs in general, he has initiatives such as Andalusia Café in Jeddah which is both a café and library. He also launched reading and social websites.
After chosen to be Miss Jordan in 2010 and the first runner-up for Miss Arab in 2011, Lara Abdallat had turned hacktivist. At first, it was a mere hobby; but when ISIS kidnapped and killed the Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, she has joined Ghost Security, a hacktivist group. Their purpose is to locate and take down the websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts of terrorist groups like ISIS to prevent them from employing the online outlets in recruiting new members, and in communicating and planning for attacks. Therefore, Lara has been exploring the Dark Web since 2014 looking for activities by terrorist groups. She helped thwart a terrorist operation in Tunisia. The beauty queen and hacktivist is working currently on a book where she tells the account of a confrontation with ISIS.
Born in 1980, Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian-American activist and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She was an organizer of the 2017 Women’s March event that took place on January 21 with the participation of one million people to advocate women and human rights. It was described as the largest single-day protest in the US history. Also, Sarsour effectively helped to end the spying on Muslim American citizens that had been practiced by the NYPD since the attacks of September 11. And as a part of her advocacy of Muslim Americans civil rights, she managed to have Muslim holidays recognized in the New York City’s public schools when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2015 that public schools are taking the days during which are the main two Muslim holidays off. Sarsour has protested and worked in solidarity with black Americans as well. The former president Barack Obama gave her the Champion of Change award in 2012, but the White House removed the mention of her from its website when Donald Trump took office.
Born in Baghdad, Ahmed had turned a refugee when he was only at the age of eight; his family fled Iraq to Syria after their home was bombed during the fallouts of 2003 war. In 2008 the family moved again to the US this time. A close friend of the family encouraged him to start writing about his experience. Now Ahmed Badr is a published writer, photographer, and poet; he writes for the National Public Radio NPR, the Huffington Post, International Organization for Migration IOM, etc. “To say that Ahmed is one of the most impressive teenagers I know gives adults too much credit”; this is how the NPR journalist Ari Shapiro described him.
Ahmed Badr is also the founder and executive director of Narratio organization that publishes art, photography, and stories of youth from all over the world. He is quite interested in the intersection of creativity, the refugee experience, and youth empowerment. He first explored it in himself and established his organization to find it in others and encourage them to do the same.
Making a difference, positively affecting others’ lives is not easy. It requires dedication, time, hard work and creativity. These activists with Arab Muslim backgrounds have been fighting to do so. We wish them, and every true activist on the planet, all the best.