Changemakers 1/3: Older Gen Arab Activists You Need to Follow On Social Media

By: Fadila

This is not a blog post. This is the start of a database. This database is a three-part post series that will have their own category on our site. This post is the first one, it has a list of Arab political and social activists from all over the region and across the world, this particular list does not deal with organizations or youth, but older generations that have given their lives so we can learn about what’s happening around us. I will keep updating this list as I discover more and more people, but I shared the ten I’m most familiar with and have followed for a long time, as well as added a smaller list without descriptions below, with links to these peoples’ social media accounts where they are most active. Changing the world starts with finding people who represent us, people who fight for us, so we can educate ourselves. If you follow these people, there is no way in hell you’ll stay ignorant. Of course, you shouldn’t follow them so they can spoon feed you all the things you need to learn, but rather to trigger you into wanting to learn and going out to find information yourself to be better humans.

In this time of global crises, I’d like to thank these people, for doing their part, for giving us a voice, and for believing in their own power, and by extension, ours too. Thank you for giving your life to noble causes, thank you for doing what you do on a daily basis, no matter what obstacles are thrown your way. In respect, in love, and in power, I stand with you.

1- Ahmed Shehab El Din

Ahmed is an American-Kuwaiti journalist born to Palestinian parents, who just so happened to be raised in Egypt (and Austria) for a few years. He graduated from Columbia and proceeded to work with the Newyork Times, before hitting up Al Jazeera English, then going on to join HuffPost and Vice, he’s currently employed by AJ+. Ahmed won a Webby award in 2008 and was nominated for an Emmy more recently. Introductions aside, Ahmed is one of the most (if not the most) impactful journalist and activist of his generation; he is constantly raising awareness on almost every single issue in the region while also calling out the same issues in the US for the benefit of all marginalized communities there. Oh, he was also featured in Forbes. It’s important to follow Ahmed not just because his work is phenomenal, but because he is THE person to follow if you’re a person who wants to become more politically aware about, well, everything basically.

2- Mona El Tahawy

If I could create a shrine for Mona El Tahawy, I would. Mona is an American-Egyptian feminist activist, journalist, and commentator born in Egypt, having spent her first years in the UK, before her family moved to Saudi Arabia where she spent her adolescence, before going back to Egypt. She currently lives in the US. Her work was published in The Newyork Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the International Herald-Tribune, and US News and World Report, among others. Funfact, she started out reporting at Reuters, where she was based in between Cairo and Jerusalem. Mona was also featured in TIME magazine post the 2011 revolution where her story went international nearly overnight and she became an icon. She’s fought for various issues including interfaith relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, the Muslim Community and moving forward, and – of course – her infamous line: ‘fuck the patriarchy’ loudly pronounces her as a feminist. She published her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution in 2012 and published her second book The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls in 2019. She’s won around/over 10 awards, some of which are regional, others global. Why follow Mona? Because it’s Mona El Tahawy, how can you not? If you want to actually be educated, to feel like you’re being heard, to be truly empowered in a truly magnificent way, Mona is your hero.

3- Amani Al Khatahtbeh

Amani is an author, media mogul, entrepreneur, and activist. She’s American with Jordanian descent, she’s also Muslim. Amani founded THE media platform when she was a highschool student. She was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for her work on MuslimGirl. Amani wore the hijab as an act of resistance against the rampant Islamophobia in New Jersey, where she grew up and continues to live. After 9/11, Amani decided to do something for herself and for other MusRab young girls, so she founded MuslimGirl, the first platform of its kind in the world, where Muslim women get to be heard, their issues raised, and their thoughts and feelings validated. She was featured everywhere from The Newyork Times to CNN, and at the beginning of this year, announced her candidacy to run for New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, making history as the first Muslim Arab Woman to run for candidacy in NJ. Amani is THE voice of change, she is THE future, she is a constant reminder that there is hope yet for GEN-Zers to be supported and empowered by millennials. The 29 year-old is proof that anything is possible.

4- Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin is a Sudanese-Australian engineer, author, writer and presenter as well as an award winning social advocate currently based in the UK. Back in 2007, Yassmin co-founded an organization called Youth Without Borders when she was 16 in the hopes of creating a community where the youth were empowered and celebrated, where they could truly make change. She also published her memoir Yassmin’s Story in 2016, it is also a book I’m salivating over, because it addresses Yassmin’s experience as a Sudanese Muslim Woman in Australia. I’m particularly interested because most of my knowledge on the Australian government comes from watching interviews and the short film/documentary of Kurdish-Irani humanitarian, journalist, filmmaker, and activist who was imprisoned on Manus Island Behrouz Boochani. Speaking of, Yassmin moved to the UK under distressing conditions for speaking about the “controversial” Sharia Law in Australia, where she was opposed by various rightist groups and politicians to the point where they created a petition to fire her from ABC (where she worked). That was in 2017. However, in that same year, Yassmin posted in remembrance of the refugees being held in inhumane prisons and camps all over Australia (including Manus Island), using the words ‘lest we forget’ which are usually used to address veterans and soldiers of English speaking countries. She “controversially” used to refer to the refugees on Anzac Day. Obviously, this caused major backlash, which led to Yassmin to moving to London, where she continues to fight, but away from the betrayals awarded to her by her home country. To me, Yassmin is a fucking queen. So, follow Yassmin because I believe her bravery and courage are contagious, and we need all the bravery and courage we can get in these times. But also because we stan a controversial queen.

5- Hamed Sinno

Hamed Sinno is a Lebanese-Jordanian lyricist, singer, and part of indie-rock band Mashrou Leila. Look me in the eye and tell me the region would’ve been just the same without Hamed Sinno. It is undeniable. Maybe Hamed isn’t exactly an activist, but to me, he is. By co-founding and leading Mashrou Leila, by writing and singing songs like Lil Watan, Roman, Maghawir, and Bint ElKhandaq, Hamed Sinno did a lot for us. Over the years Hamed has spoken up about sexuality, body dysmorphia, mental health, and – of course – political unrest in Lebanon. Hamed is also currently “reporting” from protests in NYC at/with the BLM movement through his instagram stories. Funfact, it is said that Sinno used to experiment with graffiti at AUB prior to going forward with Mashrou Leila, which I find incredible. It is very very very important to recognize the work of Mashrou Leila and even more to acknowledge and appreciate Sinno for all the conversations they’ve opened across the region and the world.

6- Mariam Al Barghouti

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian journalist and activist, located in Palestine, yes. Mariam is extremely active on Twitter, where she is constantly showing up and putting out. She constantly speaks up about day to day issues in Palestine as well as offering historical context about the occupation since it began. Following Mariam on Twitter mainly is vital to our awareness about the Israeli occupation of Palestine; it is so damn important to have their reality shoved in our privileged faces, so we can learn and grow angry, so we can understand and stand in support, but mostly so we can be compassionate enough that we raise our hands up and fight for them, too. Following Mariam means realizing the true meaning of Arab siblinghood, mostly because it’s a slap to the face, afterall, we’ve failed our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and we continue to fail them on a daily basis. This is your chance to grow up and give back, this is your chance to learn. Please take it. P.S she’s written for major and global publications, too.

7- Salma El-Wardany

The light of my life. I actually have a wall in my pseudo-office covered in Salma El-Wardany’s poetry, I think that says enough, but I’ll tell you about the woman who taught me to “fuck fear” anyway. Salma El-Wardany is a Muslim Arab/Desi Woman based in the UK, if you want particularities, she’s Egyptian-Irish with Desi descent. She was born in Egypt and raised in the UK, before moving back to her birth country where she found herself in the middle of the Arab Spring. Of course, Salma couldn’t quite stay here, so a few years later, she moved to the UK where she still resides, eating cake and drinking tea and fucking over the patriarchy on a daily basis. She’s an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and poet. Salma is THE storyteller activist of all storyteller activists, she’s been on TV, on many many stages all over the world, and she’s literally cracked herself open and spilled out all the injustices and all the heartbreak she faced on social media and in various international magazines everywhere, basically. She contributed two essays to two different essay collections/books; her first The Female Fight to Reclaim Our Space in the Mosque (2018) was part of the Wellcome Collection, the second A Gender Denied: Islam, Sex and the Struggle to Get Some (2019) was part of Mariam Khan’s It’s Not About the Burqa, which also featured Mona El Tahawy, Salma Haidarani, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied among other change-making Black and Brown Muslim Feminist Activists. She also contributed to a poetry anthology.

8- Noor Tagouri

Noor Tagouri is a 26 year-old Libyan-American journalist, producer, speaker, and activist. Noor made history in 2016 as the first Muslim woman and the first hijabi to be interviewed by and featured in Playboy – yes, she was fully clothed, obviously. More importantly, Noor produced the docu-series The Trouble They’ve Seen: The Forest Haven Story (2015) which focused on mental health issues and more recently a docu-podcast-series and film titled Sold in America(2018) which shoved the realities of sex trafficking in America out from the shadows and into the light. Noor started her career in 2012 where she interned at CBS Radio post graduation and she went on to independently spread the word about the various forms of injustice that exist in America, mostly dealing with the marginalized communities. It is important to note that Noor also started the ISY (I See You) Foundation with her mom, a charity organization that offers aid to homeless people, from shelters to food, all year round. She also recently started At Your Service, an original series of IGTV videos where Noor brings on various activists and celebrities to talk about controversial issues in America.

9. Alya Mooro

I’m eternally thankful to Alya, personally. The last couple of months have been hard, but she has continued to support me, read my writings, and has unfailingly encouraged and empowered me to do more, be more. Beyond what Alya has done for me though, here’s why Alya Mooro is someone you need to follow. Alya Mooro is an Egyptian journalist and best selling author who was raised in London, UK. She published her best-selling book The Greater Freedom: Life As a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes in 2019. She releases a digital newsletter every week called The Greater Conversation where she highlights topics important to Arab women, where she also features Arab women. More recently, she started co-producing and co-hosting a podcast titled Bootleg Magic with Nasri Atallah; where they will be having conversations as friends are wont to do about their ups and downs as British Arabs – it’s super cool. She is currently writing for UK Magazine Restless Mag, but she also contributed to Refinery 29, The Telegraph, and New York Post. Why follow Alya? Simply because Alya Mooro is a brilliant writer and representative of all issues Arab and woman. As a feminist Arab, she is raw and real and never shies away from getting personal if it means helping other people feel less alone. Her work is focused a lot on belonging, which is something that will not only teach you compassion, but also make you feel a lot more represented and empowered.

10. Joumana Haddad

Joumana Haddad is a goddess. She is a Lebanese author, speaker, poet, journalist, humanitarian, and political activist – her most notable work being centered around the feminist/women’s rights movement. Arabian Business Magazine listed her as one the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women four years in a row for her social and cultural work. She authored 15 books, yes, kindly look at that number again. Basically, Joumana Haddad is a myth-buster and a taboo-breaker. She openly calls out bullshit and has led the women’s rights movement in Lebanon for the last couple of decades (she still continues to do so). She launched her own TV show title Al Hurra, where she urges people to think critically by asking invaluable questions and triggering peoples’ fragile sensitivities. She was also at the front lines of the recent (and still ongoing) Lebanese revolution. You go and you follow Joumana Haddad because Joumana Haddad has given her life to activism, she has put her neck on the line again and again and again like everyone on this list, to fight for our right to exist and take up space and be heard and supported and empowered.

Now, this list is short, but I’ve given you the people you NEED to follow ASAP. Below, I’ll add a list of more names you need to look up, check out, and follow. Please, put in effort to educate yourself. Fuck influencers, THESE PEOPLE are the people you need to be seeing all over your feed, not a bullshit privileged ignorant person teaching you how to wash your fucking face. Thank you.

More Arab activists to follow:

Gino Raidy – Lebanese, Lebanon

Isra Chaker – Syrian-American, US

Maha Jaafar – Sudanese, UAE

Andeel – Egyptian, Paris

Bassem – Egyptian, US

Iman – Saudi, Saudi + US

Raneen Bukhari – Saudi-Indian, Saudi

Rana Alamuddin – Lebanese, Lebanon

Omar Gharieb – Palestinian, Palestine

to begin with, these are the people I’m familiar with. the moment I know of more people, I’ll add them to this list. please, if you know anyone else, DM me their accounts so this can be a good database for people wanting to learn more about what’s happening in the region and around the world.

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