Those in the news who left us in 2017
Loved or unloved, these well-known figures have left their mark on the Arab world
Kuwaiti comedian and actor Abdulhussain Abdulredha embodied the golden age of Kuwaiti theatre, and was known as the father of comedy. He was a founder of the arts movement in Kuwait. His quick-witted banter in performances such as
Bye Bye London and Saif Al Arab offered insight into Arab society and Kuwait at the time of the invasion by Iraq. Abdulredha received many honours in a career spanning more than 50 years, including the Sultan bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Award for artistic and cultural achievement in the Arab world in 1997. He died of a heart attack in London on August 11 at the age of 78.
ABU BAKR SALEM BELFKIH
Belfkih was one of the first Arab stars to emerge from Yemen. From humble beginnings performing nasheeds (spiritual odes) in Tarim, Yemen, he rose to become a giant of Arab folk music, releasing more than 20 albums and playing sold-out concerts for more than 30 years. His million-selling songs include Lima Alqee Al Habib (When I Find My Love), Khaf Rabek (Fear
your God) and 24 Sa’aa (24 Hours), all considered classics in the traditional tarab genre of Arab music. He died on December 10 after a long battle with heart disease. He was 78.
Known in the US as the Blind Sheikh (he lost his sight due to childhood diabetes), the Egyptian-born militant Muslim leader was convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of the attack he was facing deportation for providing false information regarding his marriage status and a bad cheque charge in Egypt. He died of natural causes at the Federal Medical Centre in Butner, North Carolina on February 18, aged 78.
The outspoken Syrian actress made her name in Syrian television shows such as The Diary of
Abou Antar, Little Ladies, and Small Hearts. Suleiman became one of the most recognised faces of the Syrian civil war for leading protests and sit-ins against the government of Bashar Al Assad. Opposition Forces called her “one of the symbols of the Syrian revolution”. She fled to France in 2012 to escape a death sentence and after her family disowned her. She died of cancer in Paris on August 17, aged just 47.
An Iraqi Kurd, Talabani was the first non-Arab president of Iraq from 2006 to 2014 and the founder and leader of one of the main Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. A veteran of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination, he was seen as a unifying elder statesman who could soothe tempers among Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and was nicknamed Mam Jalal (Uncle Jalal) by Iraqi Kurds and Arabs. He stepped down as president in 2014 after 18 months of treatment in Germany after suffering a stroke. He died of brain haemorrhage on October 3 in Berlin, aged 83.
Known as the “Mother of Egyptians”, she was one of the first women in the country to gain a bachelor’s degree and began her career in radio on a 1950s children’s show because her parents disapproved of film acting. That changed when she married actor and director Noor Al Demerdash, who encouraged her ambition. Over half a century she became famous for playing mother roles in films such as The Kids Have Grown
Up and The Grandson. When she died at the age of 82 on January 12, the nation mourned. Even the Israeli army’s Arabic spokesman paid tribute to her on Twitter.
Born Fatma Shaker, the Egyptian actress and singer took the stage name Shadia in the 1950s. She acted in comedies, romantic films and dramas, but it was her singing that established her as one of the most important Egyptian cinema stars of her era. The public adored her and she starred in more than 100 films, many of them depicting social issues. Her most famous
roles were in El Less wal Kilab (Chased by Dogs) and Alzouga Talattasha (The Thirteenth Wife). One of her most popular songs, Ya Habibti Ya Masr (Oh My Beloved
Egypt), became an anthem during Egypt’s Arab Spring protests in 2011. She retired in 1987 and died after a stroke on November 28. She was 86.
ALI ABDULLAH SALEH
The former president of Yemen met his death, aged 75, at the hands of the Houthi rebels he had chosen as allies in a bid to recover the power he had lost in 2012 when he was forced to resign. Saleh was the first leader to serve as president of a unified Yemen and ruled the country with an iron fist for 33 years. He was forced from office after the Arab Spring and almost immediately began plotting against his successor, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. But after two years of civil war, he discarded the Houthis and they killed him, attacking his convoy outside the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on December 4.
The Saudi billionaire arms dealer was as one of the world’s richest men in the 1970s and 1980s. Born in Makkah, Khashoggi amassed $4 billion brokering deals between US companies and the Saudi government, among other clients. He was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair as a key middleman in the arms-for-hostages exchange. He was arrested in 1988 in Switzerland and charged with fraud, conspiracy and racketeering. The charges were later reduced to obstruction of justice, and he was acquitted in 1990. He died while being treated for Parkinson’s disease in London on June 6, aged 81.
Clockwise from top: Abdulhussain Abdulredha; Shadia; Jalal Talabani; Ali Abdullah Saleh; Omar Abdel-Rahman; Karima Mokhtar; Fadwa Suleiman