These thought leaders are changing perceptions of the Middle East

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh

In 2013, Nusseibeh was the first Emirati woman to be appointed Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations. Her remit included focus on regional peace and security issues, humanitarian assistance, women’s empowerment, sustainable development and human rights. She currently serves as the President of the UN Women Executive Board. In 2016, the President of the General Assembly also named her the co-facilitator of the ad hoc working group on the Revitalisation of the UN General Assembly.

Jalal Jamal Bin Thaneya

After cycling across six Gulf states in 2013, the activist took the road less travelled early this year when he attempted a Guinness World Record, to walk across all seven emirates in seven days to raise awareness about people with special needs. The journey, which started at Al Ghuwaifat border, on the western edge of Abu Dhabi, took him along the nation’s landscape to end at Fujairah’s coastline. He eventually took 14 days to complete his journey. An achievement nonetheless.

Abdullah Al Kaabi

Cinema is an influential tool for dialogue and change. This Emirati filmmaker is acutely aware of the transformative power of his profession. With the Iraq-Iran war of 1988 as the backdrop, his award-winning movie Only Men Go To The Grave (2016) presented to the world a notion of the Arab woman, far removed from popular misconceptions. The characters in this story were not weak, they did not need a man’s permission; they were defiant, passionate and fiery.

Alia Al Neyadi

She is part of an elite clique — the first generation of Emirati ballerinas. Following in the footsteps of her mother — the acclaimed ballet master Svetlana Al Neyadi, who is credited with building the first ballet course in the UAE — has been rewarding, but not always easy. Al Neyadi has received criticism for her ballet outfits, but the accolades far outweigh the negativity. She has fast become a role model to young girls in the region and her dedication to her craft is seeing her take to the stage across the world.

Khalid Al Ameri

This Emirati social media star is using his many platforms not only to assess what it means to be Emirati in the contemporary milieu, but in giving a glimpse into his own life and thoughts, he is building bridges for the Emirati community the world over. Born to a British mother, he has faced challenges of fitting in and conforming to what is expected of him, only to emerge a 100 per cent his own person. His is an authentic voice of a present-day Emirati.

Rafeaa Al Hajsi

From plus size supermodels to modest breakout stars, it has been a great year for diversity on the world’s catwalks. Setting the runways ablaze here in the UAE, is Al Hajsi. From walking for Lebanese designer Aiisha Ramadan at the Arab Fashion Week, to taking to Parisian runways during Paris Fashion Week for Ziad Nakad, she has dominated the regional modelling industry — on her own terms. Remaining true to the modest culture of her upbringing, the model has brands and designers clamouring to adjust their designs to suit her requirements. That in itself is a huge accomplishment.


These industry heavyweights are doing business differently

Dr Ameenah Al Rostamani

The CEO of Tecom Group is no stranger to power lists. She was ranked number nine in the CEO Middle East’s 2015 list of the world’s most powerful Arab women. She is the force behind the rebranding of Dubai as a destination for fashion and design. Having helmed not only the development of Dubai Design District, but now as the CEO of Dubai Design and Fashion Council, she has been instrumental in creating a unified platform for the creative industries in the Middle East.

Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi

The former CEO (Strategies, Technologies and Executive Affairs) at Dubai Media Incorporated joined Dubai Design District as COO in 2014. Recently named as its CEO, Al Shehhi has been instrumental is directing the region’s premier purpose-built creative zone towards realising its potential. Under his watch, d3 has come into its own as a community, bringing together, not only its occupants, but both local and international creative minds. As home to Design Days Dubai and Dubai Design Week, and in giving a platform to designers to connect, communicate and create, d3 has fast established its legacy.

Mohammad Zaal

Mohammad Zaal has carved a new sector within the real estate market; and it is poised to report incremental growth in the coming years. KOA, his luxury boutique real estate development firm, is dedicated to creating communities that reflect the global outlook of the region and a new generation of consumers who demand individual expression. Each development is designed provide an innovative, forward-thinking urban ecosystem. Canvas, their premier project targeting the millennial generation and first homebuyers, is an exercise in using architecture and planning as a tool to create like-minded communities and inventive real estate that is adaptive, immersive and of its time.


They are disrupting the status quo one project at a time

Hessa Al Dhaheri

“See Humanity in a New Light”. Louvre Abu Dhabi’s tag line sets out a lofty manifesto; and the newly minted museum delivers. Across time, cultures, religions and genre, the establishment highlights the most potent expressions of human endeavour. Making sure the museum upholds its mission is its Emirati deputy director, Al Dhaheri. Her past experience includes developing human capital for the Saadiyat Cultural District Museums and the establishment of the Museum Scholarship Programme for Emirati nationals. At Louvre Abu Dhabi, she might as well be considered its custodian of humanity.

Saeed Khalifa

Known for his fantastical fashion images, the digital photographer has worked with the likes of Vogue Italia, Sony Music and helmed campaigns for Azzalia, Lacoste, Guerlain, amongst other. Khalifa held his first solo exhibition in 2011 at Dubai’s Ara Gallery. He was part of Generation Next, an exhibition featuring emerging Emirati artists during Abu Dhabi Art 2013. Winning the Emerging Emirati Artist Award in 2014, he received a two-year representation at Sabrina Amrani Gallery in Madrid, Spain. His works are a layering of the human form, illustrations, cultural metaphors and dark moody undertones. Part of important private collections such as The Samawi Collection, his creations have been auctioned at Christie’s Dubai to outstanding results.

Butheina Al Kazim

Launched in 2014, Cinema Akil is an independent cinema platform that brings quality films from across the world to audiences in the UAE. Co-founder and managing director, Butheina Al Kazim is deeply committed to building a film culture in the UAE that goes beyond the multiplex system to present material that might not have had a chance to find an audience in the Middle East. From local productions to international art-house movies, Cinema Akil’s vast portfolio is an accurate representation of the UAE’s cultural diversity.


Because good design is born from the conscious mind

Ahmad Bukhash

The Wentworth Institute of Technology graduate (2002) received the prestigious Monbukagakusho Scholarship from the Japanese Government to pursue his Master’s degree in architecture in Kyoto, Japan. Going beyond ornamentation, and focusing on components that characterise local architecture within the Arab Gulf States, Bukhash’s studio, Archidentity, reinterprets these components through functional uses suited to present-day living. A post-modernist approach to regional symbolism imbues their projects with a unique and distinctive identity.

Huda Al Nuaimi

The Emirati designer established her eponymous label in 2016, with the intention of presenting a modern approach to traditional crafts and regional hand-making techniques. Exploring different silhouettes, and on the cutting-edge of international trends, Al Nuaimi’s brand has a cross-cultural appeal. Thanks to global influences, top-of-the-line artistry in regional embroidery and the willingness to push boundaries while remaining sophisticated and tasteful, the brand has garnered recognition from New York to Singapore.

Aljoud Lootah

A multidisciplinary designer, Lootah is concerned with developing products, installations and projects that distinctly interpret the Emirati culture, traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design. She holds the distinction of being the first Emirati designer to have their work acquired by an international gallery. From interpreting the mystical eight-point star — a staple in Islamic architecture — in bent marble and re-imagining antique Arabic wood carvings as ornamentation on porcelain, to creating bespoke, limited-edition corporate gifts for regional companies, she is truly the face of contemporary Arabic design.