Today I chose to write about seven of the most remarkable people in my homeland Lebanon. Since I arrived to the States I have been asked a lot about my culture background, music arts and literature. Most of the folks over here have a stereo type about Lebanon as an Arab country in the Middle East. So I felt there is a need to write about the bright side of my country and show the world what kind of human potentials we do have.
Before I start writing about our human potentials, I would like to give a short intro about my country. Lebanon (pronounced as Lubnan in Arabic) is a tiny country in the Middle East and its Capital is Beirut. It is bordered by Syria to the North and east and by Palestine to the South as well as Mediterranean Sea by the West. Lebanon is famous for its ethnic diversity at just 10,452 km2 and it’s proven by having 18 different religious sector in addition to the atheism. The earliest evidence of civilization dates back to more than seven thousand year. Lebanon was the home of the Canaanites/Phoenicians between 1550 and 539 BC. Several nations stepped by our country such as Mamelukes, Romans, Ottomans, French and English.
There are a lot and a lot of great people from Lebanon who contributed to the world with their achievements. However, today I am going to talk about 7 of the most Influential Lebanese figures that you may never heard of from various backgrounds. By various background I mean arts, music, fashion, literature, science and more.
Let us take a look on how and what was their contributions.
- Elissar, Princess of Tyre and Carthage
Elissar (Elishat, in Phoenician) was the princess of Tyre city (Lebanese coastal city) back in 810s BC. Her brother, king of Tyre, murderd her husband and she had to escape her country. Elissar and her Tyrinian entourage crossed the length of the Mediterranean is several ships and settled the shore of what’s today modern Tunisia.
Elissar and her colonial entourage founded a new city in 814 BC and they called it Carthage which comes from two Phoenician words that mean “NEW LAND”. In memory of their Tyrinian origin, the people of Carthage paid an annual tribute to the temple of Melqart of Tyre in Phoenicia. The city of Carthage slowly gained its independence from Tyre though it was initially controlled by its own magistrates carrying the title of suffetes It kept close links with Tyre, the metropolis, until 332 BC.
Gibran Khalil Gibran (Jubran Khalil Jubran) (1883-1931) was a Lebanese writer, poet and visual artist. As a young man, Gibran immigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career writing in both Arabic and English. In the Arab world, Gibran was considerd as a literart and political rebel. His romantic style was at the heart of a renaissance in modern Arabic literature especially prose poetry, breaking away from classical school.
Gibran was an accomplished artist, especially in drawing and watercolor, having attended the Académie Julian art school in Paris from 1908 to 1910, pursuing a symbolist and romantic style over the then up-and-coming realism. Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Boston, at Day’s studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life.
While most of Gibran’s early writings were in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. His first book for the publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose.
Gibran’s best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. Its popularity grew markedly during the 1960s with the American counterculture and then with the flowering of the New Age movements. It has remained popular with these and with the wider population to this day. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than forty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.
Elvis Presley was deeply affected by Gibran’s The Prophet after receiving his first copy in 1956. He reportedly read passages to his mother and over the years gave away copies of “The Prophet” to friends and colleagues.
One of his most notable lines of poetry is from “Sand and Foam” (1926), which reads: “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”. This line was used by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song “Julia” from The Beatles’ 1968 album The Beatles (aka “The White Album”).
Johnny Cash recorded Gibran’s “The Eye of the Prophet” as an audio cassette book, and Cash can be heard talking about Gibran’s work on a track called “Book Review” on his album Unearthed.
British singer David Bowie mentioned Gibran in the song “The Width of a Circle” from Bowie’s 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World. Bowie used Gibran as a “hip reference”,because Gibran’s work “A Tear and a Smile” became popular in the hippy counterculture of the 1960s. In 2016 Gibran’s fable On Death was composed in Hebrew by Gilad Hochman to the unique setting of soprano, theorbo and percussion and premiered in France under the title River of Silence.
- Hasan Kamel Al- Sabbah
Hasan Kamel Al-Sabbah and sometimes reffered to as Camil A. Sabbah was born in Lebanon 1894 and died on 1935. He was a Lebanese electrical and electronics research engineer, mathematician and inventor. He studied at the American University of Beirut and taught mathematics at Imperial college of Damascus, Syria as well as the American University of Beirut. In 1921, her travelled to the United States and for a short time studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining University of Illinois in 1923.
He entered the vacuum tube section of the Engineering Laboratory of the General Electric Company at Schenectady N.Y. in 1923 where he was engaged in mathematical and experimental research, principally on rectifiers and inverters and he received 43 patents covering his work. Among the patents were reported innovations in television transmission.
- Michael Dabaghi (DeBakey)
Michael Dabaghi (DeBakey) (1908-2008). He received an M.D degree from Tulane University School of Medicine. Dabaghi helped develop the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units and let helped establish the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center Research System. Dabaghi’s ability to bring his professional knowledge to bear on public policy earned him a reputation as a medical statesman. He was a member of the medical advisory committee of the Hoover Commission and was chairman of the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke during the Johnson Administration.
Dr. Michael Dabaghi served in the U.S. Army during World War II and helped to revolutionize wartime medicine by supporting the stationing of doctors closer to the front lines. This concept greatly improved the survival rate of wounded soldiers and resulted in the development of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units during the Korean War.
With his mentor, Alton Ochsner, he postulated in 1939 a strong link between smoking and carcinoma of the lung Dabaghi was one of the first to perform coronary artery bypass surgery, and in 1953 he performed the first successful carotid endarterectomy. A pioneer in the development of an artificial heart Dabaghi was the first to use an external heart pump successfully in a patient – a left ventricular bypass pump.
Dabaghi pioneered the use of Dacron grafts to replace or repair blood vessels. In 1958, to counteract narrowing of an artery caused by an endarterectomy Dabaghi performed the first successful patch-graft angioplasty. This procedure involved patching the slit in the artery from an endarterectomy with a Dacron or vein graft. The patch widened the artery so that when it closed, the channel of the artery returned to normal size. The Dabaghi artificial graft is now used around the world to replace or repair blood vessels.
In the 1960s Dabaghi and his team of surgeons were among the first to record surgeries on film. A camera operator would lie prone atop a surgical film stand made to Dabaghi specifications and record a surgeon’s eye view of the operating area.
Dabaghi received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 even though his name was later found on Nixon’s Enemies List. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science. He was a recipient of The United Nations Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Foundation for Biomedical Research and in 2000 was cited as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. On April 23, 2008, he received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
- Rammal Hassan Rammal
Rammal was born in Lebanon (1951-1991). He was a Lebanese condensed matter physicist. He graduated high school ranking the first place in official exams of the baccalaureate section General Science. At the age of 18, Rammal traveled to France to continue his education and start his scientific career. In 1981, he achieved his international doctorate and started working at National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Grenoble.
He had a thesis that it subject addressed as follows: “The importance of statistical mechanics to explain the energy distribution in solids transparent (amorphous) spiral shape using numerical methods”, this thesis was discussed in front of 16 scientists, senior physicists in France and it was a subject of appreciation and admiration prompting then the French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to meet student researcher Rammal Rammal. This thesis has caused a major stir in the academic community and in France.
Rammal became famous all around the world, he went to many important universities in the United States as a visiting professor and an especially in the US space agency, “NASA”.
During 1983-1984, Rammal served as a visiting professor for six months in Nuclear Physics, co-managing the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia Research Department (United States) and National Laboratory Brokmaven in Upton (New York). He had also served as a visiting professor for another six months in the Department of Physics at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec (Canada).
During 1984-1986, he served as a research professor at the National Center for Scientific Research at the University of Grenoble.
Rammal was deputed by the French National Center for Research for representation in several scientific conferences in France and internationally.
In 1988, he was promoted to become the head of research team and he was only 37 years old. He was the only person to be in this position in France, even though he didn’t have the French nationality.
Dr. Rammal has published 113 scientific researches in the topics of statistical physics research (Mathematics, thermodynamic, laws of motion applications specific heat in solids, liquids and gases, molecular hydrogen gas behavior in the lower temperature limits, extreme behavior of nuclear particles in the microscopic tropical systems, characteristics of the Fermi-Dirac statistics, etc. ..). Dr. Rammal research has contributed to build the basics and origins of modern physics and development. As a result of the importance of his research, the National Center for Scientific Research awarded him a bronze medal in 1984, in recognition of the best doctoral thesis in France. In addition, the French government awarded a silver medal for Scientific Research, and it was presented by the French Minister of education himself in 1988, in recognition of his research in the fields of statistical physics.
In 1989, the French magazine Le Point included Rammal’s name in an article in 11 December 1989 among the one hundred French figures representing the glory of France. He was named among the top twenty French character who will play an important role in changing France in the 2000’s. And as the magazine mentioned: “Dr. Rammal Rammal was a mathematician-physicist of Lebanese origin, and one of the leading specialists of the few at the global level in the intensification of material and energy storage research areas.”
FYI: Rammal is my mother’s cousin (Aunt’s son). She tells me that he died two month before I was born.
Nuhad Haddad, known as Fairuz (also spelled Fairouz, Feyrouz or Fayrouz), was born on November 1935. She is a popular Lebanese singer who was first noticed at the International Festival of Baalbeck. Fairuz is known as “Ambassador to the Stars”, “Ambassador of the Arabs”.
Fairuz was introduced to the Rahbani brothers, Assi and Mansour, who also worked at the radio station as musicians, and they discovered her talent. The chemistry was instant, and soon after, Assi started to compose songs for Fairouz, one of which was “Itab” (the third song he composed for her), which was an immediate smash hit in all of the Arab world, establishing Fairuz as one of the most prominent Arab singers on the Arabic music scene. Assi and Fairuz were married on 23 January 1955.
As the 1960s wore on, Fairuz became known as the “First Lady of Lebanese singing”, as Halim Roumi dubbed her. During this period the Rahbani brothers wrote and composed for her hundreds of famous songs, most of their operettas, and three motion pictures.
In 1971, Fairuz’s fame became international after her major North American tour, which was received with much excitement by the Arab-American and American community and yielded very positive reviews of the concerts.
Fairuz made her first European TV appearance on French TV on May 24, 1975, in a “Carpentier special show” called “Numero 1” dedicated to French star Mireille Mathieu. She sang one of her big hits “Habbaytak Bissayf” and was thanked and embraced after performing it by Mireille Mathieu.
Fairuz made a second and final European Television appearance on French TV on 13 October 1988 in a show called Du côté de chez Fred. Fairuz, who had scheduled a concert at the POPB of Paris Bercy concert hall three days later on 16 October, was the main guest of French TV presenter Frédéric Mitterrand, today France’s Minister of Culture (2009).
The Fairuz-Rahbani collaboration produced a total of 19 musical plays which most of them were recorded and video-taped. Fairuz starred in 3 movies and had featured appearances in 8 television programs. Fairuz discography consists of a large repertoire of around 1500 song out if which only about 800 have been released. Around 85 of Fairuz CDs, Vinyls and Cassettes have been officially released so far. Most of the songs that are featured on these albums were composed by the Rahbani Brothers. Listen to Fairuz on Spotify
Fairuz is the Arab world’s most famous and most listened-to singer. For decades, almost all radio stations in the Arab world have been starting their morning broadcast with a Fairuz song.
The Guardian stated that “she sang the story of a Lebanon that never really existed” and “essentially helped build the identity of Lebanon, just 14 years after it became an independent country”.
In 1997, Billboard stated “even after five decades at the top, (Fairuz) remains the supreme Diva of Lebanon”. In 1999, The New York Times described her as “a living icon without equal” and stated that her emergence as a singer paralleled Lebanon’s transformation from a backwater to the vibrant financial and cultural heart of the Arab world.
In a 2008 article, BBC described her as “the legendary Lebanese singer and greatest living Arab diva”.
In an article about world music, The Independent stated “All young female singers in this region seem to be clones of her” and that “she’s such an important artist that you have to get to grips with her”. Fairuz’s total sales pass the 20 million for the decade of the 1970s.
In 1999, she performed at the MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas, where she is reported to have brought in the biggest crowd since Frank Sinatra. Well over 14,000 people were estimated to be inside the stadium and over 5,000 outside.
In July 2007, Fairuz became the first artist from the Arab World to perform in Greece, at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, to a sold out venue filled with 9,000 people.
Elie Saab is a Lebanese fashion designer who was born in 1964. He started his business in the early 1980s and specialized in bridal couture. His main workshop in in Lebanon with additional workshops in Milan and Paris.
Saab became more well-known in the United States after he became the first Lebanese designer to dress an Oscar winner, Halle Berry, in 2002. In May 2003, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture invited him to become a member,and he showed his first haute couture collection in Paris in July 2003.
Elie Saab, Tina Knowles, House of Deréon, Giorgio Armani, Versace, and Herve Leger served as the designers for the outfits of the 2007 The Beyoncé Experience tour. In 2010, Saab dressed 102 celebrities for events overall, up from 40 in 2009. The figure for 2011, up until March, was 88. In 2011, Madame Tussauds unveiled a wax statue of Kate Winslet draped in the Elie Saab dress she wore at 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards. In 2011, Elie Saab launched his first fragrance Le Parfum.
In 2012, he worked with the Lebanese American University and London College of Fashion to launch a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. As of 2013, the brand had boutiques located in Beirut, Dubai, Doha, Paris, London, Geneva, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York City, and Mexico, with 100 retail outlets total.
Elie Saab appeared as a judge on Project Runway: Middle East in 2016. Between 2015 and 2017, the Elie Saab company opened a second Paris boutique and a new location in London’s Mayfair and in Manhattan. The Manhattan store that opened in October 2016 was his first in the country. As of March 2017, his couture collections are available in Paris, London, and Beirut, while his ready-to-wear clothes were in 160 retailers and his own boutiques. Also that month, the Elie Saab Company opened a new Madison Avenue store.
He has been worn by Queen Rania of Jordan, Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, and Stéphanie, Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.
Halle Berry wore a burgundy gown by Saab to the 2002 Academy Awards when she won for Best Actress.
Other notable clients of Saab’s work have included Eva Green, Yulia Alipova, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Aishwarya Rai, Anna Kendrick, Christina Aguilera, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Celine Dion, Elena Anaya, Elsa Zylberstein, and Taylor Swift.
Check out Elie Saab work on: www.eliesaab.com
In addition to the heroes that are mentioned in this post, I would like to add few more well known celebrities with Lebanese roots. For example: Shakira, Salma Hayek, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, Zoe Saldana, Wentworth Miller, Ralph Nader, Shannon Elizabeth, Gloria Estefan amd Tony Shalhoub.
What do you think about that? Isn’t it amazing that a very small country like Lebanon has gifted the world a bunsh of super talented humans?
While doing the research to find all these information, I felt so proud that I was born and raised in Lebanon. Regardless all the mess in our country, we have given the world a lot of human resources that inspired others and made a difference.
Wherever we go, we should be proud of our homeland and do our best to show the world what contributions we made.
Proudly, Lebanese! 🙂