These are the people who have defied the odds and tried their best to instigate change in Arab societies. 

Their acts of bravery have shed light on their causes, stirring controversy in many places and sometimes even attracting the unwelcome attention of authoritative regimes. 

Among them are those who have passed on, leaving behind the torch for others to carry. 

Here are some of the Arabs who have become controversial figures for their struggles and rebellious spirits: 

1. Nizar Qabbani (Syrian)

Nizar Qabbani, poet, Syrian, controversial
Nizar Qabbani Source: Alchetron

Nizar Qabbani (1923 - 1998) is one of the most beloved Arab poets in the world. 

Some of his books, ranging from love to political issues, were banned because of their erotic and explicit language.

Qabbani was a strong advocate for women's rights as he used to describe the experiences of Muslim women from their point of views.

He was involved in the Syrian diplomatic corps and served in the Syrian embassies of Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Britain, China, and Spain.

"If you want to kill somebody, conquer his heart, and then leave slowly and leave them between death and madness."

2. Joumana Haddad (Lebanese)

Joumana Haddad, controversial, Arab, woman, Lebanese
Joumana Haddad Source: Blog Baladi

Joumana Haddad is an atheist, humanist, author, public speaker, journalist, women's rights activist, and will be running for parliament.

Her outspokenness caused Bahrain to ban her from the Spring of Culture Festival, her website to be hacked, email to be jammed up with hate mail, and books to be banned in several Arab countries.

The risqué writer launched the magazine, Jasad - the first Arabic erotica magazine - which was later stopped for what critics called "pornographic assets." 

She has been featured four consecutive times in the World's 100 Most Powerful Arab Women by Arabian Business.

"I am convinced that reading is one of the most important tools of liberation that any human being, and a contemporary Arab woman in particular, can exploit."

3. Mona Eltahawy (Egyptian)

Mona Eltahawy, Egypt, controversial, columnist, writer
Mona Eltahawy Source: Vice

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning Egyptian columnist and international public speaker. She is best known for her unconventional comments on Arab and Muslim issues, her involvement in global feminism, and her critique of the niqab.

Back in 2011, Egyptian police broke Eltahawy's left arm and right hand and sexually assaulted her. 

In 2015, she released her controversial book Headscarves and Hymens in which she argues the need for a sexual revolution in the Middle East. 

"I support freedom of speech - even Pamela Geller's right to her Islamophobic subway posters."

4. Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian)

Mahmoud Darwish (1941 - 2008) was a Palestinian poet known for his patriotism.

Dubbed "the voice of Palestine," he called on Israelis to leave his country. In the 1960s he was imprisoned for reciting poetry and traveling between villages without a permit. The “resistance poet,” he was placed under house arrest when his poem “Identity Card” was turned into a protest song.

Darwish lived for many years in exile in Beirut and Paris. He left behind over 30 books of poetry and eight books of prose. 

Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, dedicated three days of national mourning to honor his legacy when he passed away in 2008. 

“Where can I free myself of the homeland in my body?”

5. Nawal El Saadawi (Egyptian)

Nawal El Saadawi, Egypt, Egyptian author
Source: essencielles

Nawal El Saadawi has been described as "Egypt's radical feminist" and "Egypt's most fiery feminist."

In 1972, El Saadawi published a book titled Women and Sex, in which she condemns female genital mutilation. The book stirred such an outrage that she lost her job as director general of public health at the Egyptian ministry of health.

Her strong political views against the patriarchy, religion, and the veil led to her imprisonment for three months. During that time, she wrote Memoirs From The Women's Prison on toilet paper.

She's been censored and banned in almost all Gulf countries including Bahrain, Doha, Saudi, and Kuwait.

"Plastic surgery is a postmodern veil."

6. Hoda Shaarawi (Egyptian)

Hoda Shaarawy, Egypt, First feminist, Arab woman
Hoda Shaarawi Source: Wikipédia

Hoda Shaarawi (1879 - 1947) is considered the founder of the women's movement in Egypt.

In 1908, Shaarawi started the first women-led secular philanthropic organization and the nationalist Wafdist Women's Central Committee - which urged women to participate in politics.

After the death of her husband, Shaarawi focused on women's rights and feminism, founding the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923.

Her most controversial moment was when she removed her hijab, revealing her face as an act of protest.

7. Naguib Mahfouz (Egyptian)

Naguib Mahfouz, Eyptian, writer, controversial
Naguib Mahfouz Source: Famous People

Naguib Mahfouz was initially known for his depiction of traditional Egyptian urban life. 

However, the writer turned to political issues which he veiled with allegory and symbolism in his 1959 book Awlad Haretna (The Children of Gebelawi.)

This book won Mahfouz the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988 and caused him to be stabbed in the neck in Cairo a few years later. Even though he survived the attack and lived till 2006, he was unable to write for more than a few minutes per day.

"Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life."