Fadwa Suleiman, an outspoken Syrian actress who took center stage at anti-government protests in the early days of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, has died after battling cancer, Syrian opposition groups and friends of the actress said Thursday. She was 46.
Suleiman, who — like Assad — was of Alawite descent, became a hero to many for taking a stand against the president's family's decades-old rule.
Born May 17, 1970, in Aleppo, Suleiman often appeared at peaceful protests in the central city of Homs, giving speeches to inspire the crowds alongside local soccer star Abdelbasset Sarout, who later became an armed opposition fighter.
The impassioned actress, known for her performances in numerous plays and TV shows and series, soon became a rare female icon of the rebellion, urging protesters to remain peaceful and focused on their demand for freedom and justice.
As security forces intensified their crackdown on dissent and killed and jailed opponents, she cut her hair short and began moving from house to house to avoid capture.
In 2012, she disguised her appearance and was smuggled out of Syria to neighboring Jordan. From there, she continued on to Paris in 2012, where she lived until her death.
In more recent years, she spoke with anguish about the devastation back home and frequently lamented the armed rebellion, saying it no longer was a rebellion she recognized.
Eulogies poured in on social media Thursday for the actress described by many as an icon of the Syrian revolution.
In its statement, the opposition Syrian National Council described Suleiman as a "symbol of the revolution" and a "rose among those that joined the protests and sit-ins of Syrians calling for freedom."
Omar Edelbi, a Syrian journalist and opposition activist, wrote on Twitter: "Each day, our revolution loses one of its voices … Goodbye Fadwa, we promise you we will not be broken."