BEIRUT (AP) — 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 a struggle with illness, Syrian opposition groups and friends of the actress said Thursday. She was 46.
Suleiman, who hails from Assad's minority Alawite sect, became a hero to many for taking a stand against his family's decades-old rule. Born in Aleppo, she 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 to neighboring Jordan, from where she continued to Paris in 2012, where she has since lived.
In more recent years, she spoke with anguish about the devastation back home and frequently lamented the armed rebellion, saying it was no longer 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."