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Arab world reacts to death of singer George Michael at 53

Regional reaction to death of George Michael, who opposed 2003 invasion of Iraq, shows enduring legacy of 1980s Arab 'opening' to West
British singer George Michael performs during a concert in Amsterdam on 26 June, 2007 (AFP)

The Arab world mourned the death of British pop star George Michael on Sunday through social media, showing the enduring legacy of the economic and cultural 'opening' of the Middle East to the West in 1980s.

Michael's publicist said on Sunday that the singer, who rose to fame with the band Wham! and sold more than 100 million albums in his career, had died aged 53.

"It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period," the publicist said in a statement.

Translation: "George Michael, the famous 1980s singer, died a few hours ago due to unknown reasons at the age of 53"

"At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious. A post-mortem will be undertaken in due course," the police said.

Billboard magazine quoted Michael's manager Michael Lippman as saying the singer had died of heart failure.

Translation: "Goodbye... George Michael. For years we stayed up late to your romantic songs and we still live in the moment of memories"

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou 25 June1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.

Micheal established Wham! in 1981 with school friend Andrew Ridgeley, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.

With their good looks, perma-tans, highlighted hair and hedonistic image, the duo captured the go-getting spirit of the age and fast became one of Britain's - and the world's - biggest pop acts.

His name trended on Arabic social media, as it did around the world, following his death.

Translation: "The famous British singer George Michael has died age 53. He was one of the most famous pop stars in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s"

1980s: The Arab world 'opens' to the West

Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!'s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres and so Wham! announced their split in 1986.

In the space of the next five years, Michael had six US Number One hit singles including “Faith", “Father Figure", “One More Try", “Praying For Time" and a duet with Aretha Franklin called “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me".

Translation: "George Michael died!"

After decades of post-independence left-wing Arab nationalism, the Middle East underwent a profound economic and cultural liberalization during the 1970s and whose effects were felt most fully during the following decade.

For this reason, while cultural phenomena such as Beatlemania never quite gripped the Middle East in the same way it did the West, 1980s popstars such as George Michael - as well as Elton John and Madonna and more - were hugely popular and well-known in the region.

Translation: "George Michael died!!! I'm crying, why - he was young. Rest in peace"

Elton John published a picture of himself with Michael on his Instagram account.

"I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist," the British star wrote.

Translation: "This is the worst year ever and before it ends another legend dies... George Michael"

Michael was due to release a documentary in 2017 and earlier this month it was also announced that producer and songwriter Naughty Boy, whose real name is Shahid Khan, was working with Michael on a new album for next year.

Michael was best known for his 1980s hits "Last Christmas", "Freedom", "Careless Whisper" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" but his career spanned more than three decades.

Translation: "George Michael, star of the 1980s/1990s, has died. He is singer of the amazing Careless Whispers"

He won a string of awards including two Grammies and three Brit Awards.

His last album "Symphonica" (2014) rose to number one in the charts.

"2016 - loss of another talented soul. All our love and sympathy to George Michael's family," the band Duran Duran, which were 1980s contemporaries of Wham!, said on their official Twitter account.

Translation: "George MIchael died"

Referring to him by his nickname "Yog" (Yours Only George), Wham! co-star Andrew Ridgeley said he was "heartbroken" by Michael's death.

Anti-war activism

Though remembered in the Middle East almost entirely for his artisitc achievements, Michael was also a vigorous opponent of the 2003 Iraq War.

In 2002, the British singer released "Shoot the Dog," a song lampooning then British Prime Minister Tony Blair's close relationship with former President George W. Bush.

The song caused a wave of controversy as the music video - a cartoon political satire - showed Blair as Bush's poodle.

Michael told the BBC at the time that he was concerned about the lack of public consultation regarding the war.

"On an issue as enormous as the possible bombing of Iraq, how can you represent us when you haven't asked us what we think?" he said.

"And let's be honest, we haven't even begun to discuss it as a society."

While admitting that he was "under no illusions" that his views were only those of a pop star he said: "Nevertheless, I have strong opinions on Britain's current situation and I feel that in a time when public debate is being suppressed, even something as trivial as a pop song can be a good thing."

Translation: "The world-famous singer George Michael died in the world's capital of fog, London. He was the singer of the famous 'Last Christmas' and passed away on Christmas Day"

In the run-up to the war in February 2003, Michael again blasted Blair for his "madness."

He told British media at the time: "Something like between 80-90% of the public are saying 'absolutely no way' do they want this without the UN..."

"Why does our opinion mean nothing? Surely that is more arrogant than we can ever remember from Thatcher?"

"I think what he is doing is madness and I hope that if he goes ahead, we remember it regardless of what happens in the war."

In the same month, Michael released a cover of Don McLean's "The Grave," a well-known anti-Vietnam war song.

He performed the song on Top of the Pops on 7 March 2003 - his first studio appearance on the flagship British music show since 1986.