The events of 2011 and the so-called Arab Spring shook the Middle East to its core. Six years on, we have many changes to contemplate. While some of them altered our world for the better others did not, writes Pat Lancaster
One strong message that came out of 2011, and one worth remembering, is that nothing lasts forever.
We have seen the plans of leaders who thought themselves invincible – men who believed they had set up a powerful dynasty for when their own time on earth was at an end – reduced to dust; proving yet again that power is temporary; wealth is transient and human life is ephemeral.
Conversely, ideas and innovation are perpetual. Human beings are possessed of an inexhaustible train of thoughts and aspirations that propel mankind ever forward.
The winds of change that have blown through the Arab world these past few years have seen the emergence, or perhaps more accurately the popularisation, of a new dynamism.
Where once oil and trade were the undisputed kings, bringing with them wealth and power, the younger generations are looking towards establishing a new order, one that also embraces cutting edge technologies, scientific advances, all-inclusive information exchange skills, and a larger, altogether broader horizon than that envisaged by their forefathers.
It is no longer acceptable to sit at home on a vast pile of $100 dollar bills, dispensing wisdom and largesse. It is, as the new generations have realised, their own efforts and achievements – not those of their fathers or grandfathers – that will establish their position in 21st century society.
At the same time, those from more humble beginnings have seen that with hard work and determination, all things are within their grasp and that in 2017 it is eminently possible to rise up through the ranks, to earn a seat at the top table.
I hope our 2017 ‘Most Influential 50 Arabs’ feature will reflect some of the important changes that have taken place in recent years. We have not chosen the Arabs we believe to be the richest, that would be too easy. We have not selected those who, by virtue of their family name, have maintained a power base solely built on another man’s labour. Instead we have selected a group of men and women, we believe, have made an important and lasting contribution to global society on merit – Arabs who have made their own impact on the world in which we live.
We have included businessmen and women who have brought employment, education, training and prosperity to the region, as well as thinkers – writers, artists, commentators and filmmakers – who have brought hope and enlightenment. We have included innovators and inventors and those who have seen fit to use their privileged positions to improve the lives of those less fortunate. In short, people whose influence will inspire the generations to come.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz, as a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family inherited both wealth and power but through his own efforts he became an international billionaire businessman.
Our readers have consistently lauded Prince Alwaleed – surely the world’s most instantly recognised Saudi Arabian – not only for his his business acumen but also for his strong social conscience and his widespread charitable works.
Meanwhile, Adnane Remmal, who was not born into great wealth, discovered a link between local plant life in his native Morocco and a possible solution to the increasing resistance of human beings and animals to antibiotics. He has recently been celebrated for his pioneering work, which, ultimately, could save many millions of lives.
One of a family of eight children and born in the UAE, Major Mariam Al Mansouri struck a blow for gender equality across the Arab world when she became her country’s first female fighter pilot. Last September, she was to become an even more potent symbol of gender achievement when she led the UAE’s air strikes on ISIL in Syria, sending a positive and motivating message to women across the region.
The Arab world is not without its serious problems. Some of the world’s leading experts on the region question whether, in contemporary history, things have ever been worse. However, with a wealth of human resources such as those we came across while researching this article, I am confident that given time, when the Middle East region is restored to peace, there is hope for the dawn of a new era of real prosperity, a true renaissance, the secret of which lies not beneath the desert sands but within the wealth of the Arab world’s diverse and multi-talented men and women.
Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi (UAE)
The UAE’s Minister for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna was the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE, when she was appointed Minister for Foreign Trade in November 2004. Sheikha Lubna has since held several Cabinet briefs, including Minister of International Development and Minister for Economy and Planning. In 2000, she founded Tejari, the Middle East’s first business-to-business online marketplace, which now has franchises across the Middle East. Sheikha Lubna, whose ready wit and down-to-earth approach makes her a popular figure both at home and abroad, sits on the board of directors at the Dubai Chamber for Commerce and Industry, and is also on the board of the National US Arab Chamber of Commerce. In March 2014, she was appointed President of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
Lubna Suliman Olayan (Saudi Arabia)
The Chief Executive Officer of the Olayan Financing Company (OFC), she is considered an important spokesperson for women’s rights in the Middle East, who generally leads by quiet example. Although Olayan first came to international prominence when she became the first woman to publicly speak to a mixed gender audience at the Jeddah Economic Conference of 2004, she has since proved herself an accomplished businesswoman. She is Member of Board of Trustees of Cornell University and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Olayan sits on the board of trustees of the Arab Thought Foundation and is also a board member of Al Fanar, which supports grassroots organisations in the Arab world. She has keenly championed women’s employment. In 2001, she was the only woman employed at the Olayan Financing Company (OFC); today there are more than 400 women across the 28 companies, with an active female recruitment plan in place.
Khaldoon Al Mubarak (UAE)
Khaldoon Al Mubarak is CEO of Mubadala, the company established by the Government of Abu Dhabi as a principal agent in the diversification of that emirate’s economy. He is also the Chairman of the UK Premiership Football Club Manchester City. Through Mubadala, Al Mubarak has overseen many of the oil-rich emirate’s strategic investments and key development projects. He is also aide and advisor to the Crown Prince of the UAE, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Educated in the US and a graduate of Tufts University, Al Mubarak sits on a number of boards, including First Gulf Bank, Ferrari and the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. He is Chairman of the Executive Affairs committee and of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). He is also the Chairman of The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre and is also an Ambassador for the Global eHealth Foundation (GeHF), created to become a catalyst for transforming healthcare from its current situation as a privilege accessible only in the developed world, to becoming a human right globally. As chairman of the Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Management Company, Al Mubarak was a key figure in negotiating for the Grand Prix event in Abu Dhabi and was influential in getting the FIFA Club World Cup to be held there. A member of the Board of Trustees for New York University, Al Mubarak began overseeing the development of a NYU campus in Abu Dhabi in 2013.
Bader Al Kharafi (Kuwait)
Bader Al Kharafi is head of Kuwait’s family conglomerate MA Al Kharafi & Sons. The group, established in 1956, is valued in excess of $8bn and operates around135 registered companies across 28 countries, in a variety of sectors including construction, investment and development, travel and leisure and trading and manufacturing, He holds several high-profile roles within the family business, including his role as board member of both Gulf Bank and Foulath Holding (Bahrain Steel). He is also chairman and managing director of Gulf Cables & Electrical Industries and was recently elected vice chairman of Zain Group, the telecommunications giant that operates in eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa, with about 44.3 million customers and a turnover of $4.3bn. Three years ago Coutts, the wealth division of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, announced it had appointed Al Kharafi to its Middle East Advisory Board. A long-term supporter of youth development, he is also an enthusiastic board member of INJAZ, the non-government organisation that encourages and supports students in entrepreneurial ventures and financial literacy.
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi (UAE)
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, a member of Sharjah’s ruling family, founded Kalimat Publishing in 2007, to help develop and nurture publishing in the UAE and to fill the gap in the market for good Arabic children’s books. Ten years later, Kalimat has published over 130 titles and won many awards at regional and international book fairs. She heads up the “Knowledge without Borders” organising committee, an initiative launched by the Ruler of Sharjah with the aim of establishing a library in every house in the Emirate.
Sheikha Bodour has championed the rights of woman in Sharjah; She is the Vice President of the Sharjah Ladies Club, an entity of the Government of Sharjah, since 2002 and President of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Campaign and currently heads up the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and has become an important player in Sharjah’s drive to be seem as the cultural emirate of the UAE.
Nabila Ramdani (Algeria)
A British-based, French born, freelance journalist of Algerian descent who specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World, Ramdani has become one of the most trusted Arab journalists working with contemporary western media. With an MPhil in International History from the London School of Economics (LSE), and an MPhil in British and American History and Literature from Paris 7 University, Ramdani began her career in journalism covering the 2007 French presidential elections for a number of UK newspapers, and the BBC. Ten years later her expertise was called upon by news agencies and television stations around the world, as Emmanuel Macron was swept to power in the 2017 French presidential elections. Ramdani writes regular columns for a range of quality British, French and Middle Eastern publications and appears as a commentator for the BBC, Al Jazeera, Sky, CNN, CBS, Russia Today and other international broadcast media channels and radio stations.
In February 2011 Ramdani filed exclusive reports from inside Gaddafi’s Libya. In July 2011 she exposed secret meetings between former British prime minister Tony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Months later, in February 2012 she uncovered compelling evidence of Syria’s ruling regime targeting journalists.
In January 2012, when questioned on the BBC programme Newsnight, Ramdani said the British government had “completely ignored the United Nations’ resolution 1973” which “resulted in Libyans dying on a daily basis. In January 2015, following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France, Ramdani spoke out on BBC’s Dateline London “What has happened is devastating. It’s an evil massacre. There are no ifs or buts.”
Hassan Al Thawadi (Qatar)
All eyes are on Hassan Al Thawadi, the person responsible for organising the most anticipated event in Qatar’s history — the FIFA World Cup in 2022. As head of the Supreme Committee, he is coordinating everything required to host the international football extravaganza, from building state-of-the-art air-conditioned stadiums and a plethora of supporting infrastructure to dealing with international criticism of the treatment of construction workers and the timing of the event. Al Thawadi was appointed in March 2011, after leading the country’s bidding committee that successfully brought the event to the Middle East for the first time.
The 37-year-old Sheffield University law graduate also is general counsel at the country’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, and Qatar Holding, which have investments in Porsche, Volkswagen, Barclays Bank, the New York Stock Exchange and Harrods, as well as numerous high-end European properties.
Issad Rebrab (Algeria)
Issad Rebrab, who was born in 1944, began his career as a humble teacher of business and accounting. Today the former teacher runs Algeria’s biggest conglomerate, an entity involved in steel, automobile importing, agricultural foodstuffs and an oil refinery (Cevital) and is an inspiration to aspiring young Algerians. In 1998, Rebrab launched the project to create an industrial/ energy complex, Cap 2015, east of Algiers, together with a small town of 250,000 inhabitants, with the ambition of generating 100,000 direct jobs and a further million indirect jobs. He runs a newspaper Liberté and is the president of Hyundai Motors Algérie, which he manages with his son Omar. Expanding his media empire, in April 2016, he acquired the El Khabar media group for $45 million. The company is the publisher of El Khabar daily newspaper.
Rashad Bin Muhammad Al Zubair (Oman)
Rashad Bin Muhammad Al Zubair is the Deputy Chairman and Group President of the Zubair Corporation but this art-loving businessman also holds the office of Chairman of Oman Arab Bank SAOC, the main subsidiary of Ominvest and is also actively involved in financing Duqm’s massive free zone expansion programme. Al Zubair is the Director of Dana Gas PJSC and served as a Director of the Muscat Capital Market Authority for more than six years. Since 1984, he has been the advisor to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said for Economic Planning Affairs, Omanisation and SME’s. For four years he held the position of president of Sultan Qaboos University. He serves as Deputy Chairman of Barr Al Jissah Resorts and is the founder of the unique and exquisite Bait Al Zubair Museum in the old town of Muscat, which preserves and exhibits ethnographic material relating to Oman’s past and present. Inaugurated in 1998, the internationally acclaimed museum is dedicated to the memory of his grandfather, Sheikh Ali bin Juma.
Iqbal Al Asaad (Palestine)
Iqbal Al Asaad showed herself to be capable of great things when, at only 12 years of age, she graduated from High School in Lebanon. Just eight years later, in 2013, at the age of 20, she became the youngest recorded Arab doctor. The child prodigy, who says she began learning as a toddler while listening to her father, a Palestinian refugee, tutor her older brothers, was struck at an early age by the poverty she witnessed around her. Stories of sick children in the local Palestinian refugee camps unable to get the medical care they needed, inspired her to become a paediatrician. Her dream caught the attention of Lebanon’s education minister, who secured Assad a medical scholarship. Sponsored by the Qatar Foundation and she joined Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha and is currently fine honing her skills at the US-based Cleveland Clinic Children’s Paediatric Residency Programme. However, in a cruel irony, Asaad’s dream to return to Lebanon and help the Palestinian refugees who inspired her career may be thwarted since Palestinians are currently prevented from practising as doctors in Lebanon.
Noura Al Kaabi (UAE)
Al Kaabi is the UAE’s highly respected Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs. As a member of the Federal National Council, she has paid particular attention to promoting measures to protect the rights of children. As CEO of the Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi and its commercial arm, twofour54, the charismatic Al Kaabi has been instrumental in developing the UAE’s media. She is widely credited as being the woman who brought Star Wars to the UAE; scenes of the imaginary planet Jakku, featured in the 2015 blockbuster movie, were filmed in Abu Dhabi. The authority now has more than 240 media organisations on its campus and has launched the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, and the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. She sits on the board of Abu Dhabi Media, the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, Image Nation and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. Al Kaabi is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and a member of the Scientific Committee of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.
Adnane Remmal (Morocco)
During his employment at the Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fez, Morocco, Remmal identified what he believed to be one of the biggest threats to modern medicine: the increasing number of bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics. A possible answer, he reasoned, might come via the local plant life that has long supported regional traditions of distilling flowers and other plants to make flavourings and teas.
In 2004, Remmal founded a start-up company to bring his pharmaceutical and veterinary medicine applications to market. The company has since filed for four patents to protect the concept of boosting anti-infectious agents. His start-up has attracted the attention of the leading pharmaceutical laboratory in Morocco and West Africa, which has made technical and financial investments to bring “boosted antibiotics” to market. Remmal was awarded the European Patent’s Organisation (EPO) Popular Prize 2017 for his work to identify links between bacteria resistant antibiotics and essential oils. The award marks a first ever EPO win for Morocco.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Issa Al Jaber (Saudi Arabia)
As head of MBI international, his business influence includes tourism – with JJW Hotels and resorts in Europe and Egypt – foodstuff, with the AJWA group (one of the largest Middle Eastern food companies), as well as the oil industry with Continentoil. In 2005 Sheikh Mohamed was appointed UNESCO Special Envoy for Education, Tolerance and Cultures. Sheikh Mohammed has funded scholarship programmes through his MBI Al Jaber Foundation and is the founder of the London Middle East Institute at the city’s highly respected School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In May 2016, the foundation made a significant donation to the Bloomsbury Research Institute, a partnership between UCL and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, creating a centre of excellence for research in public and global health.
Hashim Shawa (Palestine)
Hashim Shawa took over the reins of the family bank in Gaza in 2007, at the age of 31, when political circumstances had brought the Gazan economy – and the bank – to its knees. Eight years on, the Bank of Palestine, is the second-largest private sector employer in Palestine, with 1,300 employees across 54 branches, under Shawa’s leadership. Shawa established his banking career with global leaders Citibank and HSBC, working in various European countries. Before his return to Palestine, he was director of HSBC Switzerland’s Middle East and North Africa business, with responsibility for developing the company’s private banking business in the Gulf and establishing HSBC’s onshore presence in Kuwait. He also serves as chairman or on the board of several other financial firms and is a member of the Emerging Markets Advisory Council at the International Institute of Finance in Washington DC.
Omar Samra (Egypt)
Omar Samra, who was born in London in 1978, is an adventurer, mountaineer, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and potential future astronaut. He was the first Egyptian and the youngest Arab to climb Mount Everest and in 2014, he became the first Egyptian to ski to the Geographic South Pole. The following year, 2015, Samra made it to the North Pole to become the first Egyptian and one of only 40 people to accomplish the “Explorer’s Grand Slam” challenge, which include climbing the highest mountain on every continent, the seven summits, and skiing to both the South and North Poles. After graduating with a degree in economics from the American University in Cairo and obtaining an MBA from the London Business School in entrepreneurship, Samra leveraged his experiences by leaving the world of finance and equity and turning his attention to developing Wild Guanabana, a company which specialises in designing and creating ethical adventure travel experiences in the wild for companies in 15 countries across six continents. Although Egypt does not have a space agency, Samra entered and won a competition organized by XCOR Space Expeditions (A Virgin Galactic enterprise under the patronage of Sir Richard Branson), and in doing so, is in prime position to become Egypt’s first ever astronaut. Should he achieve this ambition Samra will be the first human being in history to have completed the Explorers Grand Slam and travelled in Outer Space. He is also involved in charitable works, supporting the Ahl Masr Burns Hospital.
Reem Khouri (Jordan)
Until December 2013, Reem Khouri had a high-profile job at Aramex, before she left to start up her own company, Kaamen.
Kaamen — the Arabic word for untapped potential — is a social enterprise that designs and implements shared interests-based investments and programmes for corporations and then measures their impact on the company’s bottom line and growth. Khouri currently oversees operations in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine and has plans to move into Asia and, potentially, the United States. She supports accelerators Gaza Sky Geeks and Fast Forward in Palestine, as well as the MIT Arab business plan competition, the NYU Abu Dhabi hackathon for social good and is also a mentor with Oasis 500. Khouri serves on the board of directors of Ruwwad for Development, a regional not for profit private sector-led community empowerment organisation that operates in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. She is also serving on several boards such as the Ruwwad Micro Venture Fund and the National Micro-finance Bank of Jordan and Nakhweh. She recently joined the board of advisors of the Demeter Network, an entrepreneurs support network operating within growth markets.
Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabia)
Haifaa Al Mansour began her filmmaking career with three short movies Who?, The Bitter Journey and The Only Way Out. The trio were enough to bring her to international attention and today she is one of Saudi Arabia’s most highly regarded film makers; the first and only Saudi Arabian woman, so far, to enjoy that career. Her work is considered to be quite controversial, which endears her to a loyal following of those in the Kingdom who would like to see social reform. The Only Way Out won prizes in the UAE and the Netherlands. She followed with the documentary Women Without Shadows, which deals with the hidden lives of women in the Arab world. The film attracted audiences at 17 international festivals and received the Golden Dagger award for Best Documentary at the Muscat Film Festival and a special jury mention at the fourth Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam.
Al Mansour’s feature debut, Wadjida which she wrote and directed, made its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film festival. It was the first full-length feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and tells the poignant story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Riyadh, who dreams of owning and riding a green bicycle. Rotana, the film production company of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, backed the film.
Although Al Mansour did not intend her film work to focus on women’s issues over time she found them too important not to address.
Both Who? and Women Without Shadows deal with the custom of wearing the abaya. Al Mansour believes Saudi Arabia needs to take a more critical view of its culture and has received praise from a large number of Saudis for encouraging more open discussion of topics all too frequently regarded as being off limits.
Omar K Alghanim (Kuwait)
Harvard-educated Alghanim has led family business Alghanim Industries since 2006 having previously worked as an analyst at Morgan Stanley and deputy chairman of Asiya Investment. The family business is one of the largest privately owned companies in the Gulf region with over 30 subsidiaries in 40 countries. Last year, it bought the franchise rights to fast food chain Wendy’s in the Middle East and North Africa. Alghanim is also chairman of Gulf Bank and the youth-focused non-profit INJAZ Kuwait.
Amal Clooney (Lebanon/UK)
For many years, Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin) operated as a successful lawyer, defending high-profile clients in legal cases from around the world but it was the announcement of her engagement to Hollywood actor George Clooney in April 2014, that really brought her to international attention.
However, with degrees from Oxford University and New York University’s School of Law, Amal Clooney has repeatedly shown herself to be so much more than Hollywood eye candy. She has established her credentials on some of the most contentious human rights cases in recent years, including that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
Earlier this year, she spoke out publicly against the Canadian government, accusing it of failing to do more to assist its citizen, Fahmy, who was on bail awaiting retrial after more than a year behind bars in Egypt on terrorism-related charges.
She has also served on the International Court of Justice, worked in the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, advised UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria, represented Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and is an advisor to Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, among other accomplishments.
Earlier this year, she spoke out publicly against the Canadian government, accusing it of failing to do more to assist its citizen, Fahmy, who was on bail awaiting retrial after more than a year behind bars in Egypt on terrorism-related charges.
She has also served on the International Court of Justice, worked in the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, advised UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria, represented Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and is an advisor to Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, among other accomplishments.
In August 2014, she turned down an offer to join the UN’s three-member commission investigating possible war crimes during last year’s Israel–Gaza conflict, citing her consistently heavy workload. Clooney was born in Beirut but her family relocated to the UK in 1980, during the Civil War in Lebanon.
Dr Mohammad Nasser Al Ahbabi (UAE)
Al Ahbabi is the head of the UAE’s space exploration, technology and research efforts. He is responsible for coordinating public and private sector initiatives in the field and the creation of the Middle East’s first dedicated space research centre. He is also spearheading the UAE’s Hope Probe mission to Mars, scheduled for 2021, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the country. He previously served in a number of different roles at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.
Jawad Nabulsi (Egypt)
Jawad Nabulsi is an experienced entrepreneur in both the business and social sectors. He founded a management-consulting firm focused on lean manufacturing and Six Sigma implementation in food-production factories in the Middle East. He also co-founded a web development company and three restaurants. Nabulsi has consulted for numerous start-ups and non-profit organisations. He trains and lectures around the world on topics including wellbeing, happiness and leadership. In 2011 he founded the Nebny Foundation, which has impacted upon the lives of more than 150,000 people and was chosen by the World Bank from more than 40,000 non-governmental organisations in the Middle East to become its 2013 donor recipient. The Egyptian government has adopted Nebny’s programme to combat illiteracy, which involves giving primary school students two hours of lessons a day and a daily meal for three months.
Maher Zain (Lebanon)
Maher Zain, whose family left Lebanon to make their home in Sweden when he was just eight years old, entered the music industry as a producer working alongside Grammy award-winning music executive RedOne, famous for his work with the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez. In 2009 he returned to his Islamic roots and focused on writing and singing his own contemporary R&B music with a strong Muslim influence. His first album, Thank You Allah, was released on November 1, 2009, by Awakening Records. It became the highest-selling album of 2010 in Malaysia and went multi-platinum in Malaysia and Indonesia, where he has had his biggest successes. Since releasing his first album, the R&B singer has established himself as a highly successful recording artist, amassing a vast international fan base and in excess of 23.5 million Facebook followers. Zain sings mainly in English but has released some of his most popular songs in languages such as French, Arabic, Turkish, Malay and Indonesian.
He is a keen supporter of UNHCR’s work and last year visited several of the organisation’s Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, where he performed concerts.
Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa (Bahrain)
One of the first women to practice law in Bahrain, and only the third woman to head the UN General Assembly, Sheika Haya Al Khalifa is an advocate for women’s rights and has held senior positions with many leading legal organisations. She is currently Chairperson of the ICC Bahrain National Committee, a member of the Dubai International Arbitrator committee and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution. Sheikhs Haya is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for the period 2009 to 2017 and currently Chairperson of the Consumer Advisory Group – Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) Bahrain, Principal Attorney and legal advisor at Haya Rashed Al Khalifa Attorney at Law & Legal Consultants, and legal advisor at the Royal Court of Bahrain. She is also an alternative member of the Kingdom of Bahrain at the ICC’s International Court of Arbitration, Board Member of the ICC Bahrain and Chairperson of the Lawyers Committee, ICC Bahrain. She has served as Bahrain’s Ambassador to France, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain, and was the permanent delegate of the Kingdom of Bahrain to UNESCO for four years.
Férid Boughedir (Tunisia)
Férid Boughedir is a writer and director, known for Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces (1990), A Summer in La Goulette (1996) and Parfum de printemps (2016). He was a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 and also at the Berlin International Film Festival of 1997. Boughedir, who was born in 1944 in Tunis, was recently instrumental in organising the 2nd Tunisian Film festival in Cannes. Through his films, he aims to promote a positive image of his homeland to the world.
Mariam Al Mansouri (UAE)
Major Mariam Al Mansouri struck a blow for gender equality and for Emirati women in particular when she became her country’s first female fighter pilot. Last September, she was to become an even more potent symbol of gender achievement when she led the UAE’s air strikes on ISIL in Syria.
Mansouri, an English Literature graduate, is one of eight children; has spoken candidly about how, as a woman, her path to achieving her goals has not always been a smooth one. There are, she concedes, many people who would have liked to throw a spanner in the works of her progress to Major but many others who offered her unconditional support in her professional progress. Her family, she confirms, are among the latter group. She graduated from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College in 2007 and now, as a major, works with F-16 Block 60 aircraft, which are among the most advanced military aircraft. In 2016 was awarded the Mohammed Bin Rashid Pride of the Emirates medal.
Mariam Abultewi (Palestine)
A 26-year old Gazan entrepreneur, Mariam Abultewi, has created a version of Uber, known as Wasselni, which works offline, in an area where telecommunications are frequently greatly restricted, without 3G coverage. Funding for the idea was not initially forthcoming but with the help of Gaza Sky Geeks, the first start-up accelerator in the Gaza Strip, Abdultewi landed a substantial investment from Palinno, a Palestinian operation that works in both Gaza and the West Bank, which helped get her project off the ground. Wasselni was one of the first start-up investments in Gaza and now has more than 2,000 subscribers and about 70 vetted drivers. Abdultewi is exploring a series of new transport alternatives.
Ronaldo Mouchawar (Syria/UAE)
Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, Ronaldo Mouchawar is the co-founder and CEO of the Arab world’s largest online shopping site, Souq.com, often referred to as the “Amazon” of the MENA region. Souq.com serves more than 40 cities in the Arab world with over 42 million visits per month. Mouchawar is also a respected voice on entrepreneurship and start-ups. He is one of the pioneers of e-commerce in the region, now also mentoring young promising talent.
Nancy Ajram (Lebanon)
Nancy Ajram’s big professional breakthrough came when she collaborated with the producer Jiji Lamara for the first time to release Akhasmak Ah on her third studio album Ya Salam in 2002, although she began singing for friends and family as a small child and eventually released her first studio album when she was just 15. In 2004 she released her second international bestselling album Ah W Noss, which cemented her status as an Arab pop icon. She has even been described, by the American chat show host Oprah Winfrey as ‘the Britney Spears of the Middle East’. Successive albums have included Ya Tabtab…Wa Dallaa (2006), Shakhbat Shakhabit (2007) and Betfakkar Fi Eih?! (2008); the latter won Ajram her first World Music Award for the World’s Best-Selling Middle Eastern Artist. Ajram has since collected an impressive array of international music industry awards, including the Murex d’Or prize. The 31-year-old, has two daughters with her dentist husband. Her official Facebook page is reportedly the most subscribed female Arabic artist page on the social media network.
Dana Awartani (Palestine-SaudiArabia)
Dana Awartani is a Palestinian-Saudi artist, born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she continues to live and work today. She studied for a foundation degree in Art and Design at London’s Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and the city’s Byam Shaw School of Art, before going on to achieve a B.A. in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins. During her studies, she was drawn to explorations of traditional art forms, deconstructing their interpretation and meaning. This inspired her to pursue a two-year Masters at The Princes’ School of Traditional Arts, where she refined her skills in Islamic art forms and received a distinction for her work. Awartani’s art reflects the influence of both contemporary and traditional modes of practice and thought, with examples of both expressions evident in her body of work.
Art experts have roundly praised her intricate manuscript illumination, parquetry, ceramics, stained glass, miniature painting and mosaics, which are finely wrought examples of traditional Islamic art forms. She is furthering her practice and commitment to preserving these skills through the completion of an Ijaza certificate – the highest form of recognition and authorisation to those who excel in the skills of Islamic illumination. Her recent pieces are firmly rooted in these traditional practices.
Moustafa Fahour (Lebanon)
Moustafa Fahour is widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the establishment of the innovative Islamic Museum of Australia, which was conceived and built around the idea of an “Islamic Exploratorium” and is recognised as being at the vanguard of interactive and participatory experiences.
The Museum ‘experience’ sets out to create a culture of awareness and understanding through innovative environments, programmes and tools used as aids to nurture peoples’ natural curiosity about Islam and also to build much needed bridges of understanding between cultures.
This initiative has been widely praised in Australia and far beyond but at home it has taken on an even greater dimension of importance following the hostage crisis in a Sydney café in late 2014, when the demented actions of a lone Muslim gunman resulted in deaths and injuries. The affair, which was never proved to have any political or religious motivation, cast a negative image of Muslims in the country, which the Museum has been at pains to address through its various programmes of inclusion.
In addition to his sterling work at the Museum, Fahour, who was raised in Preston, England, the son of Lebanese immigrants, has years of experience in the financial services and banking industry, with which he is still involved.
In past years, he has been voted among ‘Melbourne’s Top 100’ by “The Age”, and also ‘Muslim Man of the Year’ and ‘Volunteer of the Year’ at the Australian Muslim Achiever Awards (AMAA). Fahour was also recognised with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the visual arts and cross-cultural relations, one of the highest honours in Australia.
Sultan Soud Al Qassemi (UAE)
Non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government, Al Qassemi’s writing is published regularly by the UAE’s The National newspaper. His work also appears in international media such as The Guardian, The Independent and on CNN. He has developed an influential social media network and is an active tweeter. Since 2008, he has held the position of Chairman of Young Arab Leaders’ UAE chapter and is also Chairman of Barjeel Securities in Dubai. In February 2014 Sultan Al Qassemi joined the Global Commission on Internet Governance and later that year became an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow. He is also the founder of the Sharjah based Barjeel Art Foundation to house his extensive collection of modern and contemporary Arab art and an influential figure in Sharjah’s burgeoning art and culture scene.
Leila Sansour (Palestine)
Leila Sansour is an acclaimed film-maker with an unconventional portfolio. She is the founder and spokesperson of Open Bethlehem, an organisation that works to bring international commitment to the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian question, using Bethlehem as a gateway. Sansour holds a masters degree in philosophy and is a well known speaker on Middle Eastern issues .She began her career in television working as a producer and commissioning editor for MBC before moving to produce 15 episodes of Al Jazeera’s leading documentary series Encounter in Exile.
She is perhaps best known for her feature‐length documentary, Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli army 2003, a tragi-comic film shot with the celebrated British comedian Jeremy Hardy. The film received wonderful reviews in the international press and later it toured the US, as part of Amnesty International’s Roaming Film Festival.
Sansour’s latest film Open Bethlehem was realised at Christmas 2014. The film was shot over five years in Bethlehem during the building of the Israeli wall and has resulted in the gathering of one of the largest visual archives of the city both past and present. Plans are currently being discussed to eventually turn the collection into a permanent museum.
Sulaiman Al Rhajhi (Saudi Arabia)
Al Rhajhi is chairman of the largest Islamic bank, Al Rajhi in Saudi Arabia, established by royal decree in 1988. The bank includes retail, corporate and investment banking. Rhajhi is also a philanthropist founding the SAAR Foundation, a flagship corporation representing charities, think tanks and business entities. He has financial interests in the Al Rajhi Bank, the Yanbu Cement Company and the National Agricultural Development Company (Nadec). Another key business interest is the Al Watania Poultry, a chicken farming company, based on organic principles, a first for Saudi Arabia. Rhajhi also established the Suleiman Al Rahji museum to preserve a variety of heritage pieces. The artefacts tell the evolution of currency in the Kingdom through bank notes and coins through the years and also include examples of some of the more obscure currencies and coins in circulation among visiting Haj pilgrims.
Najla Al Midfa (UAE)
Najla Al Midfa was the first Emirati female to join the board of an Arab bank, back in 2012. However, she was known as a financial services powerhouse long before taking up her position on the board at United Arab Bank. Born in Sharjah, Midfa has an MBA from Stanford University, and is also on the board of both the Sharjah Business Women Council and the Young Arab Leaders. She has been employed in the UK and the US by companies including Shell, PWC, Google and McKinsey & Company, as well as at the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise and Development. It was her experience at the Khalifa Fund that convinced her of the need for Khayarat, her online careers office designed for young Emiratis who want to work in the private sector.
“I considered it a labour of love while I was at the Khalifa Fund, and I realised that I was really enjoying the process of helping individuals fulfil their potential. However, a lot of the Emiratis I was mentoring were not fully aware of what the opportunities were in the private sector.
“I will guide the students and make sure they know what they want to do, that their résumés are up-to-par, that they are prepared for interviews, but also that they are going after careers and jobs that actually suit them. It’s about exploring their passions.”
Somayya Jabarti (Saudi Arabia)
Jabarti was the first woman to be appointed as the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Saudi Arabia when, in 2014, she became editor of the Saudi Gazette, first launched in 1978. Jabarti had previously worked at Arab News. Her career has included participation in various media focused training programmes and workshops, including the 2008 MENA Media Emerging Leaders Fellowship and the London Middle East Institute & the Commonwealth Journalists Association, reporting course. She was also involved in planning and organising the first Women’s Media Forum held in Jeddah in 2006. Commenting on her promotion to editor of the Saudi Gazette, Jabarti observed: “A crack has been made in the glass ceiling and I am hoping it will be widened into a door.”
Lina Ben Mhenni (Tunisia)
Lina Ben Mhenni’s English and Arabic language blog, A Tunisian Girl, was propelled into the international spotlight during the political unrest that toppled her country’s longstanding President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Mhenni’s blog published photographs and videos of those injured during the country’s unrest, taken during her regular trips to hospitals. During the Tunisian Revolution, in an attempt to bring the real story of the birth of the Arab Spring to international prominence, Ben Mhenni also acted as a volunteer correspondent for the international media, including France 2 and France 24.
She is currently employed as an assistant lecturer in linguistics at Tunis University, and also writes for Global Voices Online. Ben Mhenni has been awarded the Deutsche Welle International Blog Award and the El Mundo International Prize for Journalism.
Badr Jafar (UAE)
Jafar is the President of Crescent Petroleum and CEO of Sharjah-based Crescent Enterprises but Crescent is just one of a growing number of diverse business enterprises. “My career so far has been a journey of interlinked paths — one with the family business [Crescent Group] and others being my own initiatives and start-ups — and both continue to benefit the other,” he said in a recent magazine interview. Jafar is very much a 21st century Arab businessman who strongly believes in the new order of getting things done. Among his ventures is the Pearl Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation he founded with the United Nations Office for Partnerships in 2010, to improve corporate transparency across the Gulf. He is a staunch advocate of entrepreneurship and a member of numerous bodies to support SMEs, including the Global Board of Education for Employment and Synergos Arab World Social Innovators. Jafar attended Eton College in the UK and later Cambridge University. He chairs the Alumni Advisory Council of the Cambridge University Judge Business School in the UK, where he gained his MST. The School is a provider of management education and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top business schools.
Jafar is as comfortable in the recording studio as in the boardroom — in 2011 he and legendary producer Quincy Jones released an Arabic charity single entitled Tomorrow/Bokra, presented by pop star Shakira and featuring 26 Arab artists to raise money for educational arts projects for disadvantaged youth across the MENA region. The same year, Jafar and Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey launched a not-for-profit theatre academy in the Middle East. Currently he sits on the global board of the Education for Employment initiative and is also a founding member and chairman of Endeavor UAE, a programme encouraging high impact entrepreneurship.
Lina Attalah (Egypt)
Attalah, the former editor of Egypt Independent, is the chief editor and founder of Mada Masr. When its publishers shut down the Egypt Independent newspaper in April 2013, a group of its former journalists got together under the leadership of Attalah to establish a new online bilingual newspaper, Mada Masr.
Mada, which means “span” or “range” in Arabic, is also the spot where a stone is placed on a ring, ergo symbolic of taking a position, and Egypt is often referred to colloquially as Masr. The website was launched on 30 June 2013, the day that a mass demonstration calling for the resignation of Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s president, was planned.
Mada Masr is Attalah’s seventh news venture; many of the previous ones had closed because of successive governments’ attitude towards independent-minded journalists. She was educated at Cairo University
With over 38,000 followers on Twitter, Atallah is regarded as a respected voice on Egypt, having covered all notable events in the country’s recent history. As well as editing Mada Masr, Atallah has written for numerous publications including Reuters, Al Masry Al Youm, the Christian Science Monitor and Cairo Times, and has worked as a radio producer and campaign coordinator for the BBC World Service trust.
Wadah Khanfar (Palestine)
Born in Jenin in 1969, Khanfar studied engineering at the University of Jordan in Amman and went on to complete postgraduate studies in philosophy, African studies, and international politics. He fine honed his journalistic credentials from the ground up, working in various war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan. Khanfar became Managing Director of the Al Jazeera Television Channel in 2003, and held the position of Director General of the Al Jazeera Network from 2006 to 2011. He is co-founder and President of the Al Sharq Forum, an independent network dedicated to developing long-term strategies for political development, social justice and economic prosperity for the people of the Middle East. He is Chairman of the Common Action Forum (CAF), an international non-profit foundation established in Madrid, (Spain) in 2015. CAF works as a global network and a think-tank bringing together prominent and emerging experts from diverse backgrounds including academia, politics, media, civil society and culture.
Mohammed Alabbar (UAE)
The charismatic and articulate chairman of Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest real estate companies and a key player in the development of Dubai’s real estate sector, Alabbar runs more than 60 companies under the Emaar umbrella. He is responsible for three of Dubai’s iconic landmarks: the Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Opera House. He also serves as Director General of Dubai’s Department of Economic Development and is a senior aide to Dubai’s Ruler, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. In 2014, under his leadership, Emaar listed its shopping malls and retail business, Emaar Malls Group, on the Dubai Financial Market with one of the largest IPOs in the region.
Radwa Rostom (Egypt)
Radwa Rostom is a civil engineer and the founder of Hand Over, an award-winning social enterprise that utilises sustainable construction techniques to build houses and structures for under privileged communities.
With her enthusiasm for the environment, her passion for sustainability, and a profound knowledge of engineering,Rostom was destined to arrive at a place where she would be led to address the lack of housing for poor communities in Cairo. Her ingenuity has paid off by providing new environmentally friendly living spaces in the overcrowded Egyptian capital city.
Rostom works as a training & CSR specialist at the Solar Energy Company. Her initiatives there are attracting positive attention from social development agencies international organisations, including NGOs, donor agencies and various governmental bodies. She is also involved with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) in implementing energy management systems in Egyptian industrial facilities.
In January 2014, Rostom was granted a fellowship from the DO School in Hamburg. It was during her time in Germany she was to further develop her plan to provide a humane shelter for slum dwellers in Egypt. After receiving extensive training, attending numerous workshops and coaching sessions, the idea was sufficiently developed to be launched as a project under the name Hand Over.
Hand Over, a sub-project from the “Ezbet Project”, seeks to provide sustainable, affordable and durable houses for slum dwellers by empowering architecture and civil engineering students/graduates, along with the local residents, to jointly design and implement appropriate, sustainable shelters. The idea is that one day residents will be able to own their own homes, through a “mortgage” arrangement, offering flexible payment arrangements. Hand Over hopes that one day, its’ achievements in Cairo, will be expanded to cover other areas in need in cities around the country.
Dr. Sultan Al Jaber (UAE)
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is CEO of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, mandated by the UAE government to undertake and drive the Masdar Initiative – Abu Dhabi’s vision of investment in the future of energy and environmental sustainability. Al Jaber holds a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Southern California, a PhD in business and economics from Coventry University in the UK and an MBA from California State University at Los Angeles.
In 2012 he was the winner of the prestigious UN Champions of the Earth award in recognition of his efforts in this area. Dr. Al Jaber is a board member of the Young Arab Leaders Organization and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC), the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp. and Sky News Arabia. He is Vice Chairman of the UAE Federal Health Authority and serves on the boards of the Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), ALDAR Properties and Zones Corp. He also holds the position of managing director of the board of the recently formed Emirates Diplomatic Academy (EDA), which aims to help realise the UAE’s foreign policy aspirations by preparing a cadre of highly qualified diplomats. In 2016, he was appointed Director General of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company (Adnoc) and is also Chairman of the Board of the National Media Council.
Wafa Makhlouf Sayadi (Tunisia)
Mother-of-two Wafa Makhlouf Sayadi is the founder and CEO of Proclean, an environmental company focused on household refuse collection and mechanised beach cleaning.
With a loan from the Tunisian Solidarity Bank and assistance from her father, Sayadi managed to hire five employees and start the company in 2003. She now employs more than 50 permanent staff, but the number can easily double depending on the needs of the project. Sayadi has also been active in encouraging other budding entrepreneurs. In 2013, she became director of CEED Tunisia, an organisation launched to help train entrepreneurs and give them access to funding and new markets.
She joined the Young CEO Center (CJD) in Tunisia as treasurer in 2005, and became president in 2011. During her CJD presidency she initiated the first Tunisian women entrepreneur incubator, helping to boost women’s potential in opportunity-deprived parts of the country. With CJD, she has also started the Wajjahni programme, which highlights entrepreneurial success stories to inspire youth to take risks and invest in their passions. Sayadi has also acted as the chairwoman of the non-profit organisation Enactus Tunisia.
Waleed Hassanein (Egypt)
Egyptian born cardiac surgeon Waleed Hassanein was named as a finalist for the 2017 European Inventor Award for his pioneering method to preserve the vital functions of donor organs, prior to them reaching transplant recipients. Hassanein’s process principally relies on preserving the donor organs in conditions similar to those of the human body, rather than keeping them packed in ice; lungs continue to inflate artificially, hearts continue to pump. His method has already been used in over 800 organ transplants and impressive success rates have been recorded. The European Patent Office (EPO) named Hassanein a finalist for the European Inventor award in the “Non-EPO countries” category for his significant achievement. Hassanein began working on his invention, Organ Care System (OCS), when a resident doctor at Georgetown University in the early 1990s. He was shocked to see a life-saving organ being placed in a cold storage.
Mohammed Al Shaibani (UAE)
Mohammed Al Shaibani is director general of the Ruler’s Court, the prime government body of Dubai. Under its umbrella are various other government units such as the Department of Finance, Dubai Courts, and The Executive Council, to name but a few.
He is also CEO and executive director of the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD), the holding company that manages the government’s investment portfolio. Additionally, he was appointed a board member at Dubai World in 2010. Since 1998, he has held the position of president at the Dubai Office, a private management office for the royal family of Dubai. In 2013, Al Shaibani was named Deputy Chairman of the Higher Preparatory Committee of the World Expo 2020 to be held in Dubai. He is also the vice chairman of The Supreme Fiscal Committee of Dubai and serves as a board member of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) Limited, The Knowledge Fund and International Humanitarian City (IHC) and as the chairman of Dubai Islamic Bank.
Imad Karam (Palestine)
Imad Karam, is a 38-year-old Palestinian who has made his home in the UK. Imad grew up in Gaza and won a scholarship to do postgraduate studies in media and communications in London where he also obtained his PhD on the impact of the media on Arab youth identity. In his 12 years of working with Initiatives of Change in the UK, Karam was a director of the film department where he displayed flair for creative management and cross-cultural development. In 2010 he joined the management team with responsibility for communications and international relations.
Karam is also an accomplished filmmaker. His latest work is the award winning documentary Beyond Forgiving, which depicts the journey of two South Africans as they – through their shared experience – help to bring healing and reconciliation to their country post-Apartheid.
Mohamed Latif Jameel (Saudi Arabia)
Mohamed Abdul Latif Jameel is active in real estate, financing, advertising, media and the distribution of electronics and household appliances. He is a keen yachtsman and a generous art philanthropist who has funded galleries around the world, including one showcasing more than 10,000 Islamic artifacts at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where he also promotes modern Arab art with the bi-annual Jameel prize, through his organization Art Jameel. In 2015, the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, presented Jameel with an Honorary Knighthood in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of his activities in supporting the arts in Britain. Art Jameel is also the founding partner of a number of initiatives such as Edge of Arabia, The Crossway Foundation, Jeddah Art Week and The Archive. He is also keenly involved in fighting poverty around the world, having founded the “Poverty Action Lab” (J-PAL), in Cambridge Massachusetts. Though J-PAL was founded as a research centre, its activities have expanded to encompass three areas: impact evaluations, policy outreach, and capacity building.
Nadine Hanafi (Morocco)
With her passion to make complicated ideas simple, Nadine Hanafi founded We Are Visual, a company dedicated to turning mediocre PowerPoint presentations into visual experiences that “persuade, inspire and engage”, in 2013.
We Are Visual specialises in creating highly visual and engaging presentations that help their clients tell a compelling story. Two years ago, Hanafi used her personal savings to start the company, and within 14 months, she grew the business to record a six-figure turnover, with no external capital. Based in Miami, the company serves an international clientele across five languages and works with professional speakers, entrepreneurs and Fortune 100 companies.
In December 2014, it was voted Miami’s Most Innovative Startup. Hanafi was named ‘Top US Entrepreneur under 35’ by the Empact Showcase and honoured at the United Nations. Originally from Morocco, Hanafi speaks five languages and is an enthusiastic traveller.
Helal Al Marri (UAE)
Al Marri played a key role in helping Dubai win Expo 2020. He previously worked as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Co, one of the world’s leading consulting firms. He holds an MBA degree from the London Business School and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He currently also serves on the boards of several government and private sector entities, including the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, International Humanitarian City and Taleem Education. He is the Director General of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) – the principal authority responsible for strengthening Dubai’s positioning as a world-leading tourism destination. Prior to his DTCM job, he was CEO of the Dubai World Trade Centre, where he was instrumental in establishing Dubai as a global financial and commercial hub.