The 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015 in Culture and Society

Welcome to CEO Middle East’s fifth annual list of the world’s most powerful Arab women — our yearly look at the most important female influencers across the Arab world.
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3. Loujain Al Hathloul
\nWomen’s right’s activist
\nSaudi Arabia
\nCulture & society

\nOccasionally a single incident can catapult a woman into the headlines, establishing her as a symbol for a particular cause.

\nLoujain Al Hathloul is one such woman, whose defiance of the Saudi Arabian driving ban for women led to her imprisonment, subsequent release, and a raising of the controversial topic at home in the GCC and around the rest of the world.

\nAl Hathloul was arrested along with Maysaa Al Amoudi and referred to a terrorism court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last December. She was taken in by police when she attempted to drive from the UAE into Saudi Arabia, with Al Amoudi arrested when she went to the border to support her, according to reports.\nThe driver’s large social media following had been following her journey before the arrest, as Al Hathloul was tweeting regular updates as she got closer to the border.

\nHaving been arrested on 1 December, the women were freed this February, prompting Al Hathloul to tweet for the first time since her arrest. “Peace be upon you, good people,” she wrote.
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7. (9) Mona Al Munajjed
\nSociologist
\nSaudi Arabia
\nCulture & society

\nDr Mona Al Munajjed is an award-winning and prominent sociologist at the forefront of those influencing women’s affairs in Saudi Arabia.

\nShe is an advisor on social and gender issues and an author on social issues in the GCC countries. She holds a PhD in Sociology from George Washington University, Washington DC, and an MA in Sociology from New York University, New York. She is the author of the newly acclaimed book, Saudi Women: A Celebration of Success. Her publications include the books Women in Saudi Arabia Today, Significance of Arabic Names for Girls in the Arab World, and Saudi Women Speak.

\nShe is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines in the Gulf region. She has spent fifteen years working with and advising various United Nations international agencies on programs and projects related to gender, women, and social development, including field missions in the Arab region. She received the United Nations 21 Commendation Award in recognition of her contribution to the project: “Activating the role of women welfare associations in Saudi Arabia”.
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17. (14) Leila El Solh
\nVice president
\nAlwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation
\nLebanon
\nCulture & society

\nThe youngest daughter of former Lebanese prime minster Riad Al Solh, Leila Al Solh served as Lebanon’s minister of industry, but is best know as vice president of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation.

\nAl Solh was the first woman to be appointed minister in Lebanon when she took the industry portfolio in 2004, a year after taking the role with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation.

\nHer work with the foundation has won widespread acclaim. In 2008 she was honoured with the Pontifical Medal by Pope Benedict XVI, the same year that she received the Gold Medal from HH Kerekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and an Honourary Trophy from the Arab League.

\nThe foundation was established to formalise the philanthropic undertakings of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud.
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42. (72) Zainab Salbi
\nActivist
\nIraq (US)
\nCulture and society

\nAmong her many titles, Zainab Salbi can be called an author, women’s rights activist, humanitarian, social entrepreneur and media commentator.

\nThe founder and former CEO of US-based Women for Women International has dedicated her life to serving female survivors of war. During her leadership, from 1993 to 2011, the organization helped more than 370,00 women in eight conflict areas rebuild their lives by giving them access to social opportunities. It is claimed that Women for Women has distributed more than $103 million in direct aid and micro credit loans, and has impacted more than 1.7 million people.

\nSalbi is the author of three books, including best-seller Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadown of Saddam. In 2010 President Clinton nominated Salbi as one of the 21st century heroes as featured in Harpers Bazaar, while numerous other highly respected publications have listed her in lists of influential people.
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44. (61) Muna Abu Sulayman
\nEntrepreneur, activist
\nSaudi Arabia
\nCulture and society

\nThe job titles, achievements and projects keep stacking up for Muna AbuSulayman.

\nThe influential and popular media personality wears many hats and has excelled in many fields. Not only has she launched three companies, in fashion, media and CSR, she has also led campaigns to help Syrian refugees, worked in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and sat on a steering group for the UN World Humanitarian Summit in MENA.

\nA highly regarded humanitarian and philanthropist, AbuSulayman is a familiar face on television, as well as at conferences and summits around the world. Over the years she has spoken and written about society, women’s rights, community building, the media, and building bridges between the East and West, as well as other topics.

\nShe has also dedicated time to translating scientific journals into Arabic for college students, is a Global Ambassador for Silatech, and was the founding Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation.

\nHer various awards, roles and positions are testament to her continued work in numerous areas.
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54 (62). Joumana Haddad
\nActivist
\nLebanon
\nCulture & society

\nPoet, translator, journalist and women’s rights activist Joumana Haddad continues to be a mouthpiece for females across the Middle East.

\nHer views on equality have resulted in death threats in her native Lebanon, but her seemingly non-stop output remains unwavering.

\nIn a recent interview she stated that she doesn’t believe in female solidarity, calling it an outdated stereotype and instead calling for solidarity between people, not sexes.

\nHer most famous book, I Killed Sheherazade, was published in 2010 and was hailed by Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who said that the tome “destroys our prejudices”.
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55 (90). Dalia Mogahed
\nPresident and CEO
\nMogahed Consulting
\nUS (Egypt)
\nCulture & society

\nThe President and CEO of Mogahed Consulting now focuses her time on executive coaching and consulting, specialising in Muslim societies and the Middle East.

\nBut Dalia Mogahed is perhaps still best known as the former executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, and her role as advisor to US President Barack Obama. Working in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, Mogahed made headlines as the first veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House. Mogahed Consulting focuses on offering leaders in corporations, multinationals and governments evidence-based solutions and advice to help achieve their goals, rather than relying on intuition or conventional wisdom.
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56 (55). Thoraya Obaid
\nFormer executive director
\nUN Population Fund
\nSaudi Arabia
\nCulture & society

\nAfter serving 10 years as executive director of the United National Population Fund, and an under-secretary general of the United Nations, Thoraya Obaid is one of the most prominent women from Saudi Arabia.

\nLeaving the UNPF to become the chair of WLP’s board of directors, Obaid has also been a valued member of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council. She is also renowned for her work with governments to establish programmes to empower women, and throughout her career she has emphasised the importance of development that emerges from the context of each society, considering the cultural values and religious beliefs that shape people and their actions.
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59 (82). Sarah Shuhail
\nFounder
\nEwa’a Centre for Women and Children
\nUAE
\nCulture & society

\nAs the founder of Ewa’a, Sarah Shuhail has helped save hundreds of women and girls from sex trafficking and prostitution.

\nSince opening the shelter in 2008, her work has raised awareness of the crime of forced prostitution and has helped numerous victims return to a normal life. The first centre opened in Abu Dhabi in 2009, later adding locations in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, as well as a space for men in Abu Dhabi. Victims are either rescued or have escaped from brothels and are given psychological and medical care and legal support, while their rehabilitation also includes activities such as handicrafts, swimming or drawing. In May last year an art exhibition at The Space in Abu Dhabi showcased work from women who had been through Ewa’a’s doors, helping to raise funds and awareness.
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60 (100). Soraya Salti
\nRegional director MENA
\nInjaz Al Arab
\nJordan
\nCulture & society

\nWith youth unemployment still one of the main areas of concern in the Middle East, Soraya Salti’s work is as important as ever.

\nThrough Injaz Al Arab, Salti works to train Middle Eastern youth to become entrepreneurs and take their futures into their own hands, bringing entrepreneurial skills to students in high school. Partnerships with industry leaders such as Boeing, Marriott, and Aramex have led to initiatives such as the recent Expand Your Horizon programme, which brings together global entities from growth industries to showcase employment and internship opportunities in the region. Salti has previously been recognised with a Skoll Foundation Award, and won the 2006 Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year award for Jordan.
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61 (26). Nawal Al Saadawi
\nActivist, feminist, doctor
\nEgypt
\nCulture & society

\nThe term ‘irrepressible’ doesn’t begin to describe Nawal El Saadawi, the feminist, writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist who has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights for decades.

\nThe founder and president of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, and the co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights, El Saadawi has been awarded numerous times, and held various position within Egypt - both governmental and non-governmental. He activism has sometimes come at a cost, however. She was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Health soon after publishing a book attacking female circumcision, and was jailed by former president Anwar Al Sadat in 1981 after helping to publish a feminist magazine.
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62 (81). Amira Yahyaoui
\nActivist
\nTunisia
\nCulture & society

\nIn the past year peace activist and proponent of free speech, Amira Yahyaoui, has been recognised for her continual efforts by winning the conflict prevention prize by the Foundation Chirac.

\nYahyaoui’s life story to date is one filled with sadness, but hope. Aged just 16 she was tailed by Tunisia’s secret police and beaten as a result of her activism. In 2005, her cousin Zouhair Yahyaoui died after being persecuted and tortured by the government for his objections to censorship in Tunisia. And after fleeing to France she was rendered stateless for several years until the fall of President Ben Ali, whereupon she gained a passport and returned to Tunisia. There she founded Al Bawsala, an NGO that monitors the country’s legislature and promotes free expression and the protection of human rights.
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65 (4). Tawakul Karman
\nNobel Peace Prize Laureate
\nYemen
\nCulture & society

\nKnown within Yemen as the Iron Woman, and Mother of the Revolution, Tawakul Karman is a journalist, politician, and senior member of the Al-Islah political party, as well as a noted human rights activist.

\nIn 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Yemeni, first Arab woman, and second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize. In 2005 Karman set up Women Journalists Without Chains, and started holding protests in the Yemeni capital two years later. Her name became well-known in 2011 when she led a series of protests calling for the departure of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Most recently, in January this year, she spoke out on what she believes is a collaboration between now former president Saleh and the Houthi rebels to undo the 2011 revolution by ending the transition process.
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74. Amal Al Qubaisi
\nGeneral manager
\nADEC
\nUAE
\nCulture & society

\nIn 2014 Dr Amal Al Qubaisi became the first woman to be appointed to the Abu Dhabi Educational Council, taking up the role of general manager.

\nAn architect by profession, Al Qubaisi was also the first woman to be elected to the Federal National Council, and was the first woman to chair one of its meetings. In her role with ADEC, Al Qubaisi has made a bold statement of intent, saying she will personally visit schools and speak to teachers, school leaders and pupils about their concerns. Previously, she had worked tirelessly to convince the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to document and preserve more than 350 historical sites in the UAE, including Al Jahili and Al Hosn forts.
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81 (42). Fatema Mernissi
\nFeminist
\nMorocco
\nCulture & society

\nSince 1975 Fatema Mernissi has been on the forefront of the critical dialogue about the position of women, and civil society.

\nA seasoned author of numerous books, Mernissi has written about women within the rapidly changing Muslim communities in Morocco, among other topics, and has directed sociological research for UNESCO, ILO and the UN Population Fund. Born in Fes in 1940, Mernissi is currently a lecturer at the Mohammed V University of Rabat, and continues to be an ardent campaigner for women’s rights. Her publication Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, it still regarded a vital text on the subject.
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82 (32). Manal Al Sharif
\nActivist
\nSaudi Arabia
\nCulture & society

\nWhen Manal Al Sharif got behind the wheel of a car in her home country of Saudi Arabia in 2011, she almost immediately became a focal point for women’s rights in the Kingdom.

\nArrested as a result of her actions, which were part of a campaign to call for women’s rights to drive, Al Sharif was been applauded across the globe, and has since brought international attention to a number of women’s rights issues including the murder of five-year-old Lama Al Ghamdi by her father in 2013, and the plight of female domestic workers held in Saudi prisons.

\nDubbed Saudi Arabia’s Rosa Parks, Al Sharif was honoured last year at a Women In The World luncheon in California, where she told an audience “To me, if you see something wrong, you have to speak up… If we keep quiet, nothing will change.”
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92 (54). Muna Harib
\nFounder
\nBreathing Numbers
\nUAE
\nCulture & society

\nHelping others is second nature for Muna Harib Al Muhairi, an Emirati woman who has founded a string of charitable organisations.

\nAfter launching Seeds of Change - a group to promote random acts of kindness - and Buskha - an organisation which supports low-income Emiratis in rural parts of the country, Harib founded the Breathing Numbers project. Devised after visiting refugee camps in Jordan in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war, Breathing Numbers originally aimed to document the plight of hundreds of thousands of people trapped on the Jordanian border. The project has since developed to become even more humanitarian, supplying material assistance as well as an emotional boost to the refugee communities.
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99 (71). Buthaina Al Ansari
\nFounder
\nQatariat
\nQatar
\nCulture & society

\nA tireless promotor of women in her home country of Qatar, Buthaina Al Ansari is at the forefront of positive change in the Kingdom.

\n\nHaving developed a stellar reputation as HR director at telco Ooredoo, Al Ansari is the founder of Qatariat - a company that specialises in helping Qatari women advance in the workforce.

\nQatariat has three main focuses: Qatariat Training and Development, Qatariat Magazine, and the Qatariat Development Consultancy. The executive has also been an ambassador of Women Leading Change Qatar, and a speaker at numerous events, where she regularly highlights her belief that women need to brand themselves and establish their own identity.