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7 Arab Women Leaders to Watch

From business women to comedians, activists and athletes, these seven women are championing change in the Middle East with the strength of a lion. Influential and outspoken, they do not fear swimming against the tide to stand up for what they want. Seven videos to sit, watch, and get inspired.

1. Muna AbuSulayman (Saudi Arabia) @MunaAbuSulayman

Some say she is the Middle East’s own version of Oprah: an icon of the modern Muslim woman, Muna challenges stereotypes and builds empowerment on her popular TV show Kalam Nawaem (“Speech of the Soft”). An avid philanthropist and entrepreneur, she was appointed Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is the first Saudi woman to be a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Watch her talk about women empowerment as a system here.

2. Zainab Salbi (Iraq) @ZainabSalbi

Born in a country torn by war, Salbi, the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot turned her life around when he learned about the tragedy of Bosnian women and decided to establish Women for Women International to provide economic and emotional aid to women victims of war. The author, filmmaker, humanitarian and social entrepreneur has dedicated her life to helping women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives and communities.


3. Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)

Egypt’s legendary feminist, her experience as an activist dates as far back as the British rule of Egypt, when she protested for the first time. A women’s rights activist, author, physician and psychiatrist, she has authored nearly 50 books, many of them discussing the issue of women and Islam. Founder of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and the Arab Association for Human Rights, she was awarded the North-South prize from the Council of Europe in 2004. In this video interview, at the age of 79, she says age makes her “become more radical”.

4. Noura Al Kaabi (UAE) @NouraAlKaabi

The first Emirati to be ranked on Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers list”in 2013 for building an Arabic-language media empire, this influential business lady has a Twitter follower base of 73.100 people worldwide. The CEO of Media Zone Authority (twofour54), Noura oversees major media events in the region including the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission.


5. Rania Anderson (MENA-US) @TheWayWomenWork

A fierce supporter of women’s rights, Rania is an entrepreneur who accelerates women’s professional and business success globally through The Way Women Work, an online career guidance platform for women in growth economies. Rania is also the co-founder of the Women’s Capital Connection, the 8th women’s angel network in the United States. Watch her explain the ‘Ten ‘C’s of Successful Senior Businesswomen’ here.

Maysoon Zayid (Palestine) @maysoonzayid

One of America’s first Muslim women comedians and the first person ever to perform standup in Palestine and Jordan, Maysoon Zayid became world-wide famous after her TEDx talk “I got 99 problems… palsy is just one” went viral. An actress, stand-up comic, philanthropist and advocate for the disabled, her jokes about her family, global culture, and her life with cerebral palsy break international barriers.


7. May El-Khalil (Lebanon)

The founder of the Beirut Marathon, the largest running event in the Middle East, May El-Khalil transformed her personal tragedy into a project to heal her all-too-often war-torn country. In 2003, more than 6,000 runners gathered for the first Beirut marathon and, now in its 12th edition, the event continues to build unity and harmony. Watch her TEDx talk ‘Making peace is a marathon’ here.

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Valentina Primo

Journalist, globetrotter, and determined idealist. Since Valentina left her home country of Argentina, she has searched for ways to build bridges between cultures and foster dialogue. Her previous work in international organizations in Italy and Germany fed her passion for the world of development, while her 8-year journalistic experience in Argentina and Egypt increased her curiosity for everything that challenges the stereotype. She holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Peace Studies with a specialization in Human Rights.

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