Jawaher AlMheiri has a message for young Arabs: Be courageous, pursue your dreams, grab every opportunity

Jawaher Al-Mehairi speaks six languages, has a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, a post-graduate diploma in diplomacy and is adept at statistical optimization. (Supplied)
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Jawaher Al-Mehairi speaks six languages, has a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, a post-graduate diploma in diplomacy and is adept at statistical optimization. (Supplied)
Saudi women take part in a cycling race to mark World Obesity Day celebration in Riyadh’s Princess Nura University. (AFP/File Photo)
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Saudi women take part in a cycling race to mark World Obesity Day celebration in Riyadh’s Princess Nura University. (AFP/File Photo)
Kuwaiti Rawah Al-Saeid competes in the high jump during Kuwait's first women's athletics tournament in 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Kuwaiti Rawah Al-Saeid competes in the high jump during Kuwait's first women's athletics tournament in 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Jawaher AlMheiri has a message for young Arabs: Be courageous, pursue your dreams, grab every opportunity

Jawaher AlMheiri has a message for young Arabs: Be courageous, pursue your dreams, grab every opportunity
  • Jawaher AlMheiri embodies the spirit of a Middle East generation that seems ready to shape its own destiny
  • She has earned a place in the “impact” category of this year’s 30 Under 30 list of Forbes Middle East

DUBAI: The example set by young Emirati woman Jawaher AlMheiri is an inspirational one, if perhaps a little intimidating. She speaks six languages, has a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, a post-graduate diploma in diplomacy and is adept at statistical optimization — all by the age of 28.

This month she saw off competition from 300 other candidates to earn a place in the “impact” category of this year’s 30 Under 30 list published by Forbes Middle East, which recognizes the achievements of young people from the region and their great potential to help shape the future.

Her inclusion highlights the fact that she is an outstanding example of the talented young Arabs, many of them women, who are changing the face of their region and breaking new ground as they increasingly take control of their own destinies.

She is following in the footsteps of other pioneering Arab women such as 42-year-old Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak, the managing director of both Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

Earlier this month, Al-Mubarak was elected president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the largest and best-known conservation bodies in the world. She is only the second woman to lead the institution in its 73-year history, and the first Arab woman.




AlMheiri’s advice to Arab young bloods is that they believe in themselves and their abilities, have the courage to pursue their dreams and grab the opportunities that come their way. (AFP/File Photo)

AlMheiri has similar ambitions to make a difference in the world, and a message for all young women in the region: Have the courage to pursue your dreams and grab the opportunities that come your way.

Her journey began at the age of 18 when she started dedicating her days to studying for a bachelor’s degree in aviation management at Emirates Aviation University in Dubai, and her evenings to a part-time job in finance at Al Ansari Exchange.

“My job was different to my major because it was the only available option,” AlMheiri told Arab News. “But it was a good field and I wanted to keep up with being independent given that my studies were not very cheap.

“I knew my parents would do their best and cover my expenses but I felt very responsible to not become an additional burden on them — I have eight siblings and they had to take care of their education.”

She was making just Dh4,000 ($1,100) a month but was pleased to be earning a wage by the age of 18. Her ambition and drive set her apart from many of her peers, shaping her personality, her thoughts and her behavior.

“I became more mature,” said AlMheiri. “I wanted to keep learning and I knew that if I started my career at an early age it would definitely pay off later.”




Salwa's Shorouq Basha (R) competes for the ball with al-Qadeseyya's Shorouq Salem, during the 3rd women futsal league, at the Kuwait Sports Club in Kuwait City. (AFP/File Photo)

After graduating at the age of 21 she joined the engineering center of Emirates Airline as a business-development specialist, where she gained valuable experience. Her daily tasks included the development and interpretation of scenarios to support maintenance facilities, providing support to management and helping to shape strategic policies.

“I was very much into using applied statistical methods, which was very different to the theory I learned at university,” she said. “I worked with optimization methods to interpret scenarios and I truly enjoyed it.”

AlMheiri continued to gain experience and learn and, three years later, her professional interest shifted toward international affairs and diplomacy. A year earlier, while still working full time for Emirates, she had been appointed to Dubai Youth Council, and as part of her duties she represented local young people in front of the nation’s leaders, and at international events.

“I felt this was something I enjoyed and I would want to have a career out of it,” she said.

In the months that followed she represented the UAE at events overseas on several occasions, most notably at the UN Youth Assembly in New York, and at the Asian Youth Assembly of the Malaysia Urban Forum. The experience she gained at such gatherings gave her the confidence to pursue a career in diplomacy.

In 2017 AlMheiri successfully applied for a job as a junior diplomat at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and began studying for a post-graduate diploma at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi.

FASTFACTS

* The men and women on Forbes Middle East’s 30 Under 30 list have demonstrated considerable achievements and great potential for the future.

* They are inspiring younger and older generations, bringing their ideas to life, and proving that decades of experience are not needed to make a difference.

* The 2021 list features 38 individuals from 20 nationalities, who are based across 11 countries in the Middle East.

She quickly began to climb the career ladder at the ministry and became a senior economic specialist in charge of the UAE-US economic file. In September last year she was promoted again and became head of the Asian economic affairs section.

“My role is about promoting and facilitating economic interests, organizing economic platforms, and researching key issues impacting the UAE’s economic and trade relations,” AlMheiri said. “And because it’s a senior position, I also have to supervise and support my fellow diplomats.”

Her dreams and ambitions, and determination to further her personal development, do not end there. This month, she began a paid sabbatical during which she will undertake two years of study for a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University in New York, with a focus on international finance and economic policy.

“I took this bold step because I never expected to be associated with one of the Ivy League universities,” she said. “It was something in my mind because, in our nation, nothing is impossible — but I was under the impression that I would have to be a graduate of an Ivy League university (to be accepted for postgraduate studies).

“But what I am living at the moment proves that this point of view is wrong; I am here and I am motivating people to pursue their education and to try to join these universities.”




Saudi women walk past a mural painting showing King Salman on Tahliya street in the capital Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)

AlMheiri said she was not intimidated by the notion that only certain types of people can enroll in such elite universities. She trusted herself and her abilities when she took the step to apply for a place at one of them and accept the challenge of improving herself, intellectually.

“I want to make the best out of this experience,” she said. “What pushed me is the support I received from work.”

Columbia awarded AlMheiri a fellowship that covers 70 percent of her tuition fees. The UAE Ministry of Education covered the remaining 30 percent, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation continues to pay her salary while she studies.

The announcement last week that Forbes has recognized her professional achievements by awarding her a place on its 30 Under 30 list, is testament to her success at building a successful career at a young age and her growing responsibilities.

“Now, I am not just responsible for representing myself or my family, it’s the region itself,” she said. “So, I have to make sure people in the region are inspired and I am representing them.”

AlMheiri spoke of the overwhelming support for female empowerment she has felt from leaders in the UAE, and across the Gulf, which is enabling growing numbers of young people to pursue their dreams in ways that can make themselves — and their countries and region — proud.




UAE astronaut Nora Al-Matrooshi looks on during a press conference in Dubai on July 7, 2021, she is the first Arab woman to start training to be an astronaut. (AFP/File Photo)

“I see all of this as a token of us giving back to our nations,” AlMheiri said. “They made sure we received the right education, support and recognition, so whenever these kinds of opportunities are presented, I personally make sure I try my luck and I am grateful things are working out in a very beautiful way. I feel I am working toward the right thing.”

AlMheiri’s advice to Arab young bloods is that they believe in themselves and their abilities, have the courage to pursue their dreams and grab the opportunities that come their way.

“I was one of those people who had to learn to trust myself in pursuing my dreams and achieving what I wished to achieve,” she said. “Don’t undermine yourself. Even if it’s a small thing, you should go for it. The region has a lot of talent under the age of 30.

“We’re all young, we have the energy, and if we come together with the same mindset and the same energy, we can really make the changes that we would like to see in the world.”


Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many
Updated 01 December 2021

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

BAGHDAD: Abu Zeinab says only one of his five adult children has a job, and he only got it through “wasta,” the system of “who you know” that is Iraq’s pervasive scourge.
The practice has fueled frustration, mass anti-government protests and waves of emigration from the oil-rich, war-scarred and poverty-stricken country, say analysts.
“All my children, including my three daughters, have finished their university studies, but only one has been able to find a job,” said Abu Zeinab, a 60-year-old retiree living in Baghdad.
“The others are trying, without success.”
For his 28-year-old son, wasta turned out to be the “joker” that made all the difference, when a relative helped him land a coveted contract job, renewed annually, with a government ministry.
“Poverty pushes people toward wasta,” said the patriarch, with resignation in his voice.
Wasta refers to using one’s family, communal or party connections to obtain jobs and benefits — something that is universal but seen as especially widespread and corrosive in Iraq.
While the lucky few get well-paying and secure jobs with generous pensions, nearly 40 percent of young people are unemployed, with few prospects for their future.
Anger at the patronage, nepotism and cronyism that underpin the system was amid the key grievance expressed by protesters in a wave of mass rallies in late 2019.
It is the hopelessness felt by those who miss out that has fueled the widespread wish to leave Iraq, say analysts.
The latests waves of emigration have seen thousands of Iraqis freeze on the Belarus-Polish border, and some perish when their boat capsized in the icy waters of the Channel.
Some 95 percent of Iraqis say wasta is needed “often or sometimes” to find a job, according to the World Bank’s so-called Arab Barometer Report of 2019.
“All of society agrees that without wasta you cannot achieve anything,” said political scientist Thamer Al-Haimes.
The problem results from a “weakness of the law” which fails to create a level playing field, he said, and “hinders the development of the country” while driving emigration.
Those who fail to benefit often spend all their savings, or take on debt, to attempt the risky journey to Western Europe, dreaming of a better life and the benefits of a welfare state.
Iraq is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, in 160th place out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption index.
Even though it has the second largest energy reserves in the Middle East, one third of Iraq’s 40 million people live below the poverty line, says the UN.
Even though wasta is widely regarded as a problem, most people also say they have no choice but to benefit from it if the opportunity arises.
“I tried several times to find a job in any public institution — I applied more than 20 times, without success,” said Omran, a 32-year-old sociology graduate.
He finally got a position in the police force, but only after joining the right political party, he admitted.
Another man interviewed by AFP, Jassem, had a similar experience: he had become a civil servant only two days after a chance meeting with an influential parliamentarian.
Iraq’s bloated public sector is the country’s biggest employer, and the wages it pays are the state’s largest expense.
Between 2003, when a US-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, and 2015, the number of civil servants soared from 900,000 to more than three million.
“The dramatic rise in clientelistic hiring since 2003 has contributed to a ballooning of public sector employment,” says a World Bank report from 2017.
“Employment and promotion in the civil service have become increasingly non-meritocratic, and the sector has come to be viewed as a de facto social safety net,” it says.
It labelled the system “unsustainable,” arguing that only a well-functioning economy with a good business environment and investment climate creates sustainable employment.
Ahmed, 29, a resident of the southeastern town of Kut, said he spent many years looking for work in his poor and marginalized region.
One day, luck smiled on the father-of-two, who has a degree in management and economics, when he met the bodyguard of a senior government official.
This connection landed him a job in education — but only after he paid a fee of one million Iraqi dinars, about $800, financed with a bank loan.
“I feel remorse because I had to pay a bribe to work, but I had to,” he said. “There is no job without wasta.”


Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls
Updated 30 November 2021

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls

Algeria’s FLN narrowly wins local polls
  • FNL, which led the country's war of independence from France and was for decades its only party, won 5,978 seats nationwide
  • Saturday's vote was an important test for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

ALGIERS: Algeria’s long-dominant National Liberation Front has narrowly won local elections, preliminary results showed Tuesday, in a vote seen as key in efforts to turn the page on late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s rule.
The FNL, which led the country’s war of independence from France and was for decades its only party, won 5,978 seats nationwide, followed by its traditional ally the Democratic National Rally (RND) with 4,584, electoral board chief Mohamed Charfi said.
Independents came third with 4,430 seats, Charfi told journalists.
Saturday’s vote was an important test for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement.
Bouteflika died in September, aged 84.
In November last year, less than 24 percent of the electorate approved amendments to the constitution, while at parliamentary elections in June, voter participation hit a record low of 23 percent.
Saturday saw 36.6 percent turnout for the local elections and 34.8 percent for regional polls, Cherfi said.
He had previously rejected any comparison with local ballots under Bouteflika, which were marked by widespread fraud.
The FLN won absolute majorities in 124 out of the country’s 1,541 municipalities, but lost majorities in 479 of the 603 it had controlled.
In 552 municipalities it will have to govern alongside its allies, including the RND, which won absolute majorities in 58 city councils.
Opposition veterans the Front of Socialist forces (FFS) won an absolute majority in 47 municipalities, many of them in the restive Kabylie region.


Turkish opposition politician arrested for alleged espionage

Turkish opposition politician arrested for alleged espionage
Updated 01 December 2021

Turkish opposition politician arrested for alleged espionage

Turkish opposition politician arrested for alleged espionage

ANKARA: Turkish authorities have arrested a prominent member of an opposition party over accusations that he engaged in “political and military espionage,” Turkey’s state-run news agency reported.
Anadolu Agency said late Monday that a court in Ankara ordered Metin Gurcan, a retired army officer and founding member of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party, or DEVA, jailed pending the outcome of a trial.
Gurcan, who wrote articles on Turkish foreign policy and defense issues, last year founded the DEVA party together with its leader, Ali Babacan — a former deputy prime minister who broke away from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party.
The politician and defense analyst is accused of selling alleged secret information to foreign diplomats, according to Hurriyet newspaper and other media reports. Gurcan rejected the accusations during his questioning, the reports said.
A trial date is expected to be set after the court approves a prosecutors’ indictment against Gurcan.
Babacan defended Gurcan in a late night television interview saying the analyst had “no means of accessing confidential information considered to be a state secret because he does not work for the state.”
“(Gurcan’s) studies consist of information compiled from open sources,” Babacan said.


Macron urges Raisi to respect nuclear obligations ‘without delay’

Macron urges Raisi to respect nuclear obligations ‘without delay’
Updated 01 December 2021

Macron urges Raisi to respect nuclear obligations ‘without delay’

Macron urges Raisi to respect nuclear obligations ‘without delay’
  • Tehran’s top nuclear negotiator takes a hard-line approach after just one day of talks in Vienna

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron called on his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, to return to fulfilling Tehran’s obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal “without delay,” Macron’s office said, as negotiators seek to revive the accord through talks in Vienna.

During telephone conversations on Monday, Macron urged Raisi to engage in a “constructive manner” with the talks, which resumed this week after a suspension of almost half a year following the election of the hardliner to the Iranian presidency.

European powers are seeking to revive the nuclear deal, more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It has been moribund since the US withdrew from the agreement in 2018, prompting Tehran to ramp up nuclear activities as Washington reimposed sanctions.

France’s objective is “to see Iran return to full respect for all of its commitments under the JCPOA and that the United States returns to the agreement,” the French presidency said.

Macron also “underscored the need for Iran to engage constructively in this direction so that the exchanges allow a swift return to the agreement,” it added.

“Iran must return without delay to compliance with all its commitments and obligations … and quickly resume cooperation that allows the (UN atomic energy) agency to fully carry out its mission,” it said.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, adopted a hard-line approach after just one day of the resumed talks, suggesting that everything discussed during previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated.

Speaking to Iranian state television, he described all that has been discussed so far as merely a “draft.”

He added: “Drafts are subject to negotiation. Therefore nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on.

“On that basis, all discussions that took place in the (previous) six rounds (of talks) are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today’s meeting as well.”

Bagheri’s remarks directly contradicted comments on Monday by EU diplomat Enrique Mora, who is leading the talks.

“The Iranian delegation represents a new administration in Tehran with new, understandable political sensibilities, but they have accepted that the work done over the six first rounds is a good basis to build our work ahead, so no point in going back,” he said.

Another state TV report highlighted Bagheri in Vienna saying that Iran demands a “guarantee by America not to impose new sanctions” or reimpose previously lifted sanctions.

Mohammed Eslami, Iran’s civilian nuclear chief, reiterated this demand in comments to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

“The talks (in Vienna) are about the return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” he said.

Raisi’s office said that he urged Macron “to strive with other parties in Vienna to conclude the negotiations and lift the sanctions against Iran.”

Raisi said: “Sending a full team to the talks shows Iran’s serious will in these talks.”

Referring to the US, he added: “Those who have started to violate the nuclear deal must gain the confidence of the other party for the negotiations to proceed in a real and fruitful manner.”


UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis

UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis
Updated 01 December 2021

UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis

UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis

AMMAN:The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Tuesday it was unable to pay its 28,000 employees on time this month because of a major funding crisis, warning of potential cuts in vital services to millions of people amid a global pandemic.
UNRWA runs schools, clinics and food distribution programs for millions of registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, mainly the descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.
The 5.7 million refugees mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jordan that the resumption of US support for the agency this year — which had been halted by the Trump administration — was offset by a reduction in funding by other donors.
The agency also went through a management crisis in 2019, when its previous head resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.
Staff went on strike Monday after being informed last week that salaries would be delayed, but halted the action following mediation, Lazzarini said.
“If UNRWA health services are compromised in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 vaccination rollout will come to an end. Maternal and childcare will stop, half a million girls and boys not knowing if they can continue learning, and over two million of the poorest Palestinian refugees will not get cash and food assistance,” he said.
“The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees keep increasing while funding to the agency has stagnated since 2013.”
Lazzarini said the agency raised enough donations at a recent conference in Brussels to cover up to 48 percent of its budget in 2022 and 2023. It also generated $60 million toward a $100 million shortfall until the end of the year to keep services running.
“I’m still not yet in a position to say when the November salaries will be paid,” he said.
Critics of UNRWA, including Israel, accuse it of perpetuating the 73-year refugee crisis and say host nations should shoulder the burden of absorbing them.
The Palestinians say the refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to their homes in what is now Israel, a position supported by host countries. Israel rejects that, noting that if such a right were fully implemented it would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.