Gulf Arab embrace of Jewish minority reflected in Bahrain cemetery-restoration project

For more than a century, a small cemetery in the heart of Manama has served as the final resting place for members of Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community. (Supplied)
For more than a century, a small cemetery in the heart of Manama has served as the final resting place for members of Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 January 2022

Gulf Arab embrace of Jewish minority reflected in Bahrain cemetery-restoration project

For more than a century, a small cemetery in the heart of Manama has served as the final resting place for members of Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community. (Supplied)
  • Modern Jewish life began in Bahrain in the 1880s when hundreds of Jews arrived from Iraq and Iran looking for a better life
  • Long before signing the Abraham Accords with Israel in Sept. 2020, Bahrain had set a precedent for interfaith coexistence

DUBAI: For more than a century, a small cemetery in the heart of Manama has served as the final resting place for members of Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community, which is the most established of its kind in the Gulf Cooperation Council area.

Located a short distance from The House of Ten Commandments, the oldest synagogue in the Gulf, the cemetery receives fewer visitors these days than the nearby Christian graveyard at St Christopher’s Cathedral. But for Jews in Bahrain it remains a cherished part of their heritage.

Thanks to a new donor-funded initiative, efforts have begun to restore the site, which is recognized as the only Jewish cemetery in the Gulf. The project, launched by the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities on Jan. 16 to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, aims to finance renovation and maintenance work at the site. The AGJC was founded in 2021 as a network of communities to develop Jewish life in the GCC area.

“For more than 100 years, our family members have been buried in the Jewish cemetery in Bahrain,” Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo — president of the AGJC, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The House of Ten Commandments and head of Bahrain’s Jewish community — told Arab News.

“One component of our community planning is ensuring that our cemetery is properly maintained for generations to come. We are very thankful that the AGJC chose this for its Tu B’Shevat project.”

As part of the renovation project, weathered headstones are being cleaned and trees planted.

“We are planting trees in the Jewish cemetery of Bahrain, which is akin to bringing life back to those that have lived in the beautiful community in Bahrain for centuries and made their resting place in Bahrain for eternity,” Rabbi Elie Abadie, the most senior Jewish cleric in the GCC area, told Arab News.




Located a short distance from The House of Ten Commandments, the oldest synagogue in the Gulf, the cemetery remains for Jews in Bahrain a cherished part of their heritage. (Supplied)

“Trees offer life; they provide shade, oxygen and nutrients. We are planting trees in the cemetery, the final resting place to the spirits, as a revival to them. Trees take time to grow so we are not growing them for this generation, but for the upcoming one as our forefathers did for us.”

The readiness of Bahrain to embrace its Jewish minority and celebrate its heritage has made it a trailblazer for the region. The island kingdom’s former ambassador to the US, Houda Nonoo, is a prominent member of the Jewish community in the Gulf.

Bahrain has long been supportive of coexistence not only between Muslims and Jews but also between Arabs and Israel. In June 2019, it hosted the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, during which US President Donald Trump’s administration presented the economic aspects of his plan for peace between Israel and Palestine.

In August the following year, Bahrain and the UAE issued a joint declaration with Israel called the Abraham Accords, which led to the normalization of relations between the two Arab countries and Israel. The agreements also paved the way for warmer ties between Israel and Oman, Morocco and Sudan.

Israel considers itself a “Jewish and democratic state,” while Islam is the official religion of the UAE and Bahrain. Abraham Accords was chosen as the name for the agreement to signify the shared origin of belief between Judaism and Islam, both of which are Abrahamic religions that strictly espouse the monotheistic worship of the God of Abraham.

Since the signing of the accords, the UAE and Bahrain have invested a great deal in their bilateral relationships with Israel, and encouraged the celebration of Jewish history and heritage in the region.

FASTFACTS

* The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities is an umbrella organization for communities of Jews in the GCC area.

* Each of the communities is independent but they share a common goal: To see Jewish life flourish in the region.

* The AGJC oversees services such as Jewish court the Beth Din of Arabia, the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency and life cycle events.

At the same time, Gulf leaders have enhanced their political ties with Israel. Late last year, for example, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister, visited the UAE where he met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince.

Bennett also met Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

The modern Jewish community in Bahrain was established in the 1880s when hundreds of Jews arrived from Iraq and Iran in search of a better life. Many settled in the Al-Hatab neighborhood of Manama, where they initially worked in the clothing industry.

In 1935, as the community began to thrive, an Iranian immigrant named Shimon Cohen established a synagogue.

Until the Abraham Accords were formally signed on Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C, Bahrain’s remaining Jewish community of about 50 people practiced their faith largely behind closed doors. Since then, however, their synagogue has been renovated at a cost of 60,000 Bahraini dinars ($160,000) and religious services are once again taking place openly.

Bahrain is not the only regional state that hosts a Jewish minority. About 1,000 Jews, all of them expatriates, are thought to live in the UAE. As trade ties with Israel are enhanced and Israeli tourists continue to flock to the UAE, that number is expected to increase, in parallel with economic, technological, cultural and security cooperation.

“I went to Dubai twice last year and I would like to go to Bahrain,” said Yossi Levy, 41, an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem. “We felt safe and so did all my friends. I’m interested in the heritage aspect — and the shopping is out of this world.”




Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, president of the AGJC and head of the Jewish Community in Bahrain, speaking to an AFP reporter at the House of Ten Commandments Synagogue in the capital Manama last year. (AFP/File Photo)

Israeli tour groups have become more common in Dubai in the past two years. And until COVID-19 restrictions put the brakes on international travel, the city’s hotels were serving a growing Israeli clientele.

According to the Israel’s foreign ministry, about 200,000 Israelis have visited the UAE since relations between the two countries were normalized in 2020.

“There will be many more when COVID-19 finally disappears,” said Levy. “I hope we can develop the heritage links. It’s important.”

In most parts of the Arab world, however, Jewish populations are on the brink of vanishing. Iraq, once home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, now hosts only four members of the faith. Last year, their patriarch, Dhafer Eliyahu, died.

Baghdad has one semi-functional synagogue but it does not have a rabbi and no services have been held there since before the 2003 US-led invasion. An estimated 220,000 Jews of Iraqi descent now live in Israel.

Both Turkey and Iran have small Jewish communities, while Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are thought to have only a few dozen Jewish residents between them. It is estimated that Yemeni Jews number in the low hundreds, at most.

Against this bleak backdrop, Bahrain is seen by many in the Jewish community as a particularly successful example of peaceful interfaith coexistence.




Rabbi Elie Abadie speaks during an event commemorating the Jewish Holocaust on May 26, 2021, at the Crossroad of Civilizations private museum in the Gulf city of Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

“The revival of the Jewish community in Bahrain and the development of one in the UAE are just beautiful,” Rabbi Abadie told Arab News. “It is nostalgic, after decades of the absence of Jewish presence.”

Abdullah Issa, a 39-year-old Muslim and Bahraini national, said his country has set a strong example that others should follow.

“Bahrain and other GCC countries have proven to the world that coexistence and the values of human fraternity as a whole can be achieved through will and resolve,” he told Arab News.

“Although changing perceptions and attitudes can be difficult, by the simple gesture of planting a tree both the government and people of Bahrain showcase that coexistence and demonstrate that human fraternity must be achieved.”

AGJC president Ebrahim Nonoo said he is thrilled to welcome Muslim visitors to the House of Ten Commandments, which is helping to advance the goal of cultural dialogue.

“It’s all very heartwarming,” he told Arab News. “You have Muslims coming into the synagogue all the time. They see the Ten Commandments, which are also written in Arabic, and they say it’s like in the Qur’an. The similarities make them comfortable.

“The situation in Bahrain is unique. It’s something people have a lot to learn from. The coexistence here is just wonderful.”


Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA
Updated 24 sec ago

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA

Iran seizes foreign ship with smuggled fuel, detains crew – IRNA
  • The ship is carrying more than 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel
DUBAI: Authorities seized a foreign ship carrying smuggled fuel in Iran’s southern province of Hormozgan province and detained its crew, state new agency IRNA said on Wednesday.
The ship, carrying more than 550,000 liters of smuggled fuel, was seized in Gulf waters and escorted to harbor, where it was handed to judicial authorities for the necessary investigations, the agency added.
“Seven crew members were arrested,” it cited an unidentified judicial official as saying.

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges
Updated 18 May 2022

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges

Son of Egypt’s former president Mubarak says family clear of corruption charges
  • The 2011 protests were built on calls for an end to deep-rooted embezzlement and government corruption in Egypt

CAIRO: The son of Egypt’s former president said Tuesday that he and family members were innocent of corruption charges made in international courts after the country’s 2011 popular uprising.
His statements came after years of attempts by the deposed president’s family to rehabilitate its image as it faced litigation in Egypt and abroad.
In a video statement released online, Gamal Mubarak, the son of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, said that recent court decisions in the European Union and elsewhere demonstrate their innocence, but did not explain how the family had amassed its significant wealth.
In February, a massive leak of Credit Suisse clients’ information showed Gamal Mubarak and his brother, Alaa, to have held at least $197.5 million in the bank at one point in time.
“The facts have now been established, and the false allegations have been unequivocally rebutted. The historical record has thus been independently and judicially corrected,” he said in a video statement released on YouTube. He blamed Egyptian judicial authorities for taking the issue to international courts.
The 2011 protests were built on calls for an end to deep-rooted embezzlement and government corruption in Egypt, and growing concerns that Gamal Mubarak would be set up to succeed his father, who was in power for nearly 30 years. The international anti-corruption group Transparency International has estimated that as president, Mubarak stole some $70 billion in public funds. The former president died in 2020, aged 91.
In April, Swiss prosecutors decided not to file charges after concluding a decade-long investigation into alleged money laundering and organized crime linked to linked to Mubarak’s circles in Egypt. They also said they would release some 400 million Swiss francs — $430 million — frozen in Swiss banks.
The same month, the General Court of the European Union ruled that the rights of Mubarak’s wife, two sons and their wives had not been respected during an local Egyptian investigation of his assets, on which the prosecution was depending. The ruling meant EU sanctions on the Mubaraks’ accounts were deemed unlawful, and lifted. Gamal Mubarak said his family was being reimbursed for their legal costs related to the case.
Transparency International condemned the move, saying it would show corrupt leaders around the world that they can act with impunity.
The EU and Swiss investigations were part of a series of court proceedings against the Mubaraks in the wake of the mass protests. The father and the two sons were first detained in April 2011, two months after the uprising forced Mubarak to step down as part of the Arab Spring protest movement. A leading military council was established in his place, which then gave way to the divisive Islamist president Muhammad Mursi after elections in 2012. Mursi was later deposed by the military amid more popular protests.
Following a lengthy trial, Hosni Mubarak was acquitted of killing protesters during the 18-day uprising against his autocratic rule.
The two sons and their father were sentenced to three years in prison following their conviction of embezzling funds set aside for the restoration and maintenance of presidential palaces, using the money to upgrade their private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while Mubarak walked free in 2017. The trio paid back to the state the money they embezzled.
The sons were briefly detained in Sep. 2018 pending their trial on charges of stock market manipulation. But they were released a bail of 100,000 pounds ($5,600) each after an appeals court accepted a motion moved by their defense lawyers to remove the judge who ordered their detention, and in 2020 they were acquitted.


Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
Updated 18 May 2022

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
  • US, Saudi Arabia have similar rates of women in tech, yet experts say more should be done to boost diversity
  • How Middle East women can capitalize on GCC tech boom was discussed at Arab Women Forum

DUBAI: Tech is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and the Arab Gulf is increasingly viewed as one of its global centers. At the heart of the region’s tech scene is Dubai, dubbed the “tech hub of the Arab world.”

The UAE’s commercial capital continued to grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, perhaps, because of its decision to keep its borders open while most of the world went into prolonged lockdowns.

But this continued growth is also the result of the rising number of technology startups drawn to the UAE, Dubai’s appeal for entrepreneurs and its ability to woo international venture capital firms.

According to Dubai-based research platform Wamda, investments in Middle Eastern tech firms, excluding those in Israel, quadrupled to $2.87 billion last year — with roughly half of that capital flowing into the UAE.

Dubai is now home to several tech startups worth at least $1 billion — known in the business community as “unicorns” for their statistical rarity.

These include Vista Global, a private aviation platform; Kitopi, a cloud kitchen platform; and Emerging Markets Property Group, which manages classified listing websites in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere.

Yet, despite the burgeoning success of tech startups in the Middle East, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry.

Despite female involvement in the Emirates Mars Mission, which successfully placed a probe in orbit around the red planet in February 2021, “the lack of presence in this region of women in tech is very visible,” Dr. Nour E. Raouafi, a project scientist with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission, told Arab News.

“If you look at some domains, like space where I am working, the participation of women is not at the level where it should be,” Raouafi added, speaking ahead of his appearance on a panel at the Arab Women Forum, which took place in Dubai on May 17.

According to Endeavor Insight, Saudi Arabia and the US boast a similar participation rate among women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, known as STEM, at 28 percent. This is higher than the UK, which has a rate of just 22 percent.

Nevertheless, experts believe there is far more work to be done to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields, both in the Arab world and globally.

“We should be striving toward equality at all levels — from management downward — and the best way to do this is to start from the grassroots, from colleges and schools, and to encourage young women to work in space and other fields of tech by providing fellowships and other incentives,” said Raouafi

There are reasons for optimism. Measures designed to enhance the business environment in the Gulf and to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace are already moving things in the right direction.

“Young professionals, women and men, are now flocking to the Middle East while working for European or US based technology companies,” Philippe Blanchard, founder of Futurous, told Arab News.

“Concrete actions have been taken by the GCC leadership, in support of the IT industry, in setting up an efficient education system, as well as tackling the gender pay gap such as in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”

However, social perceptions remain an obstacle. “Technology is still considered a man’s world, but there are opportunities to change the mindset,” said Blanchard.

For example, “ensuring the parents, the school teachers and university professors are not pushing specific curriculum based on gender — like nurses for young women and engineers for young men.”


Critical regional and global issues examined at Arab Women Forum

Critical regional and global issues examined at Arab Women Forum
Updated 18 May 2022

Critical regional and global issues examined at Arab Women Forum

Critical regional and global issues examined at Arab Women Forum
  • Event in Dubai hosted wide-ranging conversations with strong focus on women’s empowerment
  • Topics ranged from breaking of barriers and dating scams to fake news and potential of Arab women

DUBAI: Arab women breaking traditional barriers, online dating scams, the economic toll of fake news and the potential of women in the Middle East and North Africa were among the many issues debated at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on Tuesday.

Launched in Saudi Arabia in 2018, the AWF is a platform to enhance and support the ever-growing contribution of Arab women in the region’s economy and society. 

The forum hosts wide-ranging conversations to explore regional and global business dynamics with a strong focus on women’s empowerment. 

AWF 2022 AGENDA

Special Address: Beyond the Business Reset. 

Keynote: When Women Fight Back.

Storytellers From The War Front.

A New Beginning: work 2.0. 

Arab Women’s Image. 

It’s Fake News. 

The Management Bottlenecks. 

The Leaking Pipeline. 

The Workplace Of Tomorrow. 

Women In Tech. 

Saudi Women Pioneers: Change From Within.

This year’s event, hosted at the Palazzo Versace hotel at the Jaddaf Waterfront, featured speakers from a range of professions and industries and experiences, and kicked off with a special address by Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, delivered by video from Washington, D.C. 

Princess Reema, who is also a female entrepreneur, shared her thoughts on the post-pandemic business scenarios and Saudi Arabia’s plan for economic diversification, environment sustainability and gender diversity under Vision 2030, the reform strategy introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. 

In a special address titled “Beyond the business reset,” she underscored the importance of not just opening doors for women to enter the workplace, but welcoming them in. “We have millions of talented, motivated women eager to contribute, and they are the key to social, cultural and economic progress in the Kingdom and, frankly, in the Arab world and around the world,” she said. 

 

 

Saudi Arabia has done a “great reset” by transforming itself, and is entering the “restart” phase after successfully handling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. “In post-pandemic, there is less reset and more restart,” Princess Reema said. 

From embracing technologies, reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, to empowering and advancing women in different fields, Saudi Arabia is opening the door wide for a brighter future being built by both men and women, she said. 

“I have not seen the change; I lived it. I know how important it is to open the workplace for women. When the doors for women were about to open, I realized that opening the doors wasn’t enough; women had to be prepared to take advantage of those open doors. We have to equip them with skills,” she said. 

Speaking to Arab News, Nora Al-Dabal, arts and creative planning executive director at the Royal Commission of AlUla, said Saudi women have always played a role in the development of Saudi Arabia, “but the (2030) Vision has unlocked the full potential of, and opened bigger opportunities” for women. 

Nora Al Dabal, executive director of Arts and Creative Industries at the Royal Commission for AlUla. (AN photo)

In the past four years, there has been a 130 percent increase in female participation in the labor force, particularly in the private sector, Al-Dabal said. 

“Today, women constitute 30 percent of the private-sector labor force. In the past two years, there has been an increase of 60 percent in the number of businesses owned by women,” she added.

Princess Reema’s speech reflected the seriousness of the Saudi leadership in transforming the Kingdom, diversifying its economy and utilizing the potential of all its citizens, said Deepali Janin, an Indian businesswoman who attended the event. 

Janin, the founding director of Meraki, a family-owned diamond business that began in India some seven decades ago, entered Dubai in 2011 and now is looking at the Saudi market. 

“I feel the Saudi leadership is dedicated and serious about its planning and thinking. I think it is going to be a long journey, meaning more strength, more confidence and more influence.”

Story tellers from the war front

Some believe women journalists are successful because of their attention to detail. But for Arizh Mukhammed, a war correspondent, it is a woman’s heart and emotions that make her coverage of conflicts distinctive. 

Arizh Mukhammed. (AN photo)

“It is not easy to cover war, because like any human being, you feel fear and I feel fear,” said Mukhammed, a reporter for Sky News who, together with Christiane Baissary, a senior news anchor for the Al-Hadath news channel, participated in a session entitled “Story tellers from the war front.” 

Acknowledging that “fear will be there in the minds of reporters as they cover from the front lines,” Mukhammed said: “Your courage must have limits. When you are going to cover war, you have your fears, but they must be put under control.” 

Following the panel discussion, she said she could not ignore human suffering and agony in her own war reporting. “Women war journalists find a deeper dimension in human suffering”. She added that men might surround themselves with the impression that they are “strong and fearless, but women actually are much more patient and are strong enough.” 

For her part, Baissary said there is a common misconception that women are not suited for war coverage as some think women are emotional and more sensitive than men. “A soldier once told me that women should not be in a war zone. He was trying to convince me that I should not stay to cover the war,” she said. 

Al-Hadath senior news anchor Christiane Baissary (right) and Arizh Mukhammed of SkyNews (center) participate in panel discussions moderated by Noor Nugali, Arab News assistant editor-in-chief. (AN photo)

“This mentality is not just in the Middle East but everywhere,” she said, adding that things have now changed and women are gaining more opportunities to cover conflict zones. 

The moderator of the discussion, Noor Nugali, Arab News assistant editor-in-chief, praised the role of women journalists deployed to war zones, citing the career of Al Jazeera correspondent Shereen Abu Akhleh, who was killed while on assignment for the channel on May 11 in the West Bank city of Jenin. 

“I think it was really important for us to highlight female war correspondents and women correspondents because what they are doing is just out of the ordinary,” Nugali said in remarks after the session. “Usually when people think of correspondents, the first thing that comes to their minds (is) women are too soft, women are incapable of handling such situations. But the reality proves the resilience, strength of women and capability of female correspondents.”

It’s fake news

We are overwhelmed with incidents of fake news in our daily lives. They range from rumors on social media to footage of incidents taken out of context. 

“It is imperative to distinguish that fake news wasn’t invented with the rise of social media,” said Faisal Abbas, Arab News editor-in-chief, during a panel discussion on the subject at Tuesday’s AWF. 

“There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it,”  Arab News editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abas said during a panel discussion at the Top CEO Forum in Dubai on May 17. (AN photo)

“Fake news started with the beginning of humanity,” he said, alluding to the manipulation of Adam and Eve by Satan, who tricked them into eating the forbidden fruit. 

The panelists discussed attempts to define fake news and identify those responsible for preventing its spread throughout the world, and especially the Arab region, known for its high social media engagement. 

Hussein Freijeh, Snap Inc MENA’s general manager, said authorities’ efforts to regulate social platforms “doesn’t take away the responsibility of the tech platforms” in tackling the problem of fake news. 

Fellow panelist Khaled Abdulla Janahi, chairman of Vision 3, said even the non-inclusion of a small fraction of the facts during narration amounts to dissemination of fake news.  

“People sometimes are frustrated, so they look for a way to express their anger. But it is important for people to express their perspectives,” he said. 

Noting that content that includes or reflects anger, hate and racism brings traffic, Abbas said: “Nobody is against freedom. We are against chaos.” 

The keynote speech at the AWF was delivered by Cecilie Fjellhøy and Pernilla Sjöholm, stars of the recent hit Netflix documentary film “The Tinder Swindler.” 

They spoke about their journeys from being victims of romance scam to an inspiration for women around the world. Instead of hiding in oblivion, the women have gained the status of global inspiration against emotional fraud.


Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist
Updated 18 May 2022

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist
  • Western and Asian media outlets accused of publishing regressive stereotypes of subdued Arab women
  • Experts say Arab women have a role to play in asserting themselves both in business and in the home

DUBAI: Outdated and harmful stereotypes of meek and oppressed Arab women still prevail in Western and Asian media. 

Despite these faulty notions about who and what they are, Arab women continue to defy expectations and make inroads in the worlds of business, politics, finance, diplomacy and tech.

However, many believe more must still be done to tackle baseless misconceptions about Arab women, their role and their capabilities in the eyes of the outside world.

“We live in a world which has historically looked at our part of the world as a traditional one, where women are more in the family and household,” May Nasrallah, founder and executive chairman of deNovo Corporate Advisers, told Arab News.

A Saudi woman poses for a photo after having a driving lesson in Jeddah on March 7, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

“But in reality, we are so far away from that (in terms of) the evolution and how much we’ve changed in how we operate here. In the UAE, we have women in government, leadership positions, heads of banks, family groups and ministers, so we’ve changed a lot, but there is a lack of knowledge.”

To change the image of the Arab woman abroad, Nasrallah has urged traditional forms of media, such as television broadcasters, to showcase more female Arab leaders.

“We see multiple examples where they are very impressive,” she said. “It’s about continuing to escalate women to let the world see what they are capable of.”

Another potential area of improvement is in challenging gender expectations that persist within some communities.

Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women’s Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

“We need our own traditional images to change internally,” Nasrallah said. “It changes with the different generations and we’re getting there. Look at the leadership around us, and who is running our region right now. It is very forward-thinking, very open minded, and it enhances women in leadership positions. It’s been reflected time and again.” 

Nasrallah believes self-doubt is another obstacle that needs to be overcome in the mindsets of Arab women. Recalling her own time in investment banking, she remembers male colleagues putting themselves forward for promotions or new roles — whether they were capable of them or not.

“Women, on the other hand, second guess themselves and that’s inherent in our configuration, which needs to be changed,” she said. 

A support network at home is also crucial. Nasrallah, who has four sons, said that she drew encouragement from both her father and husband, who pushed her to maintain her full-time career. 

“Having men around us that encourage us to continue to go forth in the business world or workforce is a huge positive.”

Equally, providing the right tools to be successful and to not be afraid to fail would give more women the mentality required to succeed. Having a supportive network of peers would also provide an important ecosystem that can help support them in entrepreneurship.

For Suzy Kanoo, CEO and president of the Khalil bin Ebrahim Kanoo Company and International Motor Trading Agency in Bahrain, raising awareness about the successes of Arab women is key. 

“We talk about how great we are, but women underestimate their strength — it’s unequaled,” she told Arab News.

Saudi entrepreneurs Asmaa Alabdallah (L), founder of BitGo, and Reem Dad (R), co-founder of Taibah VR, stand in front of Halcyon House in Washington. (AFP)

“In my family business, I attend conferences around the Asian continent, and I have noticed they preferred to talk to the male manager, which hit me, and I realized I am blessed to be a part of this region and I am so proud to be an Arab woman.” 

Kanoo, who wrote a book about empowering Arab women called “Hear Us Speak: Letters from Arab Women,” said the West fails fundamentally to understand Arab women and their religion.

“(For the West), being more modest or wearing a hijab has something to do with a woman being more submissive,” she said. 

“(For them) it’s synonymous with that, but when they come here, they see it’s not true at all. This is a choice that everyone has the right to, but I’m respected the same way as someone who wears one and this is the beauty of our region.”

Making an effort to understand, visit and read more about the region would help eliminate such misconceptions, she believes, as foreigners would come to realize that the ideas they have been fed about the role and status of Arab women is false.

However, Kanoo believes an issue arises when Arab women seek to move up the professional ladder. 

“I see that lacking,” she said. “We need more action, with more women on board seats. We’re just as educated. So, we need an extra push and more affirmative action on that.”

She called for more female judges to preside over family courts across the Middle East — a move that would rebalance the mere 8 percent of female judges seen today.

Saudi women jog in the streets of Jeddah's historic Al-Balad district. (AFP)

Arab women must also become more assertive in demanding their rights, taking shame out of the equation, Kanoo added. “Once we stand up and (claim) our rights, that’s it, people start to respect that.”

Generation Z — those born between the mid to late-1990s and the 2010s — is challenging outdated behaviors thanks to social media and evolving parenting habits. “Social media paved the way and parents are another large influence on that,” Kanoo said. 

“More than anything, our governments are helping us through the different reforms we are seeing, across Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Nothing is going to hold Gen Z back. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving forward, which is fantastic.”

But continuing to empower Arab women is not just about reputation or doing the right thing — it is also good for the economy, said Nasrallah.

“A better educated mother will better educate her children and give them opportunities as well, so it’s an ecosystem that will benefit to evolve and grow. 

“More separation brings you down as a society and we need to be lifting ourselves up and showcasing to the world what we are capable of.”

Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17.