Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Special A Saudi woman talks on her phone during the
A Saudi woman talks on her phone during the "MiSK Global Forum" held under the slogan "Meeting the Challenge of Change" in Riyadh. (AFP)
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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DUBAI: Outdated and harmful stereotypes of meek and oppressed Arab women still prevail in Western and Asian media.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. 


Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya
Updated 02 July 2022

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

BENGHAZI, Libya: Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at UN-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps toward unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Haftar. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis
Updated 02 July 2022

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
Updated 02 July 2022

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
  • Numbers double in six months

JEDDAH: The number of executions in Iran has more than doubled in the past six months in a new campaign to intimidate anti-regime protesters, rights groups said on Friday.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, 251 Iranians were hanged compared with 117 in the first half of last year. The surge in executions has coincided with a series of nationwide protests over Iran’s economic collapse and the soaring price of basic food staples such as bread.
“There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights, an activist group in Norway.
“Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said 137 of the executions had been carried out since the latest wave of anti-regime protests in Iran began on May 7. Six women were among those executed, and eight prisoners were hanged at the Rajai Shahr Prison outside Tehran this week alone.
The group said its estimate of executions included only those published in official media or confirmed by at least two independent sources, so the real number was likely to be higher.
Activists also accuse Iran of executing a disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities, especially Baluch and Kurds. Iran Human Rights said it counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, mainly Sunni Muslims who live in the southeast.
Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty in 2021 said that at least 19 percent of recorded executions in Iran were Baluch, although they make up only about 5 percent of the population.
There is also concern over the execution on June 20 of Firuz Musalou, a Kurd convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged an insurgency in Turkey. His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for human rights.

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive
Updated 02 July 2022

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement a new accession deal with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit at which the US-led alliance formally invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
The two nations dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their bids were headed for swift approval until Erdogan voiced concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism.”
Erdogan also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three sides on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Tuesday appeared to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan lifted his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden that was followed by a promise of new warplane sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters at an impromptu press conference held as the summit ended that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
New countries’ applications must be approved by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan warned Sweden and Finland’s future behavior would decide whether he forwarded their application to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the very earliest in late September and may wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
One Western diplomatic source in the hallways of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail.”
Erdogan delivered his message one day after Turkey said it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 were all accused of being either outlawed Kurdish militants or members of a group led by a US-based preacher Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists.”
He did not explain when Sweden issued this promise or provide other details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference but stressed that Sweden strictly adhered to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is applied by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if it is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been processed by officials and the courts.
“I would guess that all of these cases have been solved in Finland. There are decisions made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them up again.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
The Brookings Institution warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive framing” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the months to come.
“The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech,” the US-based institute said in a report.

European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2022

European Commission restores funding to Palestinan NGO

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq. (AFP)
  • Israel’s ‘escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations’ rapped

RAMALLAH: The European Commission has told Ramallah-based NGO Al-Haq Human Rights Organization that the 13-month suspension of €40,000 funding from the EU will be lifted after finding that the suspension was “illegal and was not devoid of political dimensions.”

Al-Haq is one of six Palestinian human rights organizations that the Israeli government declared on Oct. 19 to be “outlaws,” citing its association with the (leftist) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it classifies as a terrorist group. On May 21, Israeli authorities issued a military order to close Al-Haq’s headquarters.

Al-Haq was established 43 years ago. It received the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights in June.

Shawan Jabarin, director general of Al-Haq, told Arab News: “The importance of the decision lies in the (fact) that we are trying to defend ourselves against a terrible machine that has friends in the European Commission and the European Union. Israel is working against us politically and ideologically, and we are working professionally. And the truth has triumphed over their political attempts.”

The European Commission said in a letter to Al-Haq on June 28 that the suspension had been lifted “unconditionally and immediately” following an assessment by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

“This decision is based on several elements, including OLAF’s assessment, which did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there is no suspicion of irregularities and fraud affecting EU funds in implementing (Al-Haq’s) EU-funded project,” the letter stated.

In a statement issued on June 30, Al-Haq said: “Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding. Under the direct responsibility of the Hungarian EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, the suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organizations and defenders. No other conclusion can be drawn based on what we have experienced with this suspension in the past 13 months.”

Al-Haq had previously filed a case against the EC with the European Court and a hearing is scheduled to take place on July 4, Jabarin added.

Al-Haq said in its statement that it has no illusions about Israel’s escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations and its attempt to silence human rights defenders in Palestine, the culmination of which was Israel’s decision in October 2021 to designate Al-Haq and five other leading Palestinian NGOs — Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — as “outlaws.” The five other organizations do not received funding from the EU.

“We have challenged the commission’s lousy faith performance from the start of the suspension, contesting its necessity and proportionality and demanding clarifications of the grounds and information on which the suspension was based. Until today, the Commission has failed to provide these clarifications,” Al-Haq’s statement read.

“Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored our questions and requests. In early 2022, we appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend our rights vis-à-vis the Commission. On April 1, 2022, he launched an ‘amicable settlement’ procedure on our behalf, including our proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved,” it continued.

“The decision to freeze funding was a crime against us,” Jabarin said. “The issue is not financial but political, in which the EU participated. Now the mistake has been corrected, as it has been proven that there is no misuse of money or financing for terrorism. This is a message to the Israelis and the European Union, who built their positions on false Israeli reports against us.”