A caricature of Iraq-born Dame Zaha Hadid, who was featured as one of the most powerful Arab women last year. She passed away in 2016. [Ramachandra Babu, Gulf News] Image Credit: GN Archives

Iron-willed, charismatic, eloquent and steadfast in progress, these ladies epitomise what women can do in any field given the opportunity to do so. Be it business, government and policy, law, or art and media, these Arab women are at the top of the global lists of powerful individuals.

For more lists of most powerful Arab women, go to Forbes rankings.

1. Nemat Shafik, Egypt

Nationality: British, Age: 54

Most powerful Arab women (Overall category)

"Combination of empirical scientific rigor but at the same time being more human and earthy were a big part of my upbringing" - Interview with Harry Kreisler, 2001

At 36, she was the youngest ever vice-president of the World Bank and has been conferred the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Often referred to as Minouche, a nickname, Nemat is currently dealing with Brexit and the fallouts created thereof. Ranked at 59 in the world's most powerful women's list by Forbes, she is no stranger to big budgets or economic turmoil.

Current designation: Deputy Governor, Bank of England

Other designations: Board member, British Museum, Board member of the Middle East Advisory Group to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Former Deputy Managing Director of IMF

Social activities: Board member of Minority Ethnic Talent Association and Economic Research Forum for the Arab World, Iran and Turkey

2. Amal Clooney, Lebanon

Nationality: British, Age: 39

Most powerful Arab women (Overall category)

“I am still doing the same jobs as I was doing before. If there is more attention being paid than there was before, then that’s good.” - NBC News, 2016

Amal Clooney has represented the state of Cambodia, Nadia Murad (against Daesh), Julian Assange (WikiLeaks founder), former prime minister of Ukraine - Yulia Tymoshenko and Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, in addition to several other high-profile cases.She was also an adviser to the King of Bahrain in connection with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

But Amal has garnered more media attention as the wife of Hollywood actor and celebrity George Clooney, and is reported to be pregnant with twins. 

Current Designation: Lawyer, Doughty Street Chambers (Public International law, International Criminal Law and human rights)

Social activities: Clooney Foundation For Justice, Amal Clooney Scholarship (for educating young women from Lebanon)

3. Nayla Hayek, Lebanon

Nationality: Swiss, Age: 66

Most powerful Arab women (Overall category)

“We are all very emotional in our family. Our business is selling emotion: most people buy watches and jewellery as gifts.” - The Telegraph, 2015

Nayla Hayek took over Swatch when her Lebanon-born father, Nicolas Hayek passed away seven years ago. She also acquired Harry Winston in 2013.

Current designation: Chairwoman, Swatch Group, CEO, Harry Winston Inc.

Other designations: International Arabian horse judge and breeding expert

Social activities: Sponsor deal with AMFAR (American Foundation for Aids Research)

Interesting fact: Harry Winston Inc. is now the owner of the world’s largest flawless blue diamond which Hayek bought for US $23.8 million (over Dh87 million).

4. Shaikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, UAE

Nationality: Emirati, Age: 54

Most powerful Arab women (Government)

"Dubai is the living model of what the Expo is all about. It's about partnerships and alliances." - On Expo 2020

As the first woman ever in UAE history to hold a cabinet position, Shaikha Lubna is a trailblazer for all women in the region. Shaikha Lubna is ranked first as per the Forbes list of 10 most powerful Arab women in government. She also falls in the Forbes's top 50 most powerful women in the world.

Current designation: Minister of State for Tolerance, UAE

Other designations: Former Minister for International Co-operation and Development, Founder of Tejari, Board of the Dubai Chamber for Commerce and Industry, Board of the National US Arab Chamber of Commerce

Social activities: Volunteering with the Friends of Cancer Patients Society and serving on the Dubai Autism Centre Board of Directors

5. Dalia Hazem Gamil Khorshid, Egypt

Nationality: Egyptian, Age: 42

Most powerful Arab women (Government)

The Minister of Investment of Egypt is the first woman in the country to have held that position and she has been proving her metal in more ways than one. 

Current designation: Minister of Investment, Egypt

Former designations: Group treasurer at Orascom Construction Industries, Vice President in Corporate Finance and Investment Banking for the Middle East at Citibank 

6. Ghada Waly, Egypt

Nationality: Egyptian 

Most powerful Arab women (Government)

Sworn in as Minister for Social Solidarity in 2015, Waly comes with over 23 years of experience in integrated development and other social causes. 

Current designation: Minister for Social Solidarity (Welfare), Egypt

Other designations: Secretary general of the Social Fund for Development, key member of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in Egypt, representative of the National Council for Women (NCW), former board member of the Consumer Protection Agency in Egypt

7. Lubna Olayan, Saudi Arabia

Nationality: Saudi Arabian, Age: 61

Most powerful Arab women (Business)

“I am a proponent, though, of a system in which opportunities are ‘gender neutral’ and of a true meritocracy that sees the right person in the right position for the right reasons, regardless of gender.” - ABANA, New York

Olayan was the only woman in a 4000-strong workforce for 18 years. She was the first woman in Saudi Arabia to deliver a keynote address, at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004.

She has been ranked number 1 on the latest Forbes list of 100 most powerful Arab business women. She also falls in the top 100 most powerful women in the world.

Current designation: CEO, Olayan Financing Company

Other designations: Representative of the country’s Public  Investment Fund with Saudi mining company Ma’aden, Board of WPP (British marketing firm), Board of Saudi Hollandi Bank, International Advisory Board of Rolls-Royce and Citigroup, member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, and the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations

Social activities: INSEAD Board, Arab Thought Foundation, Board of the Down Syndrome Charitable Association (Riyadh)

8. Lobna Helal, Egypt

Nationality: Egyptian

Most powerful Arab women (Business)

Now the Deputy Governor of Egypt’s Central Bank, Lobna Helal did a stint there in 2011 as the first woman ever to serve on the board of the bank. 

Current designation: Deputy Governor, Egypt’s Central Bank

Former designations: Chair and managing director of the Egyptian Company for Mortgage Refinance, Deputy chair of the Egyptian Banking Institute and a board member of Telecom Egypt. 

9. Raja Easa Al Gurg, United Arab Emirates

Nationality: Emirati

Most powerful Arab women (Business)


"All these years that I have been working – more than 35 years – I have been able to achieve my goals. It’s completely up to me how I push myself.” - Gulf Business, 2015

Raja Easa Al Gurg manages Easa Saleh Al Gurg conglomerate, a diversified business with 26 companies spread across the GCC.

In the Forbes list of 100 most powerful Arab business women, Raja Easa Al Gurg occupies third rank. She is also featured in the top 100 most powerful women in the world.

Current designation: Managing Director, Al Gurg Group LLC (ESAG)

Other designations: Deputy Chair of the Dubai Healthcare City Authority and president of the Dubai Business Women Council, board member of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry