Manal Omar

Acting Vice President, Center for Middle East and Africa

Manal Omar is the acting vice president for the Middle East and Africa Center. Previously, she was regional program manager for the Middle East for Oxfam - Great Britain, where she responded to humanitarian crises in Palestine and Lebanon. Omar has extensive experience in the Middle East. She worked with Women for Women International as regional coordinator for Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. She also served as an international advisor for the Libya Stabilization Team in Benghazi in 2011. Omar lived in Baghdad from 2003 to 2005 and set up operations in Iraq. She launched her career as a journalist in the Middle East in 1996. UNESCO recruited her to work on one of her first lead assignments in Iraq in 1997-1998. Omar also spent more than three years with the World Bank’s development economics group. She has carried out training programs in Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Kenya and many other countries.

Omar’s activities have been profiled by the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC, NPR, Glamour, the London Times and Newsweek. Her articles and opinion pieces have appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Azizah Magazine and Islamica Magazine.

Omar is on the advisory board of Peaceful Families Project, an organization with international reach that recognizes domestic violence is a form of oppression that affects people of all faiths. She also serves on the advisory board of Prosperty Catalyst and Women’s Voices Now.  She was named among Top 500 World’s Most Influential Arabs by Arabia Business Power in 2011 and 2012, and among the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by  Georgetown University and The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in 2009 .In 2007, Islamic Magazine named her one of the ten young visionaries shaping Islam in America. She holds a master's degree in Arab studies from Georgetown University and a bachelor's degree in international relations from George Mason University.

Partial List of Productions:

  • “Islamists are Coming,” author of “Libya: Rebuilding from Scratch” chapter (2012).
  • Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to Be a Woman in Chaos. Sourcebooks, 2010
  • "Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq," co-author Oxfam Briefing Paper (July 30, 2007).
  • "I felt more welcome in the Bible belt." Guardian, April 20, 2007.
  • "My Iraqi Wedding." Washington Post, March 19, 2006.
  • "Islamic Feminism," in Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, eds.G. Anderson and K. Herr (Sage, 2007).
  • "Non-Governmental Organizations," in Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, eds.G. Anderson and K. Herr (Sage, 2007).
  • "Post Conflict and Reconstruction," in Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, eds.G. Anderson and K. Herr (Sage, 2007).
  • "Women, Gender and Development and Family (Modernization, Assimilation): Iran and Afghanistan," in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (December 2005).
  • "In the Sea of National Building: Anchoring Women's Rights in the Iraqi Constitution," Critical Half (Summer 2005).
  • "Windows of Opportunity: The Pursuit of Gender Equality in Post-War Iraq," (lead author/researcher) Women for Women International Briefing Paper (January 2005).
  • "Men and Masculinity: Implementing Development Programs in MENA," paper presented at civil society conference in Fes, Morocco. (February 2002).
  • "The Impact of Delayed Marriage on Women in MENA," Al-Raida Journal (December 2001).
  • "The Marriage Mystery: Exploring Late Marriage in MENA," paper presented at the Second Mediterranean Social and Political Research Meeting, Florence (March 21-25, 2001).
  • "Towards a more Inclusive Agenda for Muslim Women," Yemeni Times (April 23 2000).
  • "Journalists Are Cautious in Criticizing Jordan's Tough New Press Law," The Washington Report (October/November 1997).
  • "Greater awareness needed to combat growth of AIDS," The Star (December 5, 1996)
  • "Palestinians recall events of the second Intifada," The Star (October 31, 1996).
  • "Violence against women: Myth or reality?" The Star (October 10, 1996).


Hodei Sultan, Kathleen Kuehnast, Manal Omar
November 16, 2012
Afghan and Iraqi women leaders met earlier this year to discuss how women in North African transition countries can play a role in reshaping their societies. Based on their own experiences with transition, these leaders offered advice on what to do and what pitfalls to avoid.
Hodei Sultan, Kathleen Kuehnast, Manal Omar
March 13, 2012
Despite years of efforts aimed at expanding women’s rights and opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, women in those countries face major obstacles in consolidating these gains. Recognizing that women’s empowerment contributes significantly to stability, USIP convened experts to assess what has been learned in developing women’s programs in Afghanistan and Iraq and to establish best practices for future programs in conflict zones.
Manal Omar
December 12, 2011
United in revolution, Libya’s various rebel groups have high expectations of a new government but are divided on many fronts. Understanding who these factions are and the tensions among them is key to finding common ground on how to rebuild Libya’s political process.
Manal Omar
November 2, 2011
Manal Omar, director of Iran, Iraq and North Africa programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on November 2, 2011, on the role of women in the Arab Spring, and more specifically, their role in Libya.

Articles & Analysis by this Expert

February 12, 2015
Manal Omar

From blood drives after 9/11 to aid for Iraqi Christians and Yazidi refugees today, and on to the simple act of listening to survivors of violence for solutions to their communities’ conflicts, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and American Muslim leaders, including USIP’s Manal Omar, recently exchanged ideas for overcoming the misunderstandings of Islam perpetuated by the brutal conflicts of the past decade-plus.

January 27, 2015
Elie Abouaoun, DDS, Manal Omar, Sarhang Hamasaeed
November 13, 2014
Manal Omar
August 13, 2014
Elie Abouaoun, DDS, Khitam Al-Khaykanee, Manal Omar, Raya Barazanji, Sarhang Hamasaeed
June 24, 2014
Manal Omar, Rachel Brandenburg, Robin Wright, Sarhang Hamasaeed

In the News

March 18, 2015

Rampant sexual assault has unmade allegiances in Syria's civil war -- and it may well get worse no matter which side wins. By Manal OmarManal Omar is associate vice president of the Center for Middle East and Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace ...