Manal Omar

Associate Vice President, Center for Middle East and Africa

Manal Omar is the associate 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.

Expert In the News

Articles & Analysis from this Expert

September 14, 2016

This month, the world's unprecedented refugee crisis, and the traumas of the greater Middle East that are fueling it, will dominate the United Nations' annual General Assembly session. World leaders will hold extraordinary meetings, including a White House-hosted Leaders' Summit on Refugees, to grapple with a web of violent conflicts, failed and fragile states, and the resulting humanitarian disaster of more than 60 million people worldwide living as refugees.

November 12, 2015
Manal Omar and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
November 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.

External Publications

  • “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).