MEPC is excited to announce the 2023 cohort of 40 Under 40 Awardees. As a premier source for critical analysis and conversations on US-Middle East relations, MEPC is committed to developing and amplifying new voices in the foreign policy community. The 40 Under 40 Awards recognize the breadth of cultural, economic, and political relationships between the United States and countries of the Middle East with awardees from a variety of professional backgrounds including academia, business, culture, and diplomacy.
This year's awardees are shaping the present and future of US-Middle East relations. Please join us in celebrating and sharing the accomplishments of this year's MEPC 40 Under 40 Awardees.
Achref Chibani is currently the Regional Coordinator of the Tunisian watchdog organization "I Watch" in Tataouine. He is a Nonresident Fellow at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy focusing on climate change in the Middle East and North Africa region. He is a Tunisian journalist, researcher, and civil society activist whose core areas of focus are climate change, renewable energies, and environmental protection. Based in Tataouine, southern Tunisia, Chibani is also an Early Career Researcher Representative at the MENA Social Policy Network. He was formerly a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Middle East Program.
Adam Baron is a writer, and political analyst focusing on the Middle East with an emphasis on Yemen and the Gulf. Based in Sanaa from 2011 to 2014, he is currently an advisor at the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. He holds a B.A. in Arab Studies and Religion from Williams College and an M.A. in International Peace and Security from the department of War Studies at Kings College London.
Adham Sahloul is a Special Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, serving as a Biden-Harris Administration appointee. He is also a U.S. Navy Reserve Officer, and previously worked at the State Department and the Atlantic Council. He has served on the national board of Emgage Foundation and was formerly a foreign policy advisor to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. A Chicagoland native and a first generation Syrian-American, Sahloul is an alum of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Al-Daana Al-Mulla is a senior diplomat of the State of Qatar. In 2017, Al-Mulla was posted to the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, D.C. where she served as Director of Political Affairs of the Office of the Ambassador for 5 years. Al-Mulla was formerly posted to the United Nations in New York, serving as Qatar's lead negotiator on human rights, sustainable development, the advancement of women, and humanitarian, peace and security affairs, and served in Qatar's MFA's International Cooperation Department, advancing initiatives to counter terrorism, resolve humanitarian crises, and stabilize conflict zones. Al-Mulla holds a B.S.F.S. from a Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and an M.P.A. from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She is currently completing her J.D. at George Washington University.
Amirah Ismail is a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. She has specialized in European and Middle Eastern affairs during her career, with assignments abroad and in Washington, supporting U.S. relations with Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Belarus, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Syria, and Tunisia. Ismail holds an M.A. in Middle East Studies from George Washington University and degrees in Global Studies and Justice Studies from Arizona State University. She has earned multiple Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards for her service and is an alumna of the Congressman Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship. Ismail speaks Arabic, French, and Russian.
Asha Castleberry-Hernández is a distinguished national security and foreign policy expert. She served at the State Department working on China and Middle East Policy for the Biden-Harris Administration. A U.S. Army veteran, Castleberry-Hernández has completed a 30-month deployment in the Middle East. Since the 2014 ISIL incursion in Iraq, she served as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Kuwait. From December 2012 to June 2014, she served as the Kuwait Desk Officer for International Military Affairs, U.S. Army Central.
Asim Ali is a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State and most recently served as the lead Human Right Officer for North Africa in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He has extensive background in the Middle East, human rights, countering violent extremism, public private partnerships. Formerly, Ali worked as a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights at the State Department. He also worked in Secretary Kerry’s Office of Global Partnerships, where he led the engagement with private sector, civil society and interagency partners to develop innovative public-private partnership to promote economic growth in Middle East and North Africa. He has earned multiple Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards for his service.
Chama Mechtaly passionately translates her core belief that culture and art are the most powerful activators for sustainable and inclusive peace-building through many avenues. She is an artist, activist, cultural entrepreneur and geopolitical consultant on a mission to promote shared belonging and bring pluralism back to the Middle-East & North-Africa. She founded and launched Moors & Saints in Dubai during the year of tolerance to teach the value of cross-cultural dialogue, pluralism and tolerance through jewelry products inspired by the design aesthetic and legacy of Moorish history and architecture. She also serves as VP of Policy at MENA focused geopolitical consulting firm Potomac Strategy, where she advises governmental and non-governmental organizations on regional integration, sustainable peace and cross-cultural cooperation. She received a bachelor's degree in international relations and conflict resolution from Brandeis University where she was a Wien Scholar and her work has been featured in a wide range of media outlets including Vogue Arabia, Asharq News, Arab News, Ha’aretz, Jpost, I24, the BBC, Emirates Woman, Telquel Magazine, Morocco World News, 2M.
Cornelius Queen is a Vice President at the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, a private investment fund established by the U.S. Congress in 2011 to support Egypt's private sector. He has over ten years of experience in diverse roles across finance, public policy and international development. He earned a master's degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Diala Qasem currently serves as a Legislative Advisor on Capitol Hill for Congressman Andre' Carson; her policy portfolio includes Middle East affairs, immigration, global health, education, and social safety net programs. She formerly served roles for Senator Amy Klobuchar and Rep. James Clyburn. Qasem is President of the Congressional Middle Eastern and North African Staff Association (MENASA) and, in the nonprofit space, President of the Muslim Women's Professional Network. Qasem most recently led the Capitol Hill efforts surrounding an independent investigation for Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh.
Emily Milliken is a Middle East analyst specializing in Yemen, Libya, and Gulf interests. She currently serves as the Senior Vice President and Lead Analyst at Askari Associates, LLC, as well as a Junior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. Milliken graduated with an M.A. in Middle East Studies and International Economics in 2021 and with a B.A. in Political Science from Notre Dame of Maryland University in 2019. You can find her published work in both American and international news media including: Al Jazeera, The Hill, The National Interest, Newsweek, Defense One, Al Monitor, The New Arab, and Arab News, among others.
Geo Saba is the Chief of Staff for Congressman Ro Khanna. He is an Aspen Strategy Group Rising Leader, New America MENA Next Generation Leader, and on the CSIS National Security & Foreign Affairs Top 50 Leadership List. Saba graduated with a B.A. with honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University where he played Varsity Baseball and was a research assistant for Dr. Condoleezza Rice. He earned his MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge University where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.
Dr. Grace Wermenbol
Dr. Grace Wermenbol is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute and a foreign affairs consultant for the government, specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader Levant. She holds an M.A. and PhD from Oxford University, St Antony's College. Dr Wermenbol previously served as a lecturer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Oxford and held a research position at Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations. She is the author of A Tale of Two Narratives (Cambridge University Press, 2021), a study of Israeli and Palestinian societies in the post-Oslo era.
Hamdullah Baycar is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. He focuses on nationalism in the Gulf, particularly Emirati national identity. He holds an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University and a B.A. in International Relations from Izzet Baysal University. His academic work on Emirati nationalism and Gulf foreign policy has appeared on various platforms, including Religions, Digest of Middle East Studies, and Janus.net e-journal of International Relations. Baycar publishes opinion and analysis pieces through the Carnegie Endowment, the Washington Institute, Newlines Institute, Middle East Eye, GULFIF, and AGSIW.
Hind Al Ansari
Hind Al Ansari is a public policy fellow at the Wilson Center, where she has recently published articles pertaining to social development in Qatar and the impact of the Abraham Accords in the Gulf. She completed a B.S. in Mass Communication/Media Studies from Northwestern University in Qatar, an M.A. in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and a PhD in Education from the University of Cambridge. She is fluent in Arabic and English and has intermediate fluency in Turkish.
Hollie McKay is a longtime war correspondent and currently independent writer who has extensively covered conflict and crises across the Middle East, East Africa, Latin America and Asia. She is the author of “Only Cry for the Living: Memos from Inside the ISIS Battlefield” and the upcoming “Afghanistan: The End of the U.S Footprint and the Rise of the Taliban Rule.” McKay’s globally-spanned coverage, in the form of thousands of print articles and essays, has included exclusive and detailed interviews with numerous captured terrorists, as well as high-ranking government, military, and intelligence officials and leaders from all sides.
Holly Dagres is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council with a specialization in Iran; she is the editor of the Council’s IranSource and MENASource blogs and curator for the weekly newsletter, The Iranist. She has fifteen years of experience in the Middle East (living in Tehran, Cairo, and Jerusalem). Dagres holds an M.A. from the American University in Cairo and two B.A.s from UCLA. She regularly conducts interviews on radio, television, and print including BBC, CNN, NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Dagres is a proud Iranian-American and spent her formative years in Tehran.
Isra Chaker is a Syrian-American activist, humanitarian advocate, and public speaker. She currently serves as a Campaign Strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where she leads national campaigns on issues including immigrants’ rights, racial justice, and work related to Arab, Middle. Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities and indigenous people. She is an appointed Ambassador for One Young World (OYW) and has served as a speaker at their annual OYW Summit in London (2019), and Manchester (2022). She is a Public Advocate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency USA (UNRWA) for her invaluable contributions in raising awareness and funds for their projects supporting Palestine refugees.
Dr. J. Eva Meharry
Dr. J. Eva Meharry has worked in the field of cultural diplomacy and development in Asia and Africa for over a decade. She is currently the Afghanistan Project Manager and Senior Editor at the Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training and Senior Advisor for the Smithsonian Institution's Cultural Rescue Initiative project documenting heritage destruction in Ukraine, as well as a 2020 National Geographic Explorer, Explorers Club Fellow, and member of Meridian International Center’s Cultural Diplomacy Leadership Council. She holds a PhD from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, and her thesis, “Politics of the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism and Diplomacy in Afghanistan (1919–2001),” was awarded the Chairman’s Accolade at the 2021 International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize.
Jennifer Cafarella is the Chief of Staff and National Security Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Her work focuses on U.S. defense strategy, including how the United States must adapt to current and future threats. Cafarella regularly briefs senior policymakers and decision makers, as well as U.S. and allied military units. She is a graduate of ISW's Hertog War Studies Program and received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Global Studies with a focus on the Middle East.
Jennifer Steel is the Associate Vice President for Government Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Previously, she spent 10 years working on Capitol Hill in senior positions with Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and Congressman Ben Chandler handling committee work for the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, the Middle East HFAC Subcommittee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She was named by Foreign Policy Magazine as a “Hill Staffer to Watch,” as well as a Truman National Security Project Congressional Scholar, a Partnership for a Secure America Congressional Fellow, and as a Freeman ASIA Foundation Fellow. Steel also worked at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, EARTH University, and the Chemical Weapons Working Group. She holds an M.A. from the U.S. Naval War College and two B.A.s from Berea College. She has done graduate work at the National Defense University and Johns Hopkins University-SAIS.
John Michael De Carlo
John Michael De Carlo currently serves as IBM’s Government and Regulatory Affairs Executive, where he manages global public policy on data privacy and leads IBM’s government and regulatory affairs across the Gulf and Levant. In this position, De Carlo rotates between Washington DC, New York, Dubai, and Riyadh. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Cal Sate Fullerton and a B.A. in both American and African American Studies from SUNY Buffalo, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Joze Pelayo is an assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative and an alum of the Arab Gulf States Institute, the Arab Center Washington DC, and the National Council of US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR). Pelayo’s work focuses on Gulf security, transnational threats, and Hezbollah. Pelayo has prior working and internship experience in Lebanon, Russia, Israel, the UAE, and the Palestinian Authority.
Kate Gould is the Deputy Chief of Staff and Human Rights and National Security Advisor for Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17). She was previously the Legislative Director for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and was named by The Hill as a Top Advocate. Gould's analysis has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and other national outlets, and has appeared as an on-air analyst for PRI the World, the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. She is a Truman National Security Project Fellow and a New America & ONS National Security & Foreign Policy LGBTQ+ Leader and was profiled by the Congressional Quarterly as the ‘Quaker Behind the Iran Deal Fight.’
Laila Mokhiber is a fourth-generation Arab American of Lebanese and Palestinian ancestry and the Director of Communications for UNRWA USA where she advocates for the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees by familiarizing Americans with their plight. In addition to her day job, she brings the DC community together to nerd out on the histories and cultures of the Arab world as an ambassador for Afikra, is board president of Open Roads Media, which focuses on conflict transformation, intercultural dialogue, and education through the innovative use of alternative media, and is a producer for the Latitude Adjustment Podcast, a show designed to inspire curiosity about misunderstood places, communities, and perspectives.
Lana Yaghi is a senior attorney at the law firm of Miller Canfield, who splits her time between Washington D.C. and Doha as the Co-Resident Director of the firm’s Qatar office. She focuses her practice on corporate and commercial matters in a broad range of industries, including cybersecurity, aerospace and defense. Lana regularly advises her clients on Qatari law and its regulatory framework; her advice often relates to corporate establishment and structuring. She also represents her clients in negotiations of largescale cross-border commercial transactions, particularly with Middle Eastern private and public entities. Lebanese-American by background, Lana has been named as a “2020 D.C. Rising Star” by the National Law Journal, recognizing her as one of the 40 most promising lawyers aged 40 and under. She has also been recognized by Best Lawyers for three years running in the "Ones to Watch" category for Governance and Compliance Law and Transportation Law.
Lydia Jabs is the Executive Director of the US-Libya Business Association (USLBA), a nonprofit trade association focusing on the United States and Libya. In this role, Jabs provides tailored support and advocacy for U.S; companies that seek to establish operations in Libya or strengthen their presence in the Libyan Market. At USLBA, Jabs strives to enhance the diplomatic and commercial relationship between the United States and Libya and to facilitate opportunities for mutually beneficial investment.
Michael Griffith presently serves as the Economic Officer in the Iran Regional Presence Office at U.S. Consulate General Dubai. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2010 and has spent the majority of his career working on political and economic challenges throughout the Middle East, with overseas tours in Lebanon, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. In line with this professional background, Griffith speaks Arabic and Farsi.
Muhammad Baqir Muhyedeen
Muhammad Baqir Muhyedeen is the Senior Public Policy and Strategy Manager at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, where he helps improve public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims through engaging the government, media, and communities. Muhyedeen is also an expert on Iraqi affairs, with published articles in the Atlantic Council's MENASource journal, and other Iraqi policy journals. Raised in Dearborn, MI, Muhyedeen completed his B.B.A. in International Finance at Eastern Michigan University and M.P.P. in Public Policy Analysis at Michigan State University.
Nicholas Hayen works as the Marketing & Communications Manager for Global Minnesota and serves as president of the Minnesota International NGO Network. He has a passion for international affairs education and the promotion of global engagement. Hayen’s personal blog and podcast project, The Orientalist Express, seeks to educate all people about American foreign policy by making international issues exciting and relevant to the average person. He holds an M.A. from the University of Utah and a B.A. from South Dakota State University.
Nisreen Mansour is a Senior Associate & Head of the Arab Society Desk at Erdinast, Ben Nathan, Toledano & Co., a premier full-service law firm in Israel. She leads the firm’s initiative to empower businessmen and women from across the Arab society in Israel to find, seize and capitalize on business opportunities in Israel and abroad and realize their full potential. Following the Abrahamic Accords, the initiative has expanded to the MENA region: creating business opportunities for the firm’s clients (Arabs and Jews) in the MENA region, through building relations with government officials, professionals, businessmen and women. Moreover, she is a Ph.D candidate at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was awarded a 2015-2016 Fulbright Outreach Master's Degree Fellowship to pursue her LL.M. at Indiana University - Bloomington. She received her LL.B., Law & Psychology (combined program) as well as her LL.M., specialization in Commercial & Corporate Law (research track) from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Dr. Oz Hassan
Dr. Oz Hassan is a Reader in National Security at the University of Warwick, UK. His work focuses on transatlantic relations with the Middle East, particularly on democracy promotion, democratisation and security challenges. He is the author of multiple academic texts and has contributed to multiple policymaking processes and media engagements. Hassan has a PhD, an M.A. in research methods and a B.A. focused in Political Science and Philosophy.
Peter Billerbeck is a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee's Democratic Staff where he focuses on the Middle East, North Africa, security cooperation and counterterrorism. Previously, he served as Senior Advisor to Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, aide to Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Teaching Assistant to the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Billerbeck holds an M.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, a B.A from the University of St. Thomas, and is a Council on Foreign Relations term member.
Raymond Karam is the chief program and development officer at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington where he leads the institute's programming, outreach, and partnership efforts. Formerly, he served as the head of Middle East programs at the EastWest Institute and as its DC representative. Karam has led Track II diplomatic initiatives with partners in the Middle East on issues of regional security, nonproliferation, economic development, and environmental governance. He holds a B.S. in political science and international affairs from Hofstra University and a M.S. in international relations and transnational security from New York University. A native of Lebanon, he speaks fluent Arabic and French and has a working knowledge of Farsi.
Sherry Hakimi is the Founder and Executive Director of genEquality, a 501(c)3 social enterprise. She began her career working on a health education initiative in Iran, and has since worked with a range of companies, clients, and institutions. Since 2014, she has served as an independent advisor working with various United Nations missions and programs on foreign policy and gender equality initiatives. From 2019-2021, Hakimi was appointed and served as a Commissioner for the NYC Commission on Gender Equity. She is a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations; National Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project; co-founder, former 2-term co-president, and now Advisory Board Member of the Harvard Iranian Alumni organization; and 2016-2019 co-chair of the annual Iranian Summit at Harvard. Her writing has been published in Fast Company, The Washington Post, and The Kennedy School Review, among others.
Simon Handler is a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative under the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), where his research focuses on cyber conflict, counterterrorism, and the Middle East. Previously, he served as a special assistant in the United States Senate, where he worked on foreign policy issues. Handler is earning an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and holds a B.A. in both International Relations & Global Studies and Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures from The University of Texas at Austin.
Tarik Solomon is Founding Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia - Defense & Security Industry Executive – where he advises leading multinational companies on the political, legal, and regulatory risk factors that impact their objectives in seeking to enter or expand into Middle East markets. His consistently demonstrated ability to successfully transplant business strategies to emerging markets, where barriers to entry are high, has endowed him with a reputation for being innovative and resilient. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. from Johnson & Wales University and his M.B.A. was completed at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Tofol Al-Nasr is a partner at Daleelaq Consulting with a diverse range of American, Asian, Qatari, and Gulf-based clients. She draws on her fifteen years of experience in strategic communications and advocacy in public, private, and international organizational settings, ranging from the Qatari national energy company to Exxon Mobil Corporation, and the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Ms. Al-Nasr began her career in the marketing arm of Qatar Petroleum, where she was a senior negotiator for crude oil and condensate sales. She then joined ExxonMobil as an advisor in the corporation’s international government relations office in Washington, DC. In 2017, Ms. Al-Nasr was nominated by HE Dr. Al-Sada, then Qatar’s minister of energy and industry, to join OPEC as a diplomat, becoming the first Qatari woman to serve her country in this capacity. Ms. Al-Nasr holds a MA in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University and has published academic articles about the socio-economic status of women in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Wafa Eben Beri
Wafa Eben Beri is an Obama Foundation Scholar-cohort 2020, consultant, and public speaker. She has experience working in civil society, the public sector, and McKinsey in Israel in the field of social impact, access to opportunities, and minority integration. Prior to McKinsey, she was the Head of the Department of Government and Policy at the Economic Development Authority for Minorities in the Israeli Ministry for Social Equality. In this role, she led the Israeli Government’s effort to increase the employment of minorities in the Israeli labor market, specifically women from minority groups. Previously, she was the first and youngest woman to run the volunteer center at AJEEC-Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment, and Cooperation. where she managed a team of 70 program managers and supported over 1,300 volunteers and more than 20,000 beneficiaries from all over the country. She was awarded the Ben Gurion University Graduate Excellence for the year 2018, which recognizes significant contributions to the underrepresented communities in Israel. Beri was also named by the leading economic newspaper Globes among 40 under 40 promising leaders for 2022 and was chosen by the leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as one of five women that made the year in Israel for the year 2022.
Will Gregory is the Vice President of Global Supply Chain at UltiSat, an international satellite communications company. He has extensive experience servicing customers in the Middle East and Africa providing turnkey connectivity solutions to partners in the critical infrastructure, telecom, defense, humanitarian and refugee support sectors. Gregory is a recognized expert in Middle East distribution, trade and Islamic finance transactions, often blending his unique expertise to create local solutions for customers across the region. He has degrees from SUNY Maritime College, Georgetown University and University of Baltimore, as well as certificates or licenses from several organizations in the Middle East and Europe.
See the 2022 40 Under 40 Cohort here.