Inaugural Cohort of 40 Under 40 Awardees
In celebration of our 40th anniversary, MEPC is excited to announce the inaugural 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. Located across eight countries, they have written for leading news sources, established companies and non-profits to promote cultural and economic exchange, and promoted international understanding through scholarship, law, and teaching. Please join us in celebrating and sharing the accomplishments of this year's MEPC 40 Under 40 Awardees.
Yara M. Asi
Yara M. Asi, PhD, is Assistant Professor in Global Health Management and Informatics at the University of Central Florida. Her research agenda focuses on health and human rights in fragile populations. She is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC, a Fulbright US Scholar to the West Bank, and a Visiting US Fellow at Al Shabaka. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Nation.
Mohammed Barakat is Managing Director & Board of Directors Treasurer of the US-Qatar Business Council where he works with the public and private sectors to promote new and expanded business relations between US and Qatari companies. Barakat is actively involved in the business, cultural, and political community and is President of the American Jordanian Cultural Forum (Nashama) for Washington, D.C. He holds an Advanced Business Strategy Degree from the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Chrissy Bishai, JD, works at the US State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources as Senior Energy Officer/Team Lead for the Middle East and North Africa. She previously served in the US Treasury Department, International Criminal Court, and United Nations. Bishai holds a JD from Northwestern University School of Law, an MPA from Harvard's Kennedy School, and a BA in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies from The George Washington University.
Jayson Browder serves as Third Way's Senior Policy Advisor for National Security and is Founder and Chairman of Veterans in Global Leadership—an executive level leadership development NGO for veterans. He formerly served as an Assistant Dean at New York University Abu Dhabi, Presidential Management Fellow at the White House and Military Advisor to Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Browder is a decorated USAF and Iraq veteran and Fulbright Scholar to Turkey. He holds an MPA from NYU and UCL and a BA from Fordham University.
Matthew Calardo is Senior Program Officer at the Business Council for International Understanding, a nonpartisan, US-based organization that works to expand people-to-people business ties. Prior to this, he worked for the Middle East Investment Initiative, the Aspen Institute, and Amb. Edward “Skip” Gnehm Jr. Calardo holds an MA in Middle East Studies and a BA in Philosophy from The George Washington University. He received a certificate in Arabic from the American University of Beirut.
William Christou is a journalist with extensive experience covering the MENA region. Currently, he is a Middle East correspondent with The New Arab and has previously worked as a reporter for Syria Direct. Christou’s writings have appeared in Al Jazeera, Al-Monitor, and The National. He holds a BA in International Studies from the University of Florida and is fluent in Arabic.
Andrea Dessì, PhD, is Head of Italian Foreign Policy and Senior Fellow within the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa program at the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs (IAI), where he is also Editorial Director of the IAI Commentaries series. Dessì holds a PhD from the London School of Economics in Political Science with a thesis on the US-Israel relationship during the 1980s. His research and interviews have appeared in academic, media and specialized journals.
Rami El-Dokany is Secretary General of the Arab Federation of Capital Markets, the industry association of 21 Arab exchanges, with an aggregate market cap of more than $3.7 trillion. He has extensive experience in investment banking, private equity, corporate finance, and restructuring. El-Dokany holds an MSc in Finance from Wales University, in addition to professional certifications from the London Business School and Oxford University.
Sarah Elzeini is CEO of SMZ International Group, a strategic advisory and activities company in Washington, DC focusing on business development, government relations, and public affairs. Her company is quick to identify opportunities to bridge divides from grassroots to state level. Elzeini has a BS from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and an Executive Education in Global Business and Politics from Yale University School of Business.
Amal Enan is Chief Investment Officer of the American University in Cairo (AUC). Prior to AUC, she served as executive director of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund and was an economist at the Egyptian Ministry of Finance. She is actively engaged in catalyzing investments in MENA's private sector and strengthening economic ties between Egypt and the US. Enan holds, an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MS Environment and Development from the London School of Economics.
Mehreen Farooq is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and expert on community-based terrorism prevention. She serves as the Director of Program, Quality, and Learning at Counterpart International. Farooq was previously VP of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, where she established the first community-led program to build resilience against radicalization in the US. She holds an MA in International Affairs from American University and a BA in Political Science from Christopher Newport University.
Geraldine Gassam Griffith
Geraldine Gassam Griffith is Deputy Director of the Dubai Regional Media Hub where she is one of the US Government’s principal Arabic-language spokespeople. She previously served in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, El Salvador, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Washington, and as a Political Advisor embedded with US Special Forces in Syria supporting the counter-ISIS campaign. She holds an MA from the Bush School at Texas A&M and a BA in History from Yale.
Lucille Greer is an incoming Foreign Affairs Specialist for the Middle East Policy Office at the Department of Defense. She recently completed a fellowship at the Wilson Center researching China’s navigation of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Her analysis on the Middle East has been published with outlets including The Washington Post, the Middle East Institute, and West Point’s Modern War Institute. Greer has an MA in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
Raiman Al-Hamdani is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a researcher and project consultant for the Yemen Policy Center and ARK Group. Al-Hamdani is an expert on issues of security, stabilization and development in the Middle East and North Africa. He has previously worked for clients including the IOM, OECD, and British Council. Al-Hamdani holds an MA in international security from the American University in Cairo and an MSc in development studies from SOAS.
Yasmeen Hibrawi, a US Diplomat at the State Department, is currently Head of Public Affairs and Outreach at the US Consulate in Dubai. Yasmeen joined the State Department in 2010 and previously served in Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and Washington, D.C. where she worked to advance President Obama’s 2016 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. She has an MBA from Pepperdine University and a BA in Communications from California State University, Fullerton. She speaks Arabic and Swedish.
Jon Hoffman is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at George Mason University focusing on Middle East geopolitics and political Islam. He has published extensively on the Middle East in academic platforms such as Middle East Policy, Digest of Middle East Studies, Durham Middle East Papers, as well as policy-oriented platforms such as Foreign Policy and the The Washington Post. He holds MA and BA degrees from George Mason.
Iman Jodeh is State Representative for House District 41 in Aurora, Colorado, and founder of Meet the Middle East, an education non-profit. She served as the first female spokesperson for the Colorado Muslim Society, taught Middle East politics and Islam at the University of Denver, and spent over a decade in the nonprofit arena advocating for civil and human rights. Jodeh holds an MPA from the University of Colorado at Denver.
Haneen Khalid is a PhD candidate in Security Studies at Princeton University and a Board Fellow at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. She has covered security issues internationally and worked on women’s affairs and climate action at the parliament of Pakistan. Khalid holds an MA in International Development and Policy from the University of Chicago where she was an Obama Foundation Scholar and a BS in Public Administration from the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad.
Daphne McCurdy is Foreign Policy Advisor to US Senator Jeff Merkley. Previously, McCurdy served at USAID and the Department of State, as well as the United Nations and various non-governmental organizations focused on democracy and stabilization in the Middle East. She is a Council on Foreign Relations term member and Truman National Security Project fellow. McCurdy holds an MPA from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and a BA from Tufts University.
Robert Mogielnicki, PhD, is a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University and a Middle East and North Africa advisor with Freedom House for a research project on global media influence. His book, A Political Economy of Free Zones in Gulf Arab States, was published in April 2021. He holds a D.Phil degree from Oxford University.
Negar Mortazavi is an Iranian American journalist and political analyst based in Washington DC, covering Iranian affairs and US-Iran relations. She is a columnist for The Independent, host of the Iran Podcast, and has appeared on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. Her work has been published in Foreign Policy magazine, The Intercept, Politico, and The Huffington Post. She obtained an MA from Brandeis University and a BA from the University of Massachusetts.
Mikey Muhanna is Founder and Executive Director of Afikra, a global education and media platform with over 50,000 members across 30 chapters. He is a qualified actuary at the Muhanna Group and spent over a decade working at Morgan Stanley and PwC. He is the youngest member of the Board of Trustees of the American Community School of Beirut and serves as an advisor to several educational organizations. Muhanna holds a BS in Economics from Duke University.
Philippe Nassif is Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA where he works with Congress and the executive branch to ensure that human rights are prioritized and protected across the region. He has testified before Congress and provided media commentary for The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Nassif holds an MA in International Conflict resolution from St. Mary's University and a BA in International Relations from the University of St Thomas.
Tuqa Nusairat is deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council where she plays a key role in shaping the strategy and direction of Middle East programs and managing operations, finances, and outreach. She conducts research and publishes analysis on political reform, civil society, and human rights in MENA. Nusairat holds an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a BA in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.
Marwa Odeh is the Senior Programs and Development Manager for the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), where she is directing and executing seven powerful, multi-speaker, web-based seminars annually regarding national public policy, to allow college women nationwide to pursue public policy careers, especially in Washington, DC. She has experience working for nonprofits, political campaigns, and the federal government. Odeh holds a BS in Accounting and a minor in Arabic from An-Najah National University.
Veronika Poier, PhD, is a lecturer at Sciences Po Paris and recently graduated from Harvard University with a doctorate in History of Art and Architecture. Her research focuses on the preservation and transfer of skill in times of war. She previously served as an intern at the Arab States Unit at UNESCO, working on reconstruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria. Poier has curated an exhibition at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and was a Mellon Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Nelleke Quispel is Founder and CEO of Gateway KSA, a cross-cultural engagement program between Saudi Arabia and the West. She initiated a strategic communications business ‘Iyadine LTD’ which focuses on purpose-driven communications strategies with a positive social or environmental impact. Previously, she worked as investor relations at Formula E holdings. Quispel is a renowned athlete and is a trained nutritionist. She holds a BA in Media and Communications from King’s College and the University of Melbourne.
Assal Rad, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow at the National Iranian American Council, where she researches and writes on Iranian policy issues and US-Iran relations. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Independent, and Foreign Policy. She has appeared as a commentator on BBC World, Al Jazeera, NPR, and others. Rad holds a PhD in Middle Eastern History from the University of California, Irvine.
Yeganeh Rezaian is Senior Researcher for Middle East and North Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists. She was previously a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and The George Washington University. Before moving to the US, she was a journalist in Iran, serving as a correspondent for Bloomberg News and The National—the UAE’s leading English language daily. Rezaian holds both an MA and BA in Translation Studies from Islamic Azad University in Tehran.
Sertac Sen is a PhD candidate and sociocultural anthropologist at Brown University. Supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and National Science Foundation, his dissertation work focuses on civil-military relations and urban development in Turkey from both historical and contemporary angles. He holds MA degrees from Brown University and Sabanci University.
Mike Sexton is a Middle East and cyber policy expert based in Washington, DC. Previously he served as Director of the Cyber Program at the Middle East Institute, Associate Director of the Qatar-America Institute, and Senior Analyst at The Chertoff Group. He holds an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a BA in Mathematics with a Near Eastern studies minor from the University of Chicago.
Sara Shah is a special assistant within the US Government. She previously worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and in the Middle East and North Africa practice of the Albright Stonebridge Group. She holds a BA in international studies from the Johns Hopkins University, has tracked and studied ISIS' online recruitment strategies, and is trying not to lose her intermediate Arabic.
Neda M. Shaheen
Neda M. Shaheen, Esq., is an LLM Candidate in National Security Law at Georgetown University. Neda is a Consultant at Crowell & Moring International and DC Co-Lead at the Arab America Foundation. Neda previously led Policy and Programs at Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation, and worked with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the United Nations, and the Biden for President campaign. She earned her JD from DePaul University and BA from The Ohio State University.
Ahmed Shama is a Foreign Service Officer serving as a Political Advisor at the US Mission to the UN, where he covers Iraq, Libya, and Syria on the Security Council. He holds an MA from Georgetown University, a BA from SUNY New Paltz, and is a recipient of the prestigious Charles Rangel Fellowship. Shama is an enlisted Marine combat veteran. He immigrated to New York from Egypt at the age of six.
Annelle Sheline is a research fellow in the Middle East program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a non-resident fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. She is completing a book manuscript, "Strategic Tolerance: Islamic Moderation & Security in Arab Monarchies." In addition to academic writing, her analysis has appeared in The Washington Post, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and Politico. Sheline received her PhD in political science at The George Washington University in 2018.
Mohammed Soliman is a global strategy advisor, think-tanker, and author. He currently serves as Senior Associate at McLarty Associates, a strategic advisory firm in Washington, DC, and Non-Resident Scholar with the Middle East Institute's Cyber Program and Egypt Program. His work focuses on the intersection of technology, geopolitics, and trade in emerging markets. Mohammed graduated with an MS in Foreign Service with distinction from Georgetown University and earned a BS in engineering from the Egyptian Aviation Academy.
Mohamed Sweify, SJD, is a bilingual dual-qualified attorney in civil and common law. A Teaching Co-Lecturer of Islamic Law at Fordham Law School, Sweify is an expert in both Egyptian and American law. He has been appointed a Co-Chair of the International Dispute Resolution Committee, Executive Member of the Dispute Resolution Committee, and Executive Member of the Domestic Arbitration Committee at the New York State Bar Association.
Jarod Taylor is a US Army Major and foreign area officer. He previously served in the State Department's Iran Regional Presence Office, US Embassy - Ankara, Turkey, as a Cyber Policy Advisor in the Office of Secretary of Defense, and with NATO Allied Land Command, in addition to various assignments as an infantry officer leading operations in Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He holds MA and BS degrees from Yale University and the US Military Academy.
Jessica Wilson-Jones is a Foreign Affairs Officer for the US Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. She coordinates the Department’s foreign assistance programs and policy in Syria, leading efforts across the interagency. Previously, she served in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs managing programs in Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Wilson-Jones holds an MA in International Business from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a BA in International Relations and Arabic from Tufts University. Jessica is Egyptian-American and a native Arabic speaker.
Bayly Winder graduated from the University of Oxford with an MBA in September. Previously, he worked as a consultant and was a member of the Iran policy team at the State Department. His analysis of the GCC has been published by the Middle East Policy Council, the Middle East Institute, and the Carnegie Endowment. He conducted research in Kuwait as a Fulbright Scholar and holds a BA in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University.