The Center for Undergraduate Excellence is thrilled to welcome the Honorable Member of Egyptian Parliament, Anissa Hassouna, as our Spring 2018 Student Research Day Keynote Speaker. Though she is now internationally recognized for her work in economics, politics, diplomacy, and advocacy, she began her career as a university student at the University of Cairo, studying economics and political science. 

For Hassouna, choosing a career trajectory was no difficulty, as she was influenced by the history of political involvement in her family. She explains, “I was raised in a family that have been involved in politics as my late father, may he rest in peace, was a Minister of Justice during the rule of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 60s of the last century and so since my childhood I cared about politics and public affairs.” During her university years, Hassouna was an active participant in social activist movements, including “civil society activities targeting grass-root sectors to raise awareness as regards civil rights and gender equality.” Her involvement as an advocate for gender equality in Egypt has been a common thread throughout her career, as she is the first woman to be elected on the Board of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs where she is currently the Vice-Chair. Of her education, Hassouna notes, “My academic background was very helpful in equipping me with the tools required in this area , yet my field experience has sharpened these skills furthermore.”

Hassouna went on to begin her political career serving as a diplomat for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later the League of Arab States. No stranger to the public eye, Hassouna has lectured at both the Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Banking Institute of the Central Bank of Egypt. Later holding the position of Director General of International Economic Forum, as well as the Assistant General Manager at Egypt Iran Development Bank, the trajectory of Hassouna’s career exudes a passion to serve her country.

Before appointment to the Egyptian Parliament, Hassouna acted as Executive Director of (Sir) Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation, an organization dedicated to offering the highest quality medical care to Egypt’s less privileged. She notes her inspiration springs from her “firm belief that that everyone should do his best to help others specially the less privileged categories.”

Hassouna is an exemplary role model for young women, as the first woman to be elected on the Board of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs where she held the position of Treasurer, Secretary General, and currently, the Vice-Chair of the Council. Of her election, Hassouna shares, “I’m very proud that I hold currently the position of Vice
Chair of the Council; I was elected from among more than 600 hundred members. The Board is re-elected each 6 years . My election provides more diversity in the
composition of the Board and more women involvement in decision making.”

Considering her extensive participation in the Egyptian political scene, it is no surprise that Hassouna was named on the annual list of the renowned Arabian Business CEO Middle East magazine as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Arab Women” in 2014. Hassouna has used her political platform to tackle key social issues, most notably, “equality and non-discrimination, women rights, fighting corruption, and foreign relations.” Through proposing legislation, Hassouna hopes to positively impact the lives of her fellow citizens, particularly improving the lives of women and girls. 

Hassouna is an unparalleled advocate for gender equality as the Founder Chairperson of Enlightened Egypt Foundation which promotes the values of citizenship and gender equal rights. Her service includes her role of founding member of the Think Tank for Arab Women, the Forum for Arab Citizenship in Transition Democracies, the Front for Protecting the Freedom of Creativity and Expression, and the Arab International Women’s Forum in London, UK.

When asked how the landscape has changed for women in Egypt as of late, Hassouna emphasized the recent wave of progression that she has witnessed. She expounds, “the 2014 Constitution has guaranteed full equality in all rights for women. Currently we have 90 women [Members of Parliament] for the first time in the legislator’s history; they constitute 15% of the current Parliament. We have a female Governor for the
first time. The Constitution also guarantees 25% of the municipal legislation councils seats for women in the up coming elections has guaranteed full equality in all rights for women.” Though the outlook is undoubtedly positive and characterized by rapid change, Hassouna acknowledges there is still work to be done. It is Hassouna’s mission to create the change that is still of integral for equality by raising “awareness
about women rights, capacity building for the executives as regards women rights and related legislations, women-to-women support as regards job opportunities and vocational training and including equality concepts in school curricula.”

Hassouna’s work extends beyond diplomacy, parliamentary service, and social activism as she regularly writes on public affairs and is a member of numerous organizations promoting citizenship and equal rights. In addition to her contributions to the book, In the Wake of Arab Spring, Hassouna has most recently published her own book, Without Prior Warning. Her love for the written word is evident, as she says, “When I’m writing I could go on for long hours when I’m excited about the idea.” Her writing process consists of drafts and daily revisions, often recruiting the help of family, “[listening] carefully to their comments.”

Without Prior Warning is a personal account of Hassouna’s ongoing battle with cancer, a subject matter that strikes a chord with so many, regardless of cultural bounds. Hassouna notes how deeply shocking it was to discover her cancer by accident in August of 2016, even expressing that she “lived in denial for a while.” She details her thought process when she began chemo therapy treatment, describing the fear and panic she felt when faced with the possibility that she may “disappear soon from the life of [her] daughters and very young grandchildren.” Taking the suggestion from her husband, she began documenting her personal emotional experiences in a way that is not typical of public figures. Hassouna reiterates, “Rarely public figures in our part of the world share such ordeals and they prefer to keep an ‘ideal image’ of themselves and I should do otherwise, and open my life to others may this experience inspire
them to have hope in the future.”

As we approach Student Research Day here at Chapman University, Hassouna offers sage advice to our undergraduate researchers and creatives: “I advise them to choose the subject they believe in and read as much as they can. Don’t always go with the
streamline but rather follow their intuition towards new areas of thinking.” It seems Hassouna’s passion and transparent humanity has been the guiding light to her successes, as she continues to impact her country and beyond. The Center for Undergraduate Excellence is honored to host the esteemed Anissa Hassouna as our keynote speaker.

If you’re participating in Student Research Day, don’t miss the CUSRD Lunch and Anissa Hassouna’s keynote address (by invitation only), Wednesday May 9th, from 12 PM to 1:30 PM.

Inspired by the incredible undergraduate research and creativity activity going on here at Chapman University? Learn how to get involved by following the Center for Undergraduate Excellence on Facebook!