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Our Mission

The Arabia Foundation is a Washington, DC–based resource whose core mission is to provide insight into and analysis of the geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula.


Ali Shihabi

علي سمير الشهابي

Executive Director

Ali Shihabi is the founder and the executive director of the Arabia Foundation. A Saudi national, he graduated with a BA from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Ali began his career in Riyadh in 1985 in banking and finance. In 1999 he founded Rasmala, a GCC-focused private equity fund. In 2012, he took early retirement from banking to write two books: Arabian War Games, a work of fiction published in 2013, and The Saudi Kingdom: Between the Jihadi Hammer and the Iranian Anvil, published in 2015 as part of the Princeton University Series on the Middle East. Ali is a member of the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group.

Firas Maksad

فراس مقصد

Deputy Executive Director

Firas Maksad is the deputy executive director of the Arabia Foundation. He is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Firas served as an associate to Ambassador Dennis Ross, the former US–Middle East presidential envoy. He worked on Capitol Hill for the House International Relations Committee and has been a political consultant for global law firm DLA Piper. He oversaw research for the Levant for Eurasia Group, a prominent political risk advisory firm. He holds a Master of Science in foreign service from Georgetown University.

Evan Langenhahn 

إيفان لنجنهاهن

Head of Research

Evan Langenhahn is the head of research at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Arabia Foundation, Evan served in Riyadh as managing director of the Quincy Group, a strategic advisory and commercial diplomacy firm. Earlier in his career, Evan worked as a researcher on Middle East politics and US foreign policy for the Council on Foreign Relations, the US–Middle East Project, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Evan holds a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in political science (international studies) from Emory University.

Abdallah Hendawy

عبدالله هنداوي

Head of Digital Strategy

Abdallah Hendawy is the head of digital strategy at the Arabia Foundation. He has over thirteen years of experience working on the digital analysis of radicalization and violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region for the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the US Department of State. Abdallah received his master’s degree in conflict resolution from the European Peace University in Vienna, Austria, and his PhD in public sociology from George Mason University, where he is an adjunct lecturer.

Ola Salem

علا سالم

Head of Communications

Ola Salem is head of communications at Arabia Foundation. Ola has more than seven years’ worth of experience in journalism covering the Middle East. Prior to joining Arabia Foundation, Ola was The National newspaper’s political correspondent in Abu Dhabi, and covered Gulf politics and the U.A.E. parliament (Federal National Council) for five years. Besides writing on Gulf politics, she also covered the Syrian refugee crisis from the Syrian-Jordanian borders. Her work has appeared in The National, The Guardian, and Arabian Business. Ola, who grew up in the U.K., has also lived in a number of other countries in the Middle East, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt. She has a communications and journalism degree from the U.A.E. and is a Master’s candidate at New York University.

Brandon Nickerson

براندن نيكرسون

Head of Operations

Brandon Nickerson is the head of operations at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, Brandon managed the MENA portfolio for the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU), a nonprofit business association comprised of more than two hundred US companies. Brandon also worked at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce. While at CIPE, he managed international development projects across the MENA region. He has also worked at the National Endowment for Democracy and on Capitol Hill

Farah Alalami

فرح العلمي

Research Analyst

Farah Alalami is a research analyst at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Arabia Foundation, she worked as a research intern at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars focusing on Egypt. In addition, she has worked as a research intern at the Middle East Institute, where she addressed topics ranging from the Levant and the Arab Spring to radicalization and perceptions of US foreign policy in the Middle East. She attended Colby College, where she received a BA in government with a focus on the Middle East.

Michelle Cioffoletti

ميشيل شفوليتي

Research Analyst

Michelle Cioffoletti is a research analyst at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, she was a fellow at the Foreign Policy Association working on the production of the Great Decisions program on Saudi Arabia. She previously worked as a research analyst at Logos Institute for Crisis Management, which focused on crisis management and mitigation. Prior to joining the private sector, she worked as a communications consultant for the United Nations affiliate Religions for Peace. Michelle also held an internship at the Department of Homeland Security, in the Office of Public Affairs. She attended the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, where she received her BA in international affairs, with a focus on conflict resolution.

Michelle Strayer

ميشيل ستراير

Operations Officer

Michelle Strayer is an operations officer at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to her work with the Foundation, Michelle interned with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, working on the Government Actions in Terrorist Environments (GATE) project. She has also interned with the Social Conflict and Governability Office at Defensoría del Pueblo in Lima, Perú. Michelle graduated magna cum laude from Connecticut College with a degree in international relations, and received the 2014 award for Best Honors Thesis in the Government and International Relations Department.

Yousef Al Naimi

يوسف النعيمي

Research Analyst & Social Media Coordinator

Yousef Al Naimi is a research analyst and social media coordinator at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Arabia Foundation, Yousef served on Saudi Arabia’s official delegation to the United Nations Economic and Social Youth Forum. He is a Saudi national and a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University where he majored in international politics. Yousef’s work has been featured in The National.

Adam Fritz

آدم فريتز

Graphic Designer

Adam Fritz is the graphic designer at the Arabia Foundation. Prior to joining the Arabia Foundation, he had numerous internships with non-profits in the DC area, such as American Chemical Society. In addition, he worked at Arab Center Washington, DC where he designed graphics, web design, and photography. He attended American University, where he received a BA in Graphic Design.

John Sfakianakis

جون سفانياكس

Non-Resident Senior Scholar

John Sfakianakis is a Senior Non-Resident Scholar at the Arabia Foundation. He also serves as Director of Economic Research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh. Previously he was Middle East Director of the Ashmore Group in Riyadh. His other former positions have included chief investment strategist, MASIC, a Saudi family-owned investment company; chief economic adviser to the Saudi Ministry of Finance; group general manager and chief economist, Middle East North Africa region for Credit Agricole C.I.B.; chief economist, Saudi British Bank (SABB/HSBC); and chief regional economist, Samba Financial Group. He also has served as adviser at the Ministry of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia and as economist at the United Nations (UNDP) and the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He holds a PhD in economics from Harvard University.

Ellen R. Wald

الين والد

Non-Resident Scholar

Ellen R. Wald is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Arabia Foundation specializing in energy and geopolitics. Her forthcoming book, “Saudi, Inc.” explores the central role of Aramco in Saudi history. Dr. Wald is an energy consultant, writes weekly columns on energy and geopolitics for Forbes and and is also an adjunct professor of Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University in Florida. Previously, Dr. Wald held academic appointments at Boston University, Cambridge University (UK) the University of Wyoming, and the University of Georgia. She received a B.A. in history and Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in history from Boston University.

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