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Octavia Nasr

Multiple Award-Winning Journalist in Middle East Affairs, Columnist and Thought Leader

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Octavia Nasr is a multiple award-winning journalist who specializes in Middle East affairs and Islamic fundamentalism. She began her career as a war correspondent in Lebanon before moving to CNN where she rose through the ranks and became the networks ultimate authority on the Middle East affairs.

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Octavia Nasr currently speaks and writes about the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) as well as the Arab uprisings, the fall of Arab dictatorships, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S.’ foreign policy in the Middle East and their reverberation/repercussions on the region and the world. Her deep knowledge coupled with her years of journalism experience covering the history and evolution of the region give her an edge and provide her audiences a unique perspective rarely heard in western media.

During her 20-year tenure at CNN, she held several leadership roles coordinating the Arab Desk coverage of all major news stories and providing guidance across the network. At CNN, Nasr also served as an on-air and off-air analyst across all platforms of CNN Worldwide. She covered Middle East politics, global terrorism and militant Islam. Her weekly Mideast Voices segment and her blogs offered a glimpse into the region rarely discussed on U.S. television.

In her role as Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs for CNN Worldwide, Nasr's reporting on the 2009 Iranian elections and their fallout served as a backdrop to showcase her expertise in both traditional as well as social-media-driven content. She was the first to combine social media into newsgathering as well as reporting. She later was among a handful of early adopters to co-author the network’s international newsgathering social media strategy.

Since joining CNN, Nasr covered every major Middle East story. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, she traveled to the region and contributed to CNN's award-winning coverage of the conflict. In 2005 she reported from Lebanon and Syria on The Cedar revolution and its regional repercussions. In 2003 she managed the 15-member Arab desk which coordinated coverage of the Iraq war, and provided CNN domestic and international audiences an inside look into Arab media and culture and how they viewed the conflict.

Nasr's experience and deep knowledge of the Middle East put her in the spotlight during CNN's coverage of September 11th and its aftermath. Shortly after the attacks, she spent months traveling in the Middle East region coordinating on-air appearances and forging exclusive newsgathering deals with media partners. Her personal tact and charisma put her at the center of CNN’s exclusive relationship with Al-Jazeera. This brought the network many exclusives and a unique perspective on Osama bin Laden and his terror network’s rise and fall. She translated and analyzed hundreds of hours of tapes from bin Laden’s personal library as well as hours of his speeches that he sent directly or indirectly to Al-Jazeera or online.

Her work has also brought her many prestigious awards including: Edward R. Murrow for Continuing Coverage of the 2006 war in Lebanon; Golden Cable ACE Award in 1993 for CNN's coverage of the Gulf War; and Overseas Press Club Award in 2002 for CNN's post 9-11 coverage.

Nasr joined CNN in 1990 and was the only Arabic-speaking editor on the international assignment desk coordinating coverage of the first Gulf War. Before joining CNN, she was a war correspondent for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. She reported from the front lines of the civil war during Lebanon's most dangerous times for journalists. Her journalism career began in 1985 as an assistant news director at LBC before becoming executive producer of news.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication arts. She is fluent in Arabic, English and French.

She is fluent in Arabic, English and French.

From the origins of al Qaeda to the emergence of ISIS, how did the U.S. foreign policy help create and empower these radical groups. How does the Palestinian-Israeli conflict tie in to all this? Where did our policy weaken the very people we are supposed to support and how can we reverse the trends? Nasr speaks as a native of the Arab world, a journalist who covered wars on the ground and monitored and analyzed from a distance and at the grassroots level the shaping of today’s Middle East landscape. She speaks authoritatively not only about history and the path that got the region to this point, but she also offers a unique perspective to understanding the region with its political, cultural and ethnic mosaic. Something many governments and agencies have struggled with and continue to do so these days.


Nasr looks at the lessons learned, and attempts to analyze — based on facts on the ground — what the future hold. She provides context where context is scarce but extremely important not only to understand groups such as ISIS, but to find ways to defeat them. Through extensive and consistent analysis of al Qaeda and its offshoots, Nasr takes you beyond the headlines to understand the true background, leadership, recruiting tactics, propaganda, attractiveness to youth, popularity, threat level to national security. She even offers a glimpse into a future that is gloomy where extremism is taking hold by the minute in a region that offers the perfect safe haven for worse than what we have witnessed so far.


Can ISIS use the crisis to its advantage? The US/West role in the crisis, what went wrong and when? Can the situation be repaired? Are Arabs doing enough? Who is helping and how? As we hear horrific stories about millions of Syrians risking their lives to flee a country in shambles, there is a story behind the story that has not been discussed yet. While refugees and immigrants have a history of becoming good citizens, these are difficult times to open borders and allow everyone in. This crisis should not be seen without the direct threat of extremist groups and their open goal of destroying the west at any cost. This crisis offers the perfect scenario to infiltrate and reek havoc. How can this be discussed without being “politically incorrect” and how can one identify good apples from bad ones? Could this be time for tougher immigration laws or simply closing borders? Is helping the refugees enter countries and integrate good for Syria or good for ISIS and its likes?


There is no doubt that the deal puts strains on the US relations with Israel. While Iran is the biggest winner in this deal, Israel seems to be the biggest loser and the U.S. needs to make more friends among Arab regimes to keep the balance. The GCC countries offer a good alternative because they are at odds with Iran and they do not cause a major threat to Israel. Nasr looks at movement on the ground to see where the U.S. is expanding its presence and in what way to understand the logic behind the move and the extent of damage that might ensue as a result. She uses her deep knowledge of the Middle East and her decades of following the story at its basic most fundamental levels to predict how things will shape up. This includes whether Iran’s ambitions will stop at energy and whether Arab countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are likely to acquire nuclear capabilities. This will be a rare look into a region and its politics away from the headline and the here and now, where culture, politics, relations with neighbors, strengths & weaknesses, the Green Revolution of 2009 and elections, the Ayatollahs, and how they all play out with the nuclear deal. The attractiveness of the deal and its many potential problems.


How did the Arab uprisings change the media if any? Are the Arab-speaking networks set up by foreign governments such as the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, China, Britain and many others successful in swaying Arab opinion or influencing the Arab street in any way? Analysis and projections, as well as deep understanding of the appetite of Arab street for foreign media addressing them in Arabic. Right now, Al-Jazeera remains the biggest player of the scene but what could be the network’s motivations in establishing a network addressing America directly. Nasr measures the success of this network, its strategy, its mission and the roadblocks that have kept it from becoming a mainstream power house.


What are the dangers facing journalists today while covering conflict zones? From getting kidnapped by ISIS to being jailed by the Egyptian judiciary to being assassinated or being bullied on social media. Times have changed and journalists are constantly asked to adapt as competition becomes more fierce by the day. It seems that journalists today are on their own in more ways than one. Is it worth risking life, safety, reputation or a job for reporting a story?


Vetting, verifying, editorial decisions on what to air, national security concerns, difficult decision-making concerning reporting on Iraq’s insurgency and the terror group’s messages and activities all the way to the introduction of social media and the early integration. Perhaps the most interesting information to an audience is how it was being at Al-Jazeera when the bin Laden faxes first, then tapes would arrive and I would witness and report their content on CNN all the way from Doha. Later when CNN submitted questions to bin Laden together with Al-Jazeera, but later ended up in answers fed to Doha but not aired. Nasr was at the heart of this action and followed through when Al-Jazeera denied there was a tape but admitted only after CNN obtained a copy and aired portions of it. A look into the editorial thinking process inside a very young (2001-2003) Al-Jazeera network.


What were the results of each country’s uprising thus far? How did things go as far as the people on the ground are concerned?


How does the Arab world view international media reporting on their region’s news, conflicts and crisis? Nasr talks about media as a tool to bridge the gap and shrink the distances among people. She is constantly analyzing the effectiveness of this tool as well as abuses from all sides which render the profession untrustworthy and eroding its ethics slowly.


An insight into what the Middle East will look like if more women participated alongside men in decision-making and leadership. Nasr advocates for women and youth to be in charge and doesn’t see a future without both.


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