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Rula Al-Saffar to Deliver Commencement Address at Widener University

Rula Al-Saffar, ranked 11th by Arabian Business Magazine on its list of the 500 most influential Arabs, will deliver the Widener University commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate of public service degree on May 18 in a ceremony beginning at 9:45 a.m. on the quad behind Old Main on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester. Nearly 800 students will graduate with associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
Rula Al-Saffar
A 2000 graduate of Widener University's master's in nursing program, Al-Saffar became one of the most respected medical professionals in Bahrain. She was president of the Bahrain Nursing Society and assistant professor at the college of Health Science in Manama, Bahrain. A breast cancer survivor, she also founded the National Association for Cancer Awareness in Bahrain, serving as an inspiration to all people suffering from the disease.

"Rula's journey is a story of leadership in the face of extreme adversity and her unwavering commitment to her profession and to serving people," said Widener University President James T. Harris III. "She embodies the principles that Widener strives to instill in all of our graduates. We are proud to call Rula an alumna of Widener and to present her an honorary doctor of public service degree."

In February 2011, as the Arab Spring blossomed throughout the Middle East and peaceful protests in Bahrain turned violent, Al-Saffar volunteered to provide medical attention to those injured, spending days at the hospital with little or no sleep. Some of those she treated were her colleagues – other nurses and doctors – who were serving at a clearly marked first aid tent and were attacked by riot police.

For her efforts, Al-Saffar and many other medics were arrested, interrogated and beaten. She spent four months in prison without seeing her family, charged with incitement to overthrow the Bahraini government, among other charges, convicted in a military trial and sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.

Hearing of her plight, Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization, championed her cause, enlisting Widener University, among others, in a campaign to apply international pressure on Bahrain to have Al-Saffar's case heard in a civil court. The efforts were successful, and her conviction was overturned in the civil courts in June 2012, but a number of her medical colleagues remain in prison facing lengthy sentences.

Despite the constant threat of imprisonment and interrogation, Al-Saffar continues to fight for the release of her colleagues and advocate internationally for the United Nations to adopt the concept of medical neutrality so what has happened in Bahrain does not happen somewhere else in the future.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,500 students. Visit the university website,




Photo:  Rula Al-Saffar (right) flashes the peace sign with a student in December 2012.