A few days ago the White House nominated Dina Powell to the post of deputy undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.
Mrs. Powell is a 31-year-old Egyptian borne-American woman. She is a graduate of the University of Texas, a mother to a three-year-old girl and the daughter of a former captain in the Egyptian Army.
Her mother was educated at the American University in Cairo. Her parents immigrated to America when she was four years of age. In Dallas, her father drove a bus and opened a convenience store.
According to the American press, Mrs. Powell is pretty, eloquent, attractive, confident and intelligent (a profile which many lucky members of the fair sex are blessed with). She is fluent in Arabic and English and is eager to share with the world her American experience and the American values that she dearly cherishes.
Of the pretty Arab-American rising star, Andrew Card Jr., the White House chief of staff says, " She is attractive, very competent, well-spoken, young, she's got quiet confidant, and she is task-oriented. In other words, she gets the job done".
Joshua Bolton, White House budget director, is confident that people will be taken by surprise "when this young, attractive, really well-spoken person in both English and Arabic makes a presentation on behalf of the president. That sends really a strong message."
The attractive, bright, highly accomplished lady has been selected to perform the task of polishing American image around the globe and marketing American values in the Arab and Muslim world. Arabs and Muslims realize the seriousness of the mission she will be entrusted with and appreciate the enormity of the burden that fall on her young shoulders. They are aware of the many challenges she will face and the many obstacles she will have to surmount. No doubt Mrs. Powell will need every help when she walks in a bumpy road, "where angels fear to tread" (sincere apologies to E.M. Forster for borrowing his words without permission).
Mrs. Powell left Egypt when she was a tiny, little child. Early childhood is the most beautiful, yet the least remembered phase of one's life. Arabs and Muslims should not feel disappointed if Mrs. Powell has very faint recollections of her years in the land of the Pharaohs. They should not look for traces of the impact of the Arab culture on her well— developed character. They should be generous with hints as to how best she can succeed in carrying out her difficult mission.
The following suggestions might be of help to Mrs. Powell and to American friends, who are genuinely interested in reviving the shattered confidence of Arabs and Muslims in Western democracy and Western values.
The world is told that Mrs. Powell speaks Arabic fluently. Arabs will have ample opportunity to judge for themselves the extent of her mastery of the language.
They do expect Mrs. Powell to speak the musical Egyptian dialect and they sincerely hope that she will not flavor it with a foreign accent
Arabs and Muslims will not be impressed if Mrs. Powell uses their language with the sole purpose of marketing Western values and Western ideas. They will welcome her with open arms if they find that she is familiar with their culture and their history, possesses a good understanding of their values and has great respect for their religions and traditions.
Since Arabs have little tolerance for people who criticize their faith or disparage their culture, Mrs. Powell should refrain from any criticism of the way Arab and Muslim men women and children eat, live, think or dress. She should avoid stating, or insinuating that Western values are superior to Muslim and Arab values. She should never recommend that they exchange their cherished identity for a Western one.
Arab hearts and Muslim minds are at present shut against Western-style "democracy" and Western "freedom". It is highly recommended that Mrs. Powell postpone any discussion of these two sensitive concepts until she has won enough trust and has had sufficient chance to participate in brainstorming sessions with Arabs and Muslims.
Mrs. Powell should be aware that Arabs and Muslims do not trust "Sawa" and "Al-Hurra". They consider them pure propaganda instruments.
The effort of Mrs. Powell will be greatly appreciated if she succeeds in repairing the shattered bridges of friendship and confidence between America and the Muslim world and if she erases the erroneous, unfair impression many in her adopted country have of Arabs and Muslims,
May the young Egyptian-born American succeed where others have failed!