In a weekend post, I wished Karen Hughes all the best in her travels this week to three Muslim countries in her role as America’s public diplomacy guru, despite misgivings I have about her itinerary and American naiveté regarding the real reasons for Muslim rage against the U.S. Unfortunately, her Cairo stop illustrated the danger of putting someone in charge of a sensitive and critical aspect of U.S. foreign policy who is perhaps at best under-qualified.
Ms. Hughes, who took a rather large contingent of reporters along on her plane, seemed unsure of who she was actually going to meet with in Egypt. When asked whether she would meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned but most popular and biggest opposition group in Egypt, she had to ask an aide (just how does one get confirmed by the Senate for a State Department job if one isn’t quite sure what the Muslim Brotherhood is, or whether one should meet with them?) before she replied that the U.S. “respects the laws of Egypt.” We’ll take that as a no, then. Truly admirable that we respect the laws of another country, even when those laws ban political opposition. And if supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t like us before Karen’s plane touched down at Cairo airport, how much do you think they’ll like us when it takes off?
Karen Hughes’s first meeting in Cairo was with Sheik Tantawi of Al-Azhar, and she was proud enough of her little get-together to have the State Department fire off an e-mail detailing her joy. Sheikh Tantawi is, of course, the Muslim leader President Bush praised in 2001 as having been the first to condemn the atrocity of 9/11, something Karen felt merited repeating. She neglected to mention that Tantawi is appointed to his position by our buddy President (for-life, it seems) Hosni Mubarak, has had a long history of contradictory positions on everything from Palestinian suicide bombers to the Iraq war to inter-faith dialog, and is loathed by many of the other Sunni leaders who are not beholden to the president of Egypt. (I’m sure Karen didn’t know, but she could have asked one of her aides, or she might have tried Google.) Tantawi often comes under fire for his ever-changing (at the behest of Mubarak) views, and in order to both keep his job and his credibility he tailors his utterances to the audience (Muslim, Christian or Jewish) he’s addressing. He was very nice with Karen.