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Home >> World
UPDATED: 11:31, September 26, 2005
Senior US official starts image-enhancing Middle East trip
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US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes kicked off a five-day Middle East tour on Sunday in a bid to improve the much battered US image in the Muslim world.

The newly appointed top US public relations official will pay a two-day visit to Egypt before flying to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Hughes, a close adviser to US President George W. Bush, has traveled to more than 50 countries with the president, but Sunday's trip marked her first tour of the Middle East where anti-America sentiments are running high.

"During her trip (to Egypt), Under Secretary Hughes will meet with senior government officials, university and high school students and leaders of various religious and nongovernmental organizations to hear their views and to discuss the common challenge we face," the US State Department said in a statement.

On Sunday, Hughes met with Egypt's top Sunni leader and vowed to promote inter-faith dialogue as part of the efforts to contain increasing Arab hostilities to Washington.

"One of the things President Bush and Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice asked to emphasize on this trip is the inter-faith dialogue," she said after meeting with Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi.

The US official will hold talks with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazef and other top officials on Monday on the latest developments in the Middle East and bilateral ties, according to a statement released by the US Embassy in Cairo.

She will hold an open discussion at Cairo's al-Azhar Garden with intellectuals, writers and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and deliver a speech at the American University in Cairo.

However, Hughes, known for her domestic political skills, faces an almost "mission impossible" as she was trying to make over badly-hit US image in the region, an Arab analyst warned.

"The United States, with its imbalanced policy toward Palestinian-Israeli conflicts and the invasion of Iraq, is somehow demonized in the Arab and Muslim world," said Saber Rabie, who once taught political science at the prestigious Cairo University.

Anti-America feelings are so deep-rooted in the Arab and Muslim world that they are unlikely to abate with one trip made by a senior US public relations official, he added.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has been a major ally of the United States in the region as Washington pours in some 2 billion US dollars in aid to Cairo every year, but anti-America feelings are rife among common Egyptians.

The Egyptian people, like most other Arabs, perceive US policy as too pro-Jewish when it comes to Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq has aggravated Arab hostility toward the country.

Other US policies, including the detention of foreigners accused of terrorism and the abuses that prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison suffered, have also been a source of resentment in the region.

A US government-commissioned panel even warned that President Bush is seen in some Arab countries as a greater threat than al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

After making a fact-finding mission to the Middle East last year, the panel said in a report to the US State Department that "there is deep and abiding anger toward US policies and actions."

Besides official good-will trips to the region, the US government has also tried other means by which it hopes to reach out directly to the Arabs.

It has recently set up the Arabic-language satellite network Al-Hurra, Radio Sawa, and an Arabic-English magazine to win the hearts and minds of the people, but none of them appeared to have achieved any substantial results for the moment.

Source: Xinhua

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