In wake of the ongoing US entanglement in Iraq, the second Bush administration is aiming at improving Washington’s tarnished image abroad, especially among Arabs and Muslims, and it seems they have found just the “right person” to fulfill this demanding post.
A Cairo-born woman has been selected to become the new assistant secretary of state for educational cultural affairs, according to the White House. Dina Habib Powell, who currently serves as assistant to the president for presidential personnel will, if confirmed by the Senate, also be appointed deputy undersecretary of state for public diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In her new position, Powell, among other issues, will be responsible for improving America’s public relations efforts throughout the Arab world.
Powell, 31, is the youngest person ever to direct the presidential personnel office and its estimated 35 employees. She is considered to be a “rising star” in President Bush’s administration.
A native of Egypt who speaks fluent Arabic, Powell has represented the administration in key forums across the Middle East on the president's freedom and reform agenda, the White House said. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Powell served as director of congressional affairs at the Republican National Committee and as an aide to former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey, (R-Texas).
She worked her way through the University of Texas by serving as a full-time legislative assistant to a state senator. After graduation, she took an internship with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), intending to go on to law school. Instead, she moved over to work in the office of fellow Texan Dick Armey, then the House majority leader. "We immediately recognized her brains and her ability," Armey was quoted as saying, "and then her charm, and finally, I think somebody noticed she was gorgeous, too."
Born to middle-class parents, Dina is the daughter of Husni Habib, a Captain in the Egyptian army and Huda Suliman, a graduate of the American University in Cairo. She was four years old when her parents, Christian Coptics, decided to immigrate to the US. In 1977, they settled in Dallas, Texas. Her father worked as a bus driver until he opened a convenience store. Dina’s parents made sure their daughter maintained their heritage; she ate Middle-Eastern foods such as stuffed grapevine leaves, houmous and falafel.
Dina is married to public affairs executive Richard Powell and has a 3-year-old daughter. In 2004, the US administration started sending Dina Powell to various missions in the Mid-East.
At a World Economic Forum event in Jordan last May, Powell told those gathered that the US may seem insensitive to other cultures "largely because we know the joy of freedom and we fervently want this gift for everybody. . . . So enthusiastic is our desire to help that we sometimes forget to stop and listen to others."
In trying to communicate the president's vision for the Middle East, Powell speaks out of her own experience as an Egyptian-born woman now in a democracy. "Freedom and opportunity are the best way to defeat terrorism," she said, according to The Washington Post. "I know. I've lived it."
In remarks made by the US Secretary of State in March in which she announced the nomination of Habib Powell, Rice related to the issue of Washington’s image abroad. “Sadly, too few in the world today know about the goodness and compassion and generosity of the American people. Too few know of our belief that every man and woman and child has value and that every voice has value. Too few know of our deep respect for the history and traditions of others and our respect for the religions of all.
“Too few know of the protections that we provide for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. And too few know of the value we place on international institutions and the rule of law. Too few know, too, that American lives have been lost so that others, including Muslims, might live in freedom and that others might have a future of their own making”.
Rice continued by saying, “The time has come to look anew at our institutions of public diplomacy. We must do much more to confront hateful propaganda, dispel dangerous myths and get out the truth. We must increase our exchanges with the rest of the world”.
The US top diplomat added that Dina is an “Egyptian-born Arabic speaker who has served as an effective spokesperson for the President's policies here at home and abroad, particularly on the Middle East. As an immigrant who came to the United States as a young child, Dina knows well the promise of America and she will be an effective voice as we seek to reform our public diplomacy to meet the challenges of this new century”.
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