Karen Hughes travels to repair damaged US image
Regional-USA, Politics, 9/26/2005
US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes started on Sunday a two-day visit to Cairo, her first visit in the region in a tour which will cover also Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
She said that the tour aims at improving the image of the Administration of the US President George W. Bush which was damaged because of the war in Iraq and its support to Israel. The visit concentrates on dialogue among religions during which she will be meeting with the Egyptian prime minister Ahmad Nazif and with religious leaders and academics.
The Washington Post had indicated last week in a report recently that the US image in the region and many parts of the world could not have reached lower levels.
Hughes started her tour by meeting with head of al-Azhar, Sheikh Sayed Muhammad Tantawi. She said after the meeting "I just had a wonderful meeting with His Eminence Sheikh Tantawi and I'm deeply honored to visit Al-Azhar, which has such a proud, 1,000-plus year tradition of scholarship and enlightenment and learning. It is one of the world's most influential centers of scholarship and theology and jurisprudence and Sheikh al Tantawi and I had a wonderful meeting. I thanked him because Al-Azhar, under his leadership, was among the first -- and he said the first -- religious institutions in the world to formally condemn the September 11 attacks and this great institution with its proud, 1,000 year tradition he told me, is built on tolerance, and enlightenment, and education for all, boys and girls, both students and faculty. The Sheikh also made the point that all divine religions are built on a spirit of love and it is important that all of us work together to fight extremism, to fight terrorism and I know this institution has been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue. One of the things that President Bush and Secretary Rice asked me to emphasize on this trip is interfaith dialogue, which is the reason that I chose this meeting as my first meeting on my first trip to the Middle East, was to talk about the courage of this institution. I praised the Sheikh for his courage and he said 'Well it's not courage because it is doing the right thing? -- to speak out against terrorism and extremism.' I think that's a very important message for all of us. I also told the Sheikh that many people around the world do not understand the important role that faith plays in Americans' lives. We have freedom of religion guaranteed in our constitution and we have many people in America for whom faith is a very important part of their lives. People go to churches, and to mosques, and to synagogues, and people are also free not to practice or have faith at all in our country. The Sheikh told me -- and I was glad to hear -- that on his two visits to the United States previously, he had witnessed the important role that faith does play in the lives of so many Americans. So it was a wonderful visit, I thank you so much for your warm hospitality and look forward to it being the beginning of a very constructive dialogue. Thank you all very much."
During a meeting Sunday with Hughes, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar spoke of "Islam's moderation and denunciation of violence. He said that Islam condemns the killing of innocent people in Iraq and violation of the Iraqi people's rights."
Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi has underlined the importance of intensifying interfaith dialogue in order to sort out outstanding international problems as well as to highlight points of agreement in divine religions that promote peace and shun war.
Hughes said that President Bush supports interfaith dialogue that stems from a firm belief that all religions call for peace and amity.
In a sign of the problem Hughes faces in trying to put a positive face on US policy in the region, such as the US unwavering support for Israel, as she was meeting with Al-Azhar officials to get their support, Israel had just attacked the Palestinians and al-Azhar issued a statement to MENA saying "The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Dr. Mohammad Sayed Tantawi Saturday condemned the violence and assassination operations carried out by Israeli occupation forces against defenseless Palestinians."
Hughes also talked to Egyptian students who spent one year in the USA in the course of educational scholarship exchange. She described the recent presidential elections as an inaugural step. Concerning Iraq, she indicated that the USA and other world countries are in need to concentrate on the cause of problems which she said is the acts of killing by gunmen.
Hughes will hold talks with the Egyptian premier and certain academics and public figures before she heads to Saudi Arabia and then ends her tour in a two-day visit to Turkey.
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