- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

CHANGING DIPLOMACY

When the Egyptian ambassador came to Washington nine years ago, the world was much different.

“When people talked to you, they either asked about the pyramids or of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Then came 9/11,” Ambassador Nabil Fahmy told editors and reporters on a farewell visit to The Washington Times.

Americans suddenly demanded to know more about Islam and Arabs.

“They wanted to know, ‘Who are you?’” he said, adding that in a strange way the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks gave him and other Arab diplomats a chance to explain their culture and their governments’ political goals. Many also explained that their countries also had been targeted by Islamic extremists.

They also repeatedly tried to reassure Americans that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, 15 were Saudis but one of the leaders was an Egyptian, Mohamed Atta, who piloted the plane that hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Mr. Fahmy said that “in a strange way,” he and other Arab diplomats were able “to go out there and take advantage of the increased interest in the Middle East, even if that interest was in a negative direction.”

However, when he presented his diplomatic credentials to President Bush in October 1999, Washington was a different city and the technology that Americans took for granted was just starting to spread wildly.

The dot-com investment bubble had not burst. YouTube was only a year old, and the World Wide Web was only 10 years old. In 1999, about 150 million around the globe used the Web. Today, more than 1.4 billion are online.

“More and more we live in a global society. That affects public opinion and government response,” Mr. Fahmy said. “It’s important for policymakers in America to have a global outlook. I see more of it now than when I first came to Washington. It’s no longer a bipolar world.

“That’s really what changed. There is no other capital in the world like Washington, where every issue is important to someone.”

However, one thing has not changed: Foreign ambassadors still find difficulty getting attention.

“There’s so much news in Washington that we occasionally feel left out,” he said.

The 57-year-old career diplomat, who also has served as ambassador to Japan and as an envoy to Middle East peace talks, plans to return to Cairo by the end of August for a new assignment.

HATE IN UKRAINE

Human rights groups in the United States and Ukraine are urging U.S. officials to press Ukrainian authorities to deal with what they called a “dramatic rise” in hate crimes, including attacks on Jews and foreigners, in the former Soviet republic.

“Progress in dealing with violent manifestations of racism and xenophobia should be an essential component of the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, allowing the country to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law as it seeks greater integration into Europe and membership in NATO,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First.

Amnesty International, Freedom House, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the National Council on Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union joined Human Rights First in writing a joint letter to Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.

They urged Mr. Fried to raise the issue when he meets with Ukrainian officials next month. They cited 86 violent hate crimes last year and “at least four murders of foreigners” so far this year.

The human rights groups criticized Ukrainian authorities for an “inconsistent and insufficient” response to the attacks and urged Ukraine to create “clear guidelines” for police to investigate suspected hate crimes and to protect hate-crime victims.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.