Dalia Mogahed gives US administration insider perspective

Safaa Abdoun
6 Min Read

CAIRO: In preparation for his long-awaited address to the Muslim world, US President Barack Obama turned to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for pointers.

Sitting on the board of the council is Dalia Mogahed, who highlighted three main points that should be included in Obama’s speech: the need to build on the idea of mutual respect with policies, not words; stressing equal participation and cooperation in dealing with global issues; and portraying empathy towards the Muslim world and the problems they face.

Still, the day before Obama’s long-awaited address to the Muslim world, Mogahed – the first Muslim woman appointed by the Obama administration – asserted that she had no idea what it entailed.

“They’ve consulted us on the speech and I gave them a report, based on statistics, of what the Muslim world wants to hear, needs to hear and what [people] don’t want to hear, she added.

Since taking office, Obama has made a couple of appointments that had Egyptians beaming with pride, one of which was choosing American-Egyptian Mogahed to join the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

As Obama prepared to address the Muslim world from Cairo, Mogahed was in Egypt on the invitation of talk show host Mona El-Shazly, who presents Dream TV’s “Al-Ashera Masaan.

“I’m not an employee at the White House, so I don’t take any orders from the White House nor do I represent the White House. I’m only a counselor, Mohaged told a press conference Wednesday.

She also discussed the latest study by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, where she is the senior analyst and executive director.

“Through [Gallup] we try to listen to the voices of the average people in the whole world, and in the Muslim world specifically, to pass on their thoughts and opinions to the decision makers in the US and the world, she said.

“My work led to choosing me on the board by the US administration because they are interested in the opinions of Muslims and I can give them this through the research I do, she added.

The results of Gallup’s surveys, which represent the opinions of more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide – including Muslims in the West – Mogahed has drawn a discerning conclusion regarding the clash between the Muslim world and the US: “It does not stem out of hate of religions or the different cultures, it is a clash of politics and this is the most important message we want to give out through our research, she said.

The anger Muslims have towards the US is not rooted in a hatred of democracy or freedom, she said, “Religion fundamentalism and violence is something all nations reject even so in the Muslim world more than in the US.

Surprisingly, Mogahed has not met Obama in person but she has met with his aides who ask for the council’s advice. Before his Turkey trip, Mogahed highlighted what Obama’s speech should cover, and he used “four out of five suggestions.

As for choosing Cairo as the venue for what many expected would be a historic speech, Mogahed said, “Egypt has many features which make it stand out among all Muslim countries.

“It has Al-Azhar, it’s a center of Islamic civilization.it has a rich history built on science and thought. Any country has its pros and cons but Egypt has a symbolic value among Muslim countries, she said.

Mogahed was accompanied by Mohamed Younis, another distinguished American Muslim of Egyptian origins and senior analyst at the Gallup Center. Both came to discuss Gallup’s recent poll on Arabs opinion of US leadership ahead of Obama’s speech.

The study conducted in 11 Arab countries found that approval of US leadership is generally low but ratings in several countries have improved. In Egypt, it went up from 6 percent in May 2008 to 25 percent in March 2009.

“Notice that [the level of approval in Egypt has] gone up significantly, which shows that the people are optimistic with caution about the US administration, said Younis.

Asked what the US can do to improve its image, respondents said closing down Guantanamo Bay prison and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, he added, but “most importantly, 57 percent said that they want cooperation in dealing with economic problems, and not through aid, but equal partnership and job opportunities.

Gallup released another poll on US public opinion of the Muslim world, where 8 percent said they have a negative opinion, with 67 percent attributing much of this negativity to misinformation from the media and the governments of Muslim countries. Seven percent said it was because of what the US has done.

Mogahed said, “There is a huge gap between the two. In the Muslim world, they believe US policies must change and in the US they believe there needs to be an accurate image of the US in the media in the Muslim world.

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