Making her first public speech on U.S. soil, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, said she was honored to give her first speech at the inaugural conference for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Middle East Institute.
The first ever Jewish ambassador for an Arab country spoke at a Wednesday morning conference held at the Duquesne Club, Downtown. Middle East experts from all fields discussed how the United States, specifically Pittsburgh can help create and strengthen ties with the Middle East.
“I do polls over there every year and ask them what they think of America,” the president of Zogby International, John Zogby, said. “They actually like American people, our views on freedom and democracy — a solid majority.”
“After Shock and Awe, all of those numbers went down dramatically,” he continued. “In 2004 and 2005 they still went down. Our image could be worse, but it has been getting worse each year.”
People from the Middle East, specifically Arabs, have lost trust in America, and our current government according to Charles Bogosta, president of UPMC international and commercial services division.
“They don’t hate us,” Bogosta said. “They just don’t trust us. They just feel so betrayed.”
Most of the blame according to Zogby can be placed squarely on the Bush administration, which took America’s relationship with the Middle East back a step.
“This administration has messed up our image,” he said. “It will be a breath of fresh air when somebody new shows up in January.”
Zogby said that America needs to change its perception to the Middle East.
“This change won’t take a long time,” he said. “It starts with just a few images of respect and goes from there.”
With a new president coming in January, all four panelists agreed that the top issue in the Middle East isn’t Iraq or Iran, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
“It’s the trend of every new administration to look at the Israeli-Palestinian issue and kick it down the road,” said David Aaron, director for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. “We can’t take care of Iraq and Iran until we address the situation in Israel with Palestine.”
The United States must get its face in a positive light around the Middle East if they are to succeed in the region.
“We used to be the just and fair broker of peace in the Middle East,” Middle East Institute President Wendy Chamberlin said. “Where are we? We’re not there and we must return. We need to get the face of America out in the world.”
Nonoo spoke very briefly at the end of the conference, updating the audience on all that Bahrain has to offer. Several attempts by The Chronicle to get an interview were denied, and photographers were not allowed in the conference.
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)