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Heritage Month: Arab Americans in the Foreign Service

posted on: Apr 9, 2016

BY: Sevan Araz/Contributing Writer

A diplomat serves a unique role to bridge political and cognitive gaps in an increasingly tense and polarized global climate. The international community provides a platform for peace processes, especially in the Arab World, where conflicting geopolitical interests have led to the exploitation of sectarian and ideological lines. Diplomacy has taken on renewed importance, making diplomats essential actors in fostering multilateral cooperation and securing stability amid a variety of security threats.

One of those vital actors is Gamal Helal, an esteemed diplomat and translator, played a crucial role in fostering greater cooperation between the United States and its Arab counterparts. Helal served as an interpreter for Secretary of State James A. Baker and Iraqi emissary Tariq Aziz at a crucial meeting in Geneva directly preceding the Gulf War. Helal also interpreted between President Clinton and Yasser Arafat during peace talks at Camp David, a pivotal moment in American policy towards the Middle East.

Arab Americans often serve in the Arab World. One notable former Ambassador is Theodore Kattouf who served in the United Arab Emirates and Syria. His background in diplomacy allowed him to become President and CEO of Amideast – a leading non-profit organization that serves to strengthen understanding and relations between the U.S. and the Arab World through its strong educational component.

Another respected diplomat is Susan Ziadeh, former Ambassador to Qatar, and currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Peninsula Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. In 2015, she was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for her work in the Middle East where she served in Riyadh, Kuwait, Amman, and Jerusalem, as well. Other foreign service members include Thomas Nassif and Edward Gabriel, both former Ambassadors to Morocco.

Although there are not many Arab Americans in the field of diplomacy, the strong knowledge base and diverse backgrounds of Arab Americans gives them a unique advantage in working with government bodies to address global issues, particularly those affecting the Arab World. Members of the Arab American community should take advantage of their potential more often so that they’re able to see the change they want in the land of their ancestors, while disseminating better understanding of Arabs in the U.S.

See all articles about National Arab American Heritage Month here.