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U.S. Diplomacy & Women's Leadership in the MENA Region

June 8, 2020

Anne Patterson, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; former US Ambassador to Egypt and Pakistan
Deborah Jones, former US Ambassador to Libya and Kuwait

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, former U.S. Ambassador to Malta
Robin L. Raphel, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; former US Ambassador to Tunisia 

Kirsten Fontenrose, Director, Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, former Senior Director for Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council
Chiedo Nwankwor, Director, SAIS Women Lead; Lecturer at Johns Hopkins SAIS
Introductory Remarks
Hafed al Ghwell, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Leading US diplomats and experts on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) joined the school's SAIS Women Lead and the Foreign Policy Institute for a discussion on US foreign policy and women’s leadership in the MENA region. The conversation examined long-standing debates in the role of US foreign policy in the region’s development, democracy and stability, and the strength and transitions in the region's monarchial systems. The panelists also provided an assessment of the current US-EU cooperation in the region, and women’s diplomatic leadership and scope for deploying US foreign policy during the post-COVID-19 recovery.

Nwankwor called attention to the challenges and opportunities of the current and future US diplomacy efforts, particularly as some countries in the Middle East are expected to become hot-spots of the pandemic. To this, Jones brought to attention how the countries who have dealt best with COVID-19 have not been the countries who have the best GDP or military might per se. Instead, Jones noted it has been those countries with strong social impact, where members of society feel they are more integrated and invested in, like Germany and New Zealand, that have performed best within the pandemic.

The panel also discussed the role of women diplomats in regions where women might not have equal access to opportunities. Abercrombie-Winstanley noted that while debates about whether women were better diplomats than men were unhelpful for the discourse, women, nevertheless, excel in the field because they bring unique qualities like emotional intelligence to the table. Winstanley, whose experience was echoed by her colleagues, pointed to her own experience to highlight women’s tendency to have a wider arsenal of tools as a result of the challenges and constrains women continue to face. Raphel recounted similar experiences and noted women’s propensity to focus on consensus building and listening, essential traits in diplomatic missions.

The panelists agreed on several points including that America’s foreign policy to the MENA region will yield more positive results if the interests of the region’ countries are made integral to its formulations. Secondly, the need to include more women in foreign policy leadership positions in the region and across the world. And finally, there is no better time for young professionals, especially women interested in foreign service, to join than now, and once you are in, to pull up your chair to the table and make sure your voice is heard.