By Marwan Ahmad

This month Hayat Washington interviewed former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ambassador Marcelle M Wahba. Ambassador Wahba previously led DerMar International LLC, a consulting firm which helped American businesses looking to establish and expand their business in the Middle East. In 2001, while working for the U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Wahba was appointed to the United Arab Emirates, and received the White House Presidential Meritorious Service Award for her service in the UAE. After being with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) for 22 years, predominantly spent in the Middle East, Ambassador Wahba retired in 2008. Currently, Ambassador Wahba is the President of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW).

Madam Ambassador, If you can please tell us about your upbringing and background as an Arab-American.

My parents first came to the United States when my father was a Fulbright Scholar and the whole family came with him to the U.S. and we spent 3 years here. We returned to Egypt, but immigrated back to the United States in the late 1960’s. After joining the State Department I spent 22 years in the Middle East. I believe I’ve spent equal amounts of time in both the U.S. and the Middle East, therefore, I consider myself a bridge between the two cultures. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in government service, especially at the DOS where I believe more Arab Americans should be. The more Arab Americans we have in the foreign policy world, I think the more we can do to bridge the differences between the region and the United States.

How do you feel your background as an Arab-American contributed to you being appointed as an Ambassador?

I quickly found that the heritage I had in common with the region made me more affective in my position. It certainly strengthened my ability to reach out to all sectors of society.  There were rising tensions and times of conflict; so it was not easy in many ways serving in a region where there was so much conflict going on, but you can also contribute more. This common heritage and background allowed me to bridge the divides we had with many in the region on policy issues. I think my background helped me a great deal and many agreed that having an Arab American in a senior position in embassies was important.

From the cultural perspective, you came from an Egyptian culture. How was that different from the Gulf Region’s culture?

We speak the same language and there are a lot of commonalities but there are differences between the different areas of the region. The Gulf is a more conservative society in some ways. Although I was fortunate enough to be serving in Abu Dhabi; I think it’s one of the most open societies in the Gulf region. They enjoy a population that has representatives from over 200 countries and all living on very good terms. The level of tolerance for differences is great in the UAE. Their connection to the desert is much stronger than in the Levant or North African areas.

How did you get involved with the Arab Gulf States Institute and what is its mission?

There was a working group that was tasked with doing a feasibility study were being adequately covered in the Think Tank world in Washington D.C. The study showed that although other Think Tanks held programs, they did not do so in depth. They were usually connected to energy issues, counter terrorism and economic issues. So there was consensus to provide a better in depth political, social, economic understanding given they were rising in importance in the region. You really needed a center or institute that focused on the Gulf States not only as a region but also looked at them on the individual level. Hence, the idea of starting up a new Think Tank.

In terms of research the Institute does, what is AGSI’s focus?

Our mission is focused on deep dives into all aspects of life and society, whether looking at the region as a whole or looking at individual countries. We try to do papers and programs that look at political, national security, trade and social issues. We believe that that youth in most of these countries are integral, especially since they are the majority in most of the countries. In addition to that we can’t look at these countries in isolation, so we look at the regional issues that affect it. We look at Syria, we look at Yemen and how they affect the region. Because they are playing a larger role on the international level we’re looking at their developing relationships with big countries outside the region like Russia and China.

Who benefits from these studies and research?

Our main audience is here in Washington. When we do a publication on a particular issue that has some policy implications we do recommendations for both the U.S. and the Gulf. Our largest readership is based here in the U.S. but we have people all over the region reading our publications.

What kind of message would you like to give to young Arab Americans in the area who might consider Foreign Service or diplomacy for their future career?

I would really encourage them to look seriously at the diplomatic service. We have many more Arab Americans now than before; however I believe we need more. The region is very important for U.S. national interest and therefore I think an Arab American can contribute a lot in the region and in other parts of the world. It’s very important when you’re in Europe or Latin America or anywhere else to make the point that as an Arab American you are part of the face of the U.S.

Once you join the Foreign Service you find that you want to serve in not only in the Middle East, but other regions as well.

We would like to thank Ambassador Wahba for giving us this interview to shed light on her rich career and service to the United States and the Middle East.

 

بقلم‭ ‬مروان‭ ‬احمد

في‭ ‬هذا‭ ‬الشهر‭ ‬أجرت‭ ‬مجلة‭ ‬حياة‭ ‬واشنطن‭ ‬مقابلةً‭ ‬مع‭ ‬السفيرة‭ ‬السابقة‭ ‬للإمارات‭ ‬العربية‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬السفيرة‭ ‬مارسيل‭ ‬وهبة‭. ‬وكانت‭ ‬السفير‭ ‬وهبة‭ ‬رئيسةً‭ ‬في‭ ‬السابق‭ ‬لشركة‭  ‬‮«‬ديرمار‮»‬‭ ‬العالمية‭ ‬،‭ ‬وهي‭ ‬شركةٌ‭ ‬استشارية‭ ‬ساعدت‭ ‬العديد‭ ‬من‭ ‬الشركات‭ ‬الأميركية‭ ‬التي‭ ‬تسعى‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬تأسيس‭ ‬وتوسيع‭ ‬أعمالها‭ ‬في‭ ‬الشرق‭ ‬الأوسط‭. ‬عام‭ ‬2001،‭ ‬بينما‭ ‬كانت‭ ‬تعمل‭ ‬في‭ ‬وزارة‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬الأميركية،‭ ‬تم‭ ‬تعيينها‭ ‬سفيرة‭ ‬في‭ ‬دولة‭ ‬الإمارات‭ ‬العربية‭ ‬المتحدة،‭  ‬وحصلت‭ ‬على‭ ‬وسام‭ ‬البيت‭ ‬الأبيض‭ ‬الرئاسيّ‭ ‬للجدارة‭ ‬لخدماتها‭ ‬في‭ ‬الإمارات‭ ‬العربية‭ ‬المتحدة‭. ‬تقاعدت‭ ‬السفيرة‭ ‬وهبة‭ ‬في‭ ‬عام‭ ‬2008‭ ‬بعد‭ ‬أن‭  ‬قضت‭ ‬مع‭ ‬وزارة‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬الأميركية‭ ‬مدة‭ ‬22‭ ‬عامًا،‭ ‬والذي‭ ‬كان‭ ‬معظمها‭ ‬في‭ ‬الشرق‭ ‬الأوسط،‭. ‬حاليًا‭ ‬تشغل‭ ‬السفيرة‭ ‬وهبة‭ ‬منصب‭ ‬رئيس‭ ‬معهد‭ ‬دول‭ ‬الخليج‭ ‬العربي‭ ‬في‭ ‬واشنطن‭.‬

سيدتي‭ ‬السفيرة،‭ ‬هل‭ ‬يُمكنك‭ ‬إخبارنا‭ ‬عن‭ ‬نشأتك‭ ‬وخلفيتك‭ ‬كعربية‭ ‬أمريكية‭.‬

جاء‭ ‬والدي‭ ‬لأول‭ ‬مرة‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬عندما‭ ‬كان‭ ‬باحث‭ ‬‮«‬فولبرايت»؛‭  ‬وجميع‭ ‬أفراد‭ ‬الأسرة‭ ‬جاءوا‭ ‬معه‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬وقضينا‭ ‬3‭ ‬سنوات‭ ‬هنا‭. ‬عدنا‭ ‬بعدها‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬مصر،‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬هاجر‭ ‬والدي‭ ‬مرةً‭ ‬أخرى‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬في‭ ‬أواخر‭ ‬الستينيّات‭. ‬بعد‭ ‬انضمامي‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬وزارة‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬قضيت‭ ‬22‭ ‬عامًا‭ ‬في‭ ‬الشرق‭ ‬الأوسط‭.‬

‭ ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أنني‭ ‬قضيت‭ ‬أوقاتٍ‭ ‬متساوية‭ ‬في‭ ‬كل‭ ‬من‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬والشرق‭ ‬الأوسط،‭ ‬ولذلك‭ ‬أعتبر‭ ‬نفسي‭ ‬جسرًا‭ ‬بين‭ ‬الثقافتين‭. ‬لقد‭ ‬كنت‭ ‬محظوظةً‭  ‬أن‭ ‬تتاح‭ ‬لي‭ ‬الفرصة‭ ‬للعمل‭ ‬في‭ ‬الخدمة‭ ‬الحكومية،‭ ‬وخاصة‭ ‬في‭ ‬وزارة‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬حيث‭ ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬المزيد‭ ‬من‭ ‬الأميركيين‭ ‬العرب‭ ‬يجب‭ ‬أن‭ ‬يكون‭ ‬هناك‭. ‬وكلما‭ ‬زاد‭ ‬عدد‭ ‬الأمريكيين‭ ‬العرب‭ ‬في‭ ‬عالم‭ ‬السياسة‭ ‬الخارجية،‭ ‬أعتقد‭ ‬بما‭ ‬يمكننا‭ ‬القيام‭ ‬به‭ ‬لسد‭ ‬الخلافات‭ ‬بين‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬والولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭.‬

كيف‭ ‬تشعرين‭ ‬بأن‭ ‬خلفيتك‭ ‬كأمريكية‭ ‬عربية‭ ‬ساهمت‭ ‬في‭ ‬كونك‭ ‬سفيرًا؟

سرعان‭ ‬ما‭ ‬وجدت‭ ‬أن‭ ‬التراث‭ ‬المُشترك‭ ‬مع‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬جعلني‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬كفاءةً‭ ‬في‭ ‬منصبي‭. ‬ومن‭ ‬المُؤكد‭ ‬أنه‭ ‬عزز‭ ‬قدرتي‭ ‬على‭ ‬الوصول‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬جميع‭ ‬قطاعات‭ ‬المجتمع‭. ‬وكانت‭ ‬هناك‭ ‬أوقات‭ ‬ازدادت‭ ‬فيها‭ ‬حدة‭ ‬التوترات‭ ‬والصراع؛‭ ‬لذلك‭ ‬لم‭ ‬يكن‭ ‬من‭ ‬السهل‭ ‬من‭ ‬جوانب‭ ‬كثيرة‭ ‬الخدمة‭ ‬في‭ ‬منطقة‭ ‬بها‭ ‬الكثير‭ ‬من‭ ‬الصراعات‭  ‬المُستمرة،‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬يمكن‭ ‬أيضا‭ ‬المساهمة‭  ‬بأكثر‭ ‬من‭ ‬ذلك‭. ‬وقد‭ ‬سمح‭ ‬لي‭ ‬هذا‭ ‬التراث‭ ‬المشترك‭ ‬والخلفية‭ ‬بتقليص‭ ‬الفجوات‭ ‬بيننا‭ ‬وبين‭ ‬الكثيرين‭ ‬في‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬بشأن‭ ‬قضايا‭ ‬السياسة‭ ‬العامة‭. ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬خلفيتي‭ ‬ساعدتني‭ ‬كثيرًا،‭ ‬واتفق‭ ‬الكثيرون‭ ‬على‭ ‬أن‭ ‬وجود‭ ‬أميركي‭ ‬عربي‭ ‬في‭ ‬منصب‭ ‬رفيع‭ ‬المستوى‭ ‬في‭ ‬السفارات‭ ‬هو‭ ‬أمر‭ ‬مهم‭. ‬

من‭ ‬منظورك‭ ‬الثقافي‭  ‬كونك‭ ‬من‭ ‬ثقافة‭ ‬مصرية،‭  ‬كيف‭ ‬تختلف‭ ‬عن‭ ‬ثقافة‭ ‬منطقة‭ ‬الخليج؟

نحن‭ ‬نتكلم‭ ‬نفس‭ ‬اللغة‭ ‬وهناك‭ ‬الكثير‭ ‬من‭ ‬القواسم‭ ‬المشتركة‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬هناك‭ ‬اختلافات‭ ‬بين‭ ‬المناطق‭ ‬المختلفة‭ ‬في‭ ‬المنطقة‭. ‬الخليج‭ ‬هو‭ ‬مجتمع‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬تحفظًا‭ ‬في‭ ‬بعض‭ ‬النواحي‭. ‬على‭ ‬الرغم‭ ‬من‭ ‬أنني‭ ‬كنت‭ ‬محظوظةً‭ ‬بالخدمة‭ ‬في‭ ‬أبوظبي‭. ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أنها‭ ‬واحدة‭ ‬من‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬المجتمعات‭ ‬انفتاحًا‭ ‬في‭ ‬منطقة‭ ‬الخليج‭. ‬ولديهم‭ ‬مقيمين‭ ‬من‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬من‭ ‬200‭ ‬جنسية‭ ‬وكلهم‭ ‬يتعايشون‭ ‬معاً‭ ‬وهناك‭ ‬مستوى‭ ‬للتسامح‭ ‬رغم‭ ‬الاختلافات‭ ‬الكبيرة‭ ‬بينهم‭. ‬ويلاحظ‭ ‬ايضاً‭ ‬أن‭ ‬اهل‭ ‬الخليج‭ ‬لديهم‭ ‬ارتباط‭ ‬بالصحراء‭ ‬أقوى‭ ‬بكثيرٍ‭ ‬مما‭ ‬هو‭ ‬عليه‭ ‬في‭ ‬مناطق‭ ‬المشرق‭ ‬العربي‭ ‬أو‭ ‬شمال‭ ‬أفريقيا‭.‬

كيف‭ ‬بدأت‭ ‬مع‭ ‬معهد‭ ‬دول‭ ‬الخليج‭ ‬العربي‭ ‬وما‭ ‬هي‭ ‬مهمته؟

كان‭ ‬هناك‭ ‬فريق‭ ‬عمل‭ ‬مكلف‭ ‬بإجراء‭ ‬دراسةِ‭ ‬جدوى‭ ‬يُغطى‭ ‬بشكل‭ ‬كاف‭ ‬من‭ ‬قبل‭ ‬مركز‭ ‬للدراسات‭ ‬في‭ ‬واشنطن‭ ‬العاصمة‭. ‬وأظهرت‭ ‬الدراسة‭ ‬أنه‭ ‬على‭ ‬الرغم‭ ‬من‭ ‬أن‭ ‬مراكز‭ ‬الدراسات‭ ‬تقوم‭ ‬ببرامج‭ ‬إلا‭ ‬أنّها‭ ‬لم‭ ‬تُفعل‭ ‬بتعمق‭. ‬وعادة‭ ‬ما‭ ‬تكون‭ ‬مرتبطةً‭  ‬بقضاياالطاقة،‭ ‬مكافحة‭ ‬الإرهاب‭ ‬والقضايا‭ ‬الاقتصادية‭. ‬لذلك‭ ‬كان‭ ‬هناك‭ ‬توافقٌ‭ ‬في‭ ‬الآراء‭ ‬لتوفير‭ ‬فهمٍ‭ ‬أعمق‭ ‬في‭ ‬المجال‭ ‬السياسي،‭ ‬الاجتماعي‭ ‬والاقتصادي‭ ‬نظرًا‭ ‬لأن‭ ‬أهميتها‭ ‬تتزايد‭ ‬في‭ ‬المنطقة‭. ‬كانت‭ ‬حقًا‭ ‬بحاجةٍ‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬مركزٍ‭ ‬أو‭ ‬معهدٍ‭ ‬يُركز‭ ‬على‭ ‬دول‭ ‬الخليج‭ ‬ليس‭ ‬فقط‭ ‬كمنطقة‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬أيضًا‭ ‬بالنظر‭ ‬إليها‭ ‬على‭ ‬المستوى‭ ‬الفردي‭. ‬ومن‭ ‬هنا‭ ‬جاءت‭ ‬فكرة‭ ‬إنشاء‭ ‬مركز‭ ‬دراسات‭ ‬جديد‭.‬

من‭ ‬حيث‭ ‬البحوث‭ ‬التي‭ ‬يقوم‭ ‬بها‭ ‬المعهد،‭ ‬ما‭ ‬هو‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬ما‭ ‬يُركز‭ ‬عليه‭ ‬المعهد؟

تركز‭ ‬مهمتنا‭ ‬على‭ ‬التعمق‭ ‬في‭ ‬جميع‭ ‬جوانب‭ ‬الحياة‭ ‬والمجتمع،‭ ‬سواء‭ ‬النظر‭ ‬الى‭ ‬المنطقة‭  ‬ككل‭ ‬أو‭ ‬النظر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬البلدان‭ ‬مفردة‭. ‬ونحن‭ ‬نحاول‭ ‬أن‭ ‬بقوم‭ ‬بالأبحاث‭ ‬والبرامج‭ ‬التي‭ ‬تنظر‭ ‬في‭ ‬القضايا‭ ‬السياسية،‭ ‬الأمن‭ ‬القومي،‭ ‬التجارة‭ ‬و‭ ‬الجوانب‭ ‬الاجتماعية‭. ‬ونعتقد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬الشبابَ‭ ‬في‭ ‬مَعظم‭ ‬هذه‭ ‬البلدان‭ ‬يشكلون‭ ‬جزءًا‭ ‬لا‭ ‬يتجزأ‭ ‬من‭ ‬هذه‭ ‬البلدان،‭ ‬خاصةً‭ ‬وأنهم‭ ‬يشكلون‭ ‬الأغلبية‭ ‬في‭ ‬معظم‭ ‬البلدان‭.‬

وبالإضافة‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬ذلك‭ ‬لا‭ ‬يمكننا‭ ‬أن‭ ‬ننظر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬هذه‭ ‬البلدان‭ ‬بمعزلٍ‭ ‬عن‭ ‬بعضها‭ ‬البعض،‭ ‬لذلك‭ ‬ننظر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬القضايا‭ ‬الإقليمية‭ ‬التي‭ ‬تؤثر‭ ‬عليهم‭ ‬جميعًا‭. ‬نحن‭ ‬ننظر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬سوريا،‭ ‬وإلى‭ ‬اليمن‭ ‬وكيف‭ ‬يؤثران‭ ‬على‭ ‬المنطقة‭. ‬ولأنهم‭ ‬يلعبون‭ ‬دورًا‭ ‬أكبر‭ ‬على‭ ‬الصعيد‭ ‬الدولي،‭ ‬فإننا‭ ‬ننظر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬علاقاتهم‭ ‬النامية‭ ‬مع‭ ‬بلدان‭ ‬كبيرة‭ ‬خارج‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬مثل‭ ‬روسيا‭ ‬والصين‭.‬

من‭ ‬يستفيد‭ ‬من‭ ‬هذه‭ ‬الدراسات‭ ‬والبحوث؟

جمهورنا‭ ‬الرئيسي‭ ‬هنا‭ ‬في‭ ‬واشنطن‭. ‬عندما‭ ‬ننشر‭ ‬عن‭ ‬قضية‭ ‬معينة‭ ‬لها‭ ‬بعض‭ ‬الآثار‭ ‬المترتبة‭ ‬على‭ ‬السياسات،‭ ‬فإننا‭ ‬نقدم‭ ‬توصياتٍ‭ ‬بشأنها‭ ‬لكل‭ ‬من‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬والخليج‭. ‬وتقع‭ ‬أكبر‭ ‬نسبةِ‭ ‬قراءٍ‭ ‬لدينا‭ ‬هنا‭ ‬في‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬لدينا‭ ‬قراء‭ ‬في‭ ‬جميع‭ ‬أنحاء‭ ‬المنطقة‭ .‬

ما‭ ‬الرسالة‭ ‬التي‭ ‬تودين‭ ‬تقديمها‭ ‬للشباب‭ ‬العرب‭ ‬في‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬الذين‭ ‬قد‭ ‬يفكرون‭ ‬في‭ ‬العمل‭ ‬في‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬أو‭ ‬الدبلوماسية‭ ‬؟

أود‭ ‬أن‭ ‬أشجعهم‭ ‬حقًا‭ ‬على‭ ‬النظر‭ ‬بجدية‭  ‬إلى‭ ‬العمل‭ ‬في‭ ‬السلك‭ ‬الدبلوماسي‭. ‬ولدينا‭ ‬الكثير‭ ‬من‭ ‬الأميركيين‭ ‬العرب‭ ‬الآن‭ ‬أكثر‭ ‬من‭ ‬ذي‭ ‬قبل،‭ ‬ومع‭ ‬ذلك‭ ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أننا‭ ‬بحاجة‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬المزيد‭. ‬إن‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬مهمة‭ ‬جدًا‭ ‬بالنسبة‭ ‬للمصلحة‭ ‬الوطنية‭ ‬للولايات‭ ‬المتحدة،‭ ‬وبالتالي‭ ‬أعتقد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬الأمريكيين‭ ‬العرب‭ ‬يمكن‭ ‬أن‭ ‬يُساهموا‭ ‬كثيرًا‭ ‬في‭ ‬المنطقة‭ ‬وفي‭ ‬أجزاء‭ ‬أخرى‭ ‬من‭ ‬العالم‭. ‬إنه‭ ‬أمر‭ ‬مهم‭ ‬جدًا‭ ‬عندما‭ ‬تكون‭ ‬في‭ ‬أوروبا‭ ‬أو‭ ‬أمريكا‭ ‬اللاتينية‭ ‬أو‭ ‬في‭ ‬أي‭ ‬مكان‭ ‬آخر‭ ‬أن‭ ‬تقوم‭ ‬بإيصال‭ ‬رسالة‭ ‬أنّك‭ ‬كأميركي‭ ‬عربيّ‭ ‬تُعد‭ ‬جزءًا‭ ‬من‭ ‬وجه‭ ‬الولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭.‬

بمجرد‭ ‬الانضمام‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬الخدمة‭ ‬الخارجية‭ ‬فسوف‭ ‬تجد‭  ‬أنك‭ ‬لا‭ ‬تريد‭ ‬أن‭ ‬تخدم‭ ‬في‭ ‬الشرق‭ ‬الأوسط‭  ‬فقط‭ ‬ولكن‭ ‬في‭ ‬مناطق‭ ‬أخرى‭ ‬كذلك‭.‬

نود‭ ‬أن‭ ‬نشكر‭ ‬السفيرة‭ ‬مارسيل‭ ‬وهبة‭ ‬على‭ ‬مقابلتها‭ ‬وعرض‭ ‬تاريخ‭ ‬عملها‭ ‬الدبلوماسي‭ ‬الغني‭ ‬وما‭ ‬قدمته‭ ‬للولايات‭ ‬المتحدة‭ ‬والشرق‭ ‬الأوسط‭ ‬من‭ ‬خدمات‭ ‬جمة‭.‬