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Muslim woman's appointment as Obama advisor draws cautious optimism

Dalia Mogahed, who was born in Egypt, will advise the president on the perceptions and problems facing Muslims in America. Many Arabs hope it's a step toward reversing Bush-era stereotyping.

April 22, 2009|Noha El-Hennawy | El-Hennawy is in The Times' Cairo Bureau.

CAIRO — Egyptians are cautiously rejoicing over the recent appointment of a veiled Egyptian American Muslim woman as an advisor to President Obama.

Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, was appointed this month to Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Arabs are closely watching for signs that the new leadership in Washington is making efforts to improve relations with Islam, which many Muslims believe were severely damaged during the eight years of the Bush administration. The selection of Mogahed is viewed by many in the Middle East as a step by Obama to move beyond the stereotypes and prejudices that Muslims believe they have encountered since the attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

"Dalia Mogahed is the best example of a successful Muslim woman. She proves that the Muslim should be successful in all fields, at least in [her] area of specialization," a commentator wrote on the website of the independent daily Al Masry al Youm.

The Egyptian-born Mogahed moved with her family to the United States almost 30 years ago. Recently, she co-wrote the book "Who Speaks for Islam?" with John Esposito, an American political science professor who has been criticized by some as an Islamic apologist. Mogahed and Esposito published an opinion piece this month in The Times on American ignorance of Islam and the Muslim world.

"My work focuses on studying Muslims, the way they think and their views," Mogahed was quoted as saying on the website of the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite news channel. "Then I should tell the president about their problems and needs, especially that lately Muslims have been perceived as a source of problems and as incapable of taking part in solving international problems and that they should work on themselves. Now we want to say that Muslims are capable of providing solutions."

Yet, Mogahed's declaration that her loyalty goes first to the United States, published Monday in an interview with Al Masry al Youm, disappointed some people.

"I wish your loyalty was to your Islam first, Egypt second and your Arabism third and then to anything else," wrote a reader identifying himself as the Tiger of Arabs. "I am afraid that they might make a fool out of you and use you as a cover for policies that don't serve Egypt and the Arab and Muslim world."

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