“We try to communicate American values and we try to support democracy,” said Mario Crifo as he spoke to an audience of students, faculty, and staff on Widener Law’s Delaware campus on Thursday, February 14th about the work his office does with engagement and educational programs in the Middle East.
Crifo, who is the Deputy Director, Bureau of Near East Affairs’ Office of Public Diplomacy for the U.S. State Department, presented “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Focus on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE.” The Delaware Chapter of People to People International
and World Trade Center Delaware
sponsored Crifo’s talk.
Following an introduction from Carl R. Hutter of the Delaware Chapter of People to People, Crifo spoke for about thirty minutes on the work that his office does and why it is so crucial to engage in public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East right now. He touched on developments in the Middle East over the past several years, including the Arab Spring, as well as the difficulties in explaining how Americans value both freedom of expression and tolerance for varied religions.
“We also know that we cannot let those challenges stop us from moving forward,” Crifo observed, before delving into specifics on some of the programs that his office sponsors.
He emphasized in particular the importance of English language training programs, which he said were generally not controversial. “It’s something that people in the region ask for,” he added,” noting that language training could provide “self improvement and a path to a more prosperous future.”
Following his remarks, Crifo took a few questions from the audience. Asked about the biggest misperception of the United States that he regularly encountered, Crifo said, “Many people in the region believe that we’re only interested in the Middle East for security reasons,” before explaining that while that certainly is a driving force, the State Department believes that enhanced security is a benefit that comes naturally from helping people in the region to engage and prosper.
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