The official correspondence posted on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo’s website is hardly the State Deparment's status quo approach to public dissent, but it underscores the prevalence of misinformation and ambiguity in the turbulent Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Earlier this summer, Ambassador Patterson was accused of supporting the pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood despite no evidence to support the claim. At the time, Patterson said that she follows the unspoken diplomatic call to maintain a decorum of neutrality and was supportive of movements towards peace and democracy in Egypt.
Ambassador Patterson, as well as many of her U.S. Foreign Service colleagues leading missions around the world and members of their teams, experience criticism of all degrees from official and unofficial stakeholders. Rarely do diplomats, who serve as champions of public diplomacy, respond so starkly and transparently, though it has happened in the past.
Patterson's letter is an example of hard-hitting diplomacy (read: soft power) and she should be commended for defending the Egyptian people's fundamental right to have uninhibited access to correct and fact-based information. Well played, ambassador.
Cairo, August 28, 2013
Mr. Abdel Nasser Salama
Editor in Chief
Al Ahram Newspaper
El Galaa St.
Dear Mr. Salama:
I am writing to adamantly deny the outrageous, fictitious, and thoroughly unprofessional headline article that appeared in your paper on August 27. Your article’s claim that I personally am involved in a conspiracy to divide and destabilize Egypt is absolutely absurd and dangerous.
The irresponsibility of this article only serves to further misinform and misguide your readership, and to further raise tensions in an already perilously tense environment. Make no mistake – false articles such as this one are a real threat to Egypt and to prospects for Egypt’s democratic transition. I call on you to use your position of leadership and responsibility to stop this spread of inciting misinformation, and to instead work to inform and educate your readership on real, not make-believe, events. I am also surprised that you would have violated a fundamental principle of journalistic ethics by failing to contact the U.S. Embassy to check the veracity of the (invented) information you received from your sources. In this regard, I reiterate that the staff of my press section is always at your disposal for fact-checking.
I am particularly disturbed to think that Al Ahram, as the flagship state-run paper in Egypt, is regarded as a representative of the government’s viewpoint. We will, therefore, raise this article at the highest levels of the government to protest its publication and the irresponsible behavior that led to it.
Good journalism checks facts, scrutinizes sources, and offers viewpoints. This article isn’t bad journalism; it isn’t journalism at all. It is fiction, serving only to deliberately misinform the Egyptian public. Such articles make a successful future for Egypt all the harder to achieve through the propagation of lies and fear.
I call on you to act responsibly and to work to make your country a stronger one, not a more fearful and misinformed one.
Anne W. Patterson