Walid Maalouf (Former US Public Delegate to the UN)

18.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1. With your background as the Director of Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs at the US Agency for International Development, would you say that any progress has been made in terms of capacity building and the empowerment of institutions in the efforts to rebuild Afghanistan?

Of course we have done a lot. I am no longer with the USAID but we did a lot, we built a lot of infrastructures in Afghanistan, lots of hospitals. We built the main highway around Kabul, we built schools, we shipped books; we have done a wonderful job in supporting the Afghani people.

Q2. What role do you think cultural diplomacy can play in the reconstruction of a country such as Afghanistan?

Well this is all I consider the USAID to be; a culturally diplomatic place- a publicly diplomatic place. Public diplomacy is the way we do things so when you take a project and take American people to work there and meet with them and discuss with them and help them and explain to them, all of this is on a cultural level, I absolutely agree with you that we did a lot of cultural diplomacy not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, in the broader Middle East and Egypt in particular, we had a huge amount of money to spend on infrastructure on building schools, building new ideas and bringing new thoughts to the processes in those countries.

Q3. Education is considered to be an effective way to enact structural change in a country. However, reasons for the recent Arab Spring include the lack of employment opportunities among educated youth. Therefore, should initiatives to enhance education and improve access to it go hand-in-hand with the avenues to create job opportunities? How could such initiatives be undertaken?

Well it is going to be mainly the effort of the people that start this uprising. They need to be ready to put forth ideas and programs that will improve education. The western world in particular the USA needs to help them in supporting those educational ideas because the more people are aware and educated the better the system is in those countries. As I said in my presentation, the social media plays a big role in this change and this is our making, the internet, Facebook all the social interaction taking place among all people around the world is really making this change possible and we have to build on that and we have to get closer. The reason this change is taking place is because with the social network we are becoming close to each other, we are talking directly to each other and this is the best cultural diplomacy that was ever invented; the social network.

Thank you for your time.