Hughes told women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that Arab women are oppressed and Hughes expressed her personal "hope" that Saudi women would be able to become full participants in Saudi society.
Women have equal rights, Hughes said, and they vote and drive cars in the United States, she added.
Hughes spoke of her personal mission as under secretary to a pre-screened audience of women. The only males in attendance were a handful of print journalists --pushed to one side of the auditorium away from the women-- and broadcast journalists were banned all together.
These finer points of Hughes visit to a packed auditorium were not at Hughes' request, but simply the norms of Saudi Arabia.
On 27 September, Hughes was told to back off, by the same Arab women Hughes says must be freed from oppression. While Hughes addressed women at Dar Al-Hekma College, her audience grew increasingly agitated by the stateswoman's perception of Saudi female culture.
"We are all pretty happy," said one woman.
"Americans fail to understand our society" said another citing how men and women of Saudi Arabia do live peaceful and in cooperative coexistence. Another woman said she resented that "one-way ideas" from the United States are being spread across the Arab world as the only way to live.
"Not everyone wants to live like you," said one female student who is 23.
Saudi Arabia was the second stop of Hughes' Middle East tour meant to promote concepts of living from the United States. One day earlier, Hughes was questioned in Egypt about President Bush's frequent references to God in his speeches, and Hughes said that God exists in the Constitution as "one nation under God."
Women in attendance, all of which were either enrolled in college or had earned their degrees, told Hughes that they look past their country's ban on women voting or driving. "It is not true we are barred from talking to the other sex," said one health practitioner.
At one point, Hughes paused, collected her thoughts, smiled, and said she'd return to the United States and talk about the women she's met in Saudi Arabia.
One woman said that the United States has become a "right wing country" under President George W Bush and that the press was not allowed to criticize his policies. Hughes laughed and said she wished that were the case, although the women didn't react to her retort. Hughes herself is a former broadcast journalist
An obstetrician, (Dr.) Siddiqa Kamal said she has experienced more male chauvinism in the United States and in Europe than she has in her own country. Kamal runs her own hospital, and said she does not need a driver's license. Her daughter, also a gynecologist and obstetrician, said that women in Saudi Arabia do hold their men accountable.
The role Hughes plays for the current administration has a rocky past, and Hughes is the third woman appointed by President Bush to represent United States values in the Arab world. The first appointee produced an off-colored video about Muslims in the United States for which --former under secretary-- Charlotte Beers' own colleagues said was in poor taste. Beers' successor had no experience in public relations and didn't last four months before Hughes was appointed to the post.
Hughes did not miss the opportunity to tell the Saudis that President Bush fully supports Arab rights in Palestine and those rights of Arab prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hughes has spent most of her life living in Texas and is a graduate from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
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