Wife Serves as Envoy to U.S.; Husband Represents Country at U.N.
They officially live in two different cities—New York and Washington—but this diplomatic power couple may be more in touch with each other than many husbands and wives who live in the same house.
Fuad Mubarak Al-Hinai, a career diplomat, has been Oman’s ambassador to the United Nations for the last nine years. Concurrently, he is the nonresident ambassador to Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. Since December 2005, his wife, Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy, has been Oman’s ambassador to the United States. She is not only Oman’s first female ambassador in Washington, but the first and only female ambassador to represent an Arab country in the United States.
“She was not trained as a career diplomat,” Al-Hinai said, “but I’m extremely proud of how fast Hunaina learned ‘the trade’—how to deal in diplomacy and how successful she has been.”
“I had a good teacher,” she responded quickly, with a broad smile. “We complement each other.”
Al-Mughairy is an economist with an extensive business background, which she says helped her in her dealings to secure the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement a year ago—only the third Arab free trade agreement with America.
“Now we want to make sure the free trade agreement is implemented and that investments will come into Oman for industries and other projects that help create employment,” Al-Mughairy explained. “We have natural gas, oil and the production of plastics. And we also have tourism, five-star hotels and connections daily. Go to Oman in your winter—it’s the most beautiful then.”
“It’s like your spring and you can still swim,” her husband added of their Middle Eastern country, which boasts a long coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman and is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.
According to these two ambassadors, Oman today is a modern, stable, peace-loving country with an educated monarch who studied abroad and understands what an Arab country needs to get and stay ahead. “We have a progressive leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said, who believes that if you don’t have 50 percent of your potential workforce, the women and girls, attend schools and go into professions, you will not achieve as much,” Al-Mughairy said. “But we have not forgotten our history and we go all out to retain our roots and preserve our past.”
“Sultan Qaboos went to military college in England, was stationed in Germany, and then took a world tour,” Al-Hinai pointed out. “All these experiences at such an early age made the difference and made him a visionary.”
Speaking of gender issues, Al-Mughairy has plenty of mistaken identity stories to tell. “While I was working on the free trade agreement, I spent most of my days on the Hill. Often one of my male colleagues would go with me,” she remembered. “And invariably, when we knocked on the door, the members of Congress and the senators made a beeline for the man,” she reported, good-naturedly. “Very few Americans know about Oman so it turned out to be a great advantage for me to catch them off-guard.
“Even at our National Day that first year, in the receiving line, people would reach over me to my husband, thinking the man must be the Omani ambassador. I guess they thought that since I was standing in line first that I must not know my place!”
Al-Mughairy also appreciates “how supportive the other Arab ambassadors have been to me too. They are very proud I’m here. We work together to change the image of Arab women, and I am often invited to speak on panels and they include me with the other Arab ambassadors.”
We met just outside Al-Mughairy’s inner office. She was wearing a pearl gray pantsuit with no covering over her head. “I dress like this when I go home. The only difference is that I wear a scarf over my hair, like I sometimes do in Washington,” she noted.
Her husband, meanwhile, was wearing a handsome dark business suit and silk tie. “Sometimes, I will wear a robe at home or on National Day celebrations, but in New York, I dress like this,” he said.
This ambassadorial couple makes a substantial statement for Oman wherever they go, whether in Washington, New York, in the Arab world or elsewhere. They love their work as well as their private time together—and somehow, they always seem to be smiling.
“We are the eyes and ears here of the Omani government,” Al-Hinai said. “My job is multilateral and hers is bilateral, but together we follow all the international issues that affect the whole world.” She added: “We need each other’s voice.”
“What we do is for the benefit of Oman and neither of us would hesitate once we are called upon to serve,” he continued. “We would only say yes.”
This husband and wife are also well accustomed to working together. “We used to both be in New York,” she explained. “That was when I served as the representative of the Omani Center for Investment Promotion and Export Development before I was asked to come to Washington. But now we are still in constant touch.”
The couple initially came to New York in the early 1970s. He was serving as a second secretary at the United Nations and she was working on her master’s degree in economics at New York University, which took four years of night classes. “When I started I already had a three-week-old baby,” she said, “and I became pregnant with my second one before I graduated.”
Today, their son, 32-year-old Fareed, and his wife Maisa have their own children: Sami, a 3-year-old, and Faris, who is 10 months. Their married daughter Farah is 27 and organizes events and health conferences back in Dubai. She graduated from the University of Hartford in Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in organizational behavior. Farah married her high school sweetheart, Azzan Al-Said, who is about to finish his business degree while managing his own music and video company.
The children aren’t the only ones in school though. Recently, Al-Hinai went back to school himself to get a second master’s degree in administrative sciences from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which has a special program for diplomats.
“In one of my courses, I was asked to write a 25-page paper on the [information technology] policies of my government. It was a daunting task because I had little or no reference material to rely on and, what was worse, I could get no information online nor from friends in Oman,” Al-Hinai recalled.
“I seized the opportunity of our one-week spring break and flew to Oman, where I was able to meet and talk to the right people and gather enough material to start writing. When I handed in my paper, I told my professor, ‘This is the most expensive paper ever written because it cost me a return ticket to Oman.’ I got an ‘A’ but I hope it was for the contents of my paper and not out of pity that I was a few thousand dollars poorer!”
Al-Hinai met his wife when they were both university students in Cairo. “He was working on his master’s in English language and literature and I was getting my bachelor’s in commerce and economics,” she explained.
The two made contact through his eldest brother who was, at that time, ambassador to Egypt. Her half brother was also married to his sister.
So was it love at first sight? “Well, six months later we were married,” he said, laughing. “And this March, we will have been together for 35 years.”
“We are both fun-loving and outgoing and we saw that in each other,” she said. “We both like movies and restaurants and during those days in Cairo, there was a lot of socializing. It was definitely ‘the’ place to be for students from different parts of the world.”
When they first arrived in the United States, they shared parenting duties so that Al-Mughairy could attend night school. I asked if that arrangement was unusual for an Omani couple. “We always have had an equal parenting role,” she replied. “That is more typical now for Omani couples, but for the older generation, it was not the custom.”
“As parents,” he added, “we had an agreement that if one of us made a decision or rule, the other one would back it up.”
Although the children are now grown, with two hectic jobs in two different cities, how do they arrange any private time together? “We try to get together every other weekend and he usually comes here,” said Al-Mughairy.
“I love the train—no delays. It’s great,” he said, noting that he was heading down to Union Station as soon as we finished our afternoon interview. “And it’s so convenient because you arrive right in Manhattan and can read and work on your way.” His city life is equally efficient. “I live on the East Side at 54th and First,” he said. “So I only have six blocks to my office and eight blocks to the U.N. I always walk, unless it is snowing or raining heavily.”
Likewise, she can walk from their home on 23rd Street to her Washington office, which is on Belmont Road. “I love to walk through this beautiful Kalorama neighborhood,” she noted.
On weekends when they are together, they enjoy catching a movie (recent outings include “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Becoming Jane”) or watch an opera. They also both enjoy classical music and Al-Hinai plays the piano. “It’s a wonderful way to relax,” he said, smiling broadly at his wife.
Although the whole family fasts during Ramadan, they love to eat different ethnic foods when they can. “We are very adventuresome,” Al-Mughairy said. Added her husband: “We love Chinese, Mexican, French and, of course, Middle Eastern food. But most of all we love going to American steak houses.”
For exercise, he is getting ready for his second New York City Marathon in 2008, currently running about five to six miles a day around town at night and in Central Park on the weekends. (He finished his first marathon in 2003.) “I even run at home in the midst of Oman’s summer heat,” Al-Hinai said. “It’s a great time for me to solve problems.”
She prefers to walk or swim. “At home [in Oman], I walk on the beach and here I love Rock Creek Park. I go for 45 minutes when I can. I love to walk along the creek—it can be so quiet. I always am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt and his leadership style. He loved hiking in Rock Creek Park, often taking ambassadors with him and leaving them panting!
“But one place I love the most is the National Archives Building,” she added. “I just love to see all those old records, papers signed by American presidents.”
So where is home for this diplomatic duo? “When we are in Oman, we miss it here,” she said. “And when we are here, we miss Oman,” he echoed.
About the Author
Gail Scott is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat and lifestyle columnist for the Diplomatic Pouch.