Hillary Clinton seemed to be in a rare moment of repose while the Middle East erupted. She'd just returned from a surprise trip to Yemen and now sat for 30 minutes against a blue backdrop in the State Department's Washington broadcast studio as reports streamed in of Libya's violent crackdown on its own people.
But Clinton was far from a passive observer. She was in energetic discussion on the Egyptian news site Masrawy.com, where her presence excited a stream of questions—more than 6,500 in three days—from young people across Egypt. “We hope,” she said, “that as Egypt looks at its own future, it takes advantage of all of the people's talents”—Clinton shorthand for including women. She had an immediate answer when a number of questioners suggested that her persistent references to women's rights constituted American meddling in Egyptian affairs: “If a country doesn't recognize minority rights and human rights, including women's rights, you will not have the kind of stability and prosperity that is possible.”
The Web chat was only one of dozens of personal exchanges Clinton has committed to during the three months since Tunisia's unrest set off a political explosion whose end is not yet in sight. At every step, she has worked to connect the Middle East's hunger for a new way forward with her categorical imperative: the empowerment of women. Her campaign has begun to resonate in unlikely places. In the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, where women cannot travel without male permission or drive a car, a grandson of the Kingdom's founding monarch (Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud) last month denounced the way women are “economically and socially marginalized” in Arab countries.