U.S. Ambassador Under Fire for Wearing Hijab at Lebanon’s Request

Dorothy Shea, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon
December 1, 2022

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon is facing criticism within the State Department for wearing a hijab earlier this month during meetings with pro-Hezbollah officials at a time when Iranian protesters are rallying against such draconian religious displays.

Dorothy Shea, who has served as the top U.S. diplomat in Lebanon since 2020, was recently pictured in regional media outlets meeting with Lebanon’s Higher Shiite Islamic Council, a religious body that experts view as allied with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terror group that wages outsized political influence in Lebanon. One senior diplomatic source told the Washington Free Beacon the gesture undermines U.S. efforts to support Iranian protesters who are rallying in the streets against such draconian religious displays.

The images upset some officials in the State Department’s diplomatic corps who view Shea’s decision to wear a head covering as tone-deaf and offensive at a time when Iranians are protesting against a theocratic regime that recently murdered a 22-year-old woman for not properly wearing her hijab. Iranian-American groups and outside experts also expressed shock over the images of Shea in a headscarf.

"This has raised some eyebrows here and is just a bad look all around," one senior State Department official, who spoke on background discussing internal matters, told the Free Beacon. "There are literally thousands of brave women in Iran risking their lives in protest of the hijab and all it represents. What message does this send to them in this unspoken, yet highly symbolic act of submission by a U.S. ambassador who takes on the very appearance of the oppressors?"

"I understand that as diplomats we are supposed to be sensitive to the culture in which we work," the source added, "but sometimes, events take priority."

While the State Department has been clear in its support for the Iranian protesters, it has come under fire for not taking concrete action to aid their efforts. Lawmakers and outside groups are pushing for U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley to be fired, given his role as the administration’s public face of diplomacy with Iran’s hardline regime. Malley and other State Department officials also have stopped short of saying that the protesters want regime change, with spokesman Ned Price telling reporters late last month that "it's not for us to interpret what the people of Iran are asking for." This statement came as protesters chanted, "Death to the dictator."

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the images or provide the Free Beacon with information about Shea’s meetings. One senior Republican congressional source who works with State Department officials said this hesitance to address the issue indicates administration officials are embarrassed by Shea’s display.

"This was so incredibly dumb and tone deaf that not even the usual suspects in the State Department wanted anything to do with it, let alone defend her," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record.

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon is also facing criticism for meeting in person with a religious body that is seen as loyal to Iran’s Hezbollah forces. Tony Badran, a veteran Lebanon expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told the Free Beacon that Shea’s behavior undermines the State Department’s stance on the protests in Iran and efforts to isolate the hardline regime.

"Dorothy Shea is so committed to boosting Iranian equities that she didn't stop for a second to consider the visual of donning the hijab at a meeting with a pro-Iran Shiite cleric while the clerical regime in Tehran is murdering protesters in the streets," Badran said. "She did this while the State Department had been forced at least to pay lip service to supporting the protesters."

Iranian-American groups working to support the protest movement also expressed outrage over the images of Shea in a hijab, with one group telling the Free Beacon that her actions indicate the State Department is in disarray.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken's "State Department is the most tone-deaf administration in our nation's history—one failure after another," said Bryan Leib, executive director of the Iranian-Americans for Liberty, an advocacy group that supports democracy in the country. "From Price and Malley's recent comments regarding the revolution to now this act by Shea. The United States of America should take a strong stand against Sharia Law. Shame on Shea for wearing a headscarf at Lebanon's request—who we all know take their orders from Tehran as Iranian women are being killed for their courageous actions of saying no to mandatory hijab."