MAHA AKEEL ARABNEWS
Published — Monday 6 January 2014
As 2013 closed its chapter and 2014 rolled in, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) turned a new page in its history with the end of the term of its ninth Secretary-General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and the beginning of the term of its 10th Secretary-General Iyad Madani.
With the change of guard there is trepidation, anticipation, excitement and expectation, but on the last day of 2013 in the conference hall on the 11th floor of the General Secretariat in Jeddah the staff held a farewell ceremony for the man who transformed the OIC during his nine-year term and had an impact on their lives in one way or the other. Those who were closest to him felt the loss; some of them were very emotional. Several took turns saying a few words of gratitude and appreciation and what their experience working with him meant to them.
Despite what reservations a few might have about him — after all nobody is perfect — no one could deny that his tenacity, his leadership and his determination boosted the OIC forward and raised its profile in international affairs and the global agenda.
I would like to put on record my personal experience with Prof. Ihsanoglu, which I promised him would be my next book. Some might say why am I writing about a departing secretary-general rather than praising the incoming one. Well, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Those who do not thank people, do not thank Allah,” and I believe those who do not appreciate the past will not appreciate the present. Furthermore, I’m confident that Iyad Madani is just as capable and determined to make his term distinguishable, and he will not mind a few words of thanks and acknowledgement to Prof. Ihsanoglu as he himself graciously demonstrated on several occasions including at the official public farewell and welcoming ceremony of the outgoing and incoming secretary-general held on Dec. 29.
Ihsanoglu hired me in 2006 and I officially joined in 2007 as the first woman professional officer in the OIC. It was a big step for me to move from the private sector where I worked at this newspaper to the world of intergovernmental international organization. My first few months were quite a learning experience and a challenging one, having to step in an all-male workplace and in a highly visible and administrative position as the managing editor of the new publication, the OIC Journal, a quarterly magazine published in English and Arabic. I had also proposed to the secretary-general starting a weekly electronic newsletter, which he immediately endorsed. During these past seven years, with his support and the cooperation of my colleagues in the Information Department and all OIC staff, the OIC Journal and the OIC Weekly Newsletter expanded and reached a wider distribution and readership through the electronic version available on the OIC website. It was his style to embrace anyone who was hardworking and with ambitions and a good mind. He listened to everyone’s opinion big or small no matter what their position, appreciated their input and contribution, and encouraged new ideas and initiatives. I had the opportunity to be part of committees, task groups and delegations beyond my scope of work and to be involved in various activities and projects.
When I started working at the OIC it was a fairly obscure organization with a few people aware of it beyond the official level of the 57 member states. It was part of my job as an employee in the Information Department to promote and highlight the organization’s activities and its secretary-general. At the end of 2005, the OIC had held a landmark summit in Makkah, which launched the Ten-Year Program of Action that became the guiding manual of the secretary- general. It was also our work foundation along with the mantra “moderation and modernization” and “solidarity in action” as our principles. Throughout his tenure, and with the support of the member states, particularly the headquarter state, Prof. Ihsanoglu worked diligently and studiously to implement the Ten-Year Program of Action with great success as well as managing to change the OIC’s Charter, name and emblem, thus giving it a whole new heart and a facelift.
I traveled with him to many places to attend conferences etc. Starting with Dakar, Senegal for the 2008 summit, I have been to countries I never would have thought to visit or considered possible to visit. The one that stands out the most for me and the most special and unforgettable is the trip to Palestine and my visit to Jerusalem. To walk in this holy city was a dream and offering prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque was a dream come true. The trips to Sarajevo and Kosovo were memorable, the trips to former Soviet Union republics were interesting, the visit to Rakhine province in Myanmar was moving, and the last trip of Prof. Ihsanoglu as secretary-general to Niger was insightful.
As a last word of thanks I want to thank him for helping to get my book see the light. After I had printed my book “Saudi women in the media” abroad I had to get the permit for its distribution and sale in Saudi Arabia, which was getting delayed due to the usual bureaucratic procedures. During a meeting at the General Secretariat with Dr. Abdulaziz Khoja, Minister of Information and Culture, I approached the minister with a copy of my book and the secretary- general who was talking with him immediately introduced us and praised my book and highly recommended it without me even asking him. The minister graciously took note and within a few weeks the permit was issued.
Thank you, Your Excellency for a wonderful seven years in OIC despite all the long grueling working hours, and I wish you and your lovely family a happy, healthy and prosperous life.