Out of solidarity I telephoned Shaha Riza who suddenly found herself victimized in the midst of a heated media battle over her companion Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank who left the Pentagon for the bank, emerging from one battle only to engage in another.
While the controversy is centered around her post and ‘huge’ salary in the American camp, in the Arab camp it came as a surprise that Wolfowitz has Arab friends. They had assumed the man suffered a hostility complex towards Arabs, a reputation gained following the war in Iraq that was accompanied by rumors and theories that had a deadlier effect on the facts than the blasts of a car bomb.
But Shaha is not merely an Arab official working at the World Bank whom Wolfowitz, after assuming the post of president at the bank two years ago, wanted to transfer away from his domain of authority by promoting her to the State Department. Having known her through our civil societies meetings, she is an extraordinary and intelligent lady who has a strong personality that is characterized by organized thinking. Moreover, she is enthusiastic and possesses a vision and theory to modernize the Arab world. She contributes her own work and efforts away from Wolfowitz’s spotlight and likewise does not rely on her friend, Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney’s name.
However, since the press began to churn the rumor mill, the strangest explanation I heard came from a friend who thought he had discovered a great secret: he proclaimed that he now understood Wolfowitz’s problem and the secret behind his ‘antagonistic political inclinations’. So what’s the secret? He said it had been revealed that he had been dating an Iranian woman, which would explain his inclinations and the strong influence he wielded on US policy to side with Iran by overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime – according to his theory. “So you’re a ‘cherche la femme’ advocate who has found a Persian woman in Wolfowitz’s closet?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied with confidence. “And her name is Shaha Ali Riza,” he revealed. “Well, what if I told you an even bigger secret?” I said. “Shaha is an Arab woman, not Iranian or even American.”
With that his argument collapsed, but still, he will continue to hunt for evidence to support his conspiracy theory.
In Washington, however, the matter is different; it is Wolfowitz who is the target. His opponents leaked the appointment, transfer and payroll details to the press. The accusation states that he actually transferred Shaha when he became president of the World Bank in compliance with the rule that bans the conflict of interests. She was transferred to the State Department for a salary of approximately US $200,000 – which is considerable in the government hierarchy. And yet, those who know the World Bank well will find the story pitiful since it is one of the most extravagant international institutions.
Those are my comments on Wolfowitz and Shaha. The other remark worth making is that young Arab women are more capable of raising controversy as opposed to our young men – regardless of the circumstances that initiated the turmoil. The Shaha incident reminded me of the clamor that surrounded Mona al Ghusain [prominant Palestinian writer], who made the move from the sheltered community pages to political activity and journalistic writing. Indeed, we have several Arab ladies who have a strong presence, influence and independent opinions in the international battleground.