A chance to make history again [Archives:2005/861/Opinion]

July 21 2005

“Did you hear what President Ali Abdullah Saleh said? He is not running for office again in the next Presidential Election” said Jamil to his friends in the qat chew session he frequents at his neighbor's house.

“That was really surprising to everyone I talked today. It is in fact the talk of the town”, remarked the owner of the house, as he was still fixing up his regular sitting spot at the comfortable corner facing the two large windows that overlooked his nicely kept garden with a small fountain in the middle.

Jamal wanted to show the significance of the President's declared intentions: “I can tell you one thing, if nothing occurs that would change his mind, Ali Abdullah Saleh would be the first ruler to voluntarily abdicate the leadership of Yemen to another new leader and will not only enter the history books of Yemen, but the entire Arab World would be viewing this as a very important political development. The whole world would be saying that when Yemen says it is embarking on a democratic course, it really means it.”

“I must admit, I was very surprised to hear it”, said another of the regulars, who comes to the session everyday, even before the host, adding: “I am not sure that the country is really prepared to carry on without Ali Abdullah Saleh at the helms. There are just too many outstanding issues that need to be taken care of and quite frankly, I do not see anyone who can take over and be able to solve them.”

“Look Mohammed, why with 20 plus million people in the country, Yemen I am sure can produce several who would be capable of continuing along the path of development and national unity that Ali Abdullah Saleh has led the country to follow. Besides, don't you think the President deserves the right to rest after 27 years of endless effort to lead the country towards stability and economic progress. Besides, he said that he would continue to give counsel to whatever new leadership takes over and he wants to confirm that democracy is not just a cliche word used to polish the rhetoric of the government, but a real fact of life.” Jamil saw good sense in the President's decision.

The host, was now feeling more settled: “I think a lot of people would try to get the President to change his mind, either out of fear of the unpredictable future, or because they fear what a change of leadership will mean to them.”

Mohammed was ready with an answer: “Look, Ali Abdullah Saleh is human and he has a right to enjoy some care free normal years in his life after having given the best years of his life for his country. Those people would not be able to convince him to change his mind, even if they gave him the most terrible scenarios of the prospects for the future without his leadership. Besides, he is right when he said that it is about time for other young loyal citizens to shoulder the responsibility. After all that is what democracy is all about?”

Jamil then said after lighting a cigarette: “I am sure that the President has taken considerable time to study this decision and he must have consulted with his advisors, supporters and staff before openly saying this to his people, without having sincere intentions of following it through. He must have a clear picture of the implications of such a decision.”

“But why do you guys think he announced it so early?” inquired Mohammed, reducing his enthusiasm somewhat.

The host was ready with the answer: “I think it only sensible that the President should let the Yemeni people become aware of his intentions in sufficient time to get them to brace for the new era he is envisioning for Yemen. This would allow the political process sufficient time to chose the most capable candidates for the elections and to brace the people for the most important decision they will be making in their life in the next Presidential Elections. This is a big transformation in Yemen's political history and the experience of the President has taught him that sometimes the Yemeni people need time to gear themselves for major political developments. With democracy now well in place, the President wanted to make it clear that it is here to stay, even if it means having to abdicate, when he is at the summit of his power.”

“I don't know about you, but I am worried about all those who would try to suggest that the President would be doing this at the expense of all his supporters and that he was going to abandon them to an unpredictable future for them”, remarked Mohammed adding: “They might even threaten to disrupt the political process if the President insisted on going through with his decision”.

Jamil said: “Look, the President has time and again shown that he knows what is best for the country. He is not about to let himself be influenced by people, who only care about the narrow interests they represent, or who only care for their own political and material well being. This decision is equal to the decision on unification. Many people, even those who were close to him were against the idea, but he pulled it through and for this he had the whole Yemeni people behind him. Besides there is sufficient time for the people and the President to assess the decision and weigh it from all angles. But the most important thing is that we should thank the President for being true to his commitment for a democratic transformation of the country and for his belief that the Yemeni people in the end are capable of making the right decision as to who should lead them.”

The host agreed: “The next year and two months will surely show whether the Yemeni people are capable of coming to the right decision as to who should lead them after this Presidential term is over. The most important thing to bear in mind is that the President has thrown the ball into the people's hand. The hope is that they catch it and not let it drop.”