Change and reform is a will, and political process, and not a technological transformation Yemen and change [Archives:2004/778/Opinion]

October 4 2004

Prof. Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Tarb
For the Yemen Times

Some Arab regimes mistakenly think that the concept of reform applies only to modernizing infrastructure, to pushing forward technological progress, and may be to paying attention to economic issues. However, we see it differently. It is an integrated process, based on a comprehensive view, starting inevitably with political and constitutional reform, which is the independent variable that controls all other variables. We are not saying this vacantly, for actually the head of the state is the one responsible for reform, and who has the key to all the doors of bureaucracy. The body can not be sound unless the head is sound. Therefore, I think that the technocratic changes can not be an expression of real change, nor can they be a symbol or reform. The heart of the issue still lies in having a comprehensive vision and farsightedness, as well as the ability to anticipate the future, so that it suits coming generations.
We will discuss this issue in the following pivots:
Firstly: the former experiences of the Arabs joint work, and ways of managing conflict, show vividly that a lack of vision is the most dangerous factor that controls us and threatens our future. We are very particular about the secondary things, and, if it happens that we tackle main issues, we address them in a limited sense and the results are usually negative. Research into the science of methodology tells us that whoever does not have vision will not be able to make plans for the future.
Secondly: let's take the Indian experience into consideration. It is an exemplary history that can help explain what happened to us, and what we can do tomorrow. Immediately after independence, India set up a higher planning council under the auspices of the planner of modern India, Jowaher Lal Nahro. By virtue of that council, that big country was able to draw up the outline of its future despite the challenges resulting from overpopulation, ethnic and political differences, and a large geographic area.
What made India, is its early adoption of a farsighted vision, and, with its leader's fertile imagination, it figured out its path, plunging into it without hesitation. We can now look up at its status: a nuclear country with space research, heavy industry – self-sufficiently providing food for over a billion people.
Thirdly: seriousness and continuity are two main factors in any reformation process. The Arab World is more interested in high-sounding slogans, than the fruits of such rich language. Therefore, we begin first with an announcement of various ideas, and manifold projects, but we generally do not complete the task. Many Arab countries have spoken about scientific research, heavy industry, space rockets, and nuclear weapons. Yet, the reality is entirely different. These aspects need objective treatment that does not exaggerate nor allow aspiring words to distort the facts. So, seriousness and continuity are two things, which the Arab world needs but which the Arab mind lacks.
Fourthly: Segmenting entities, disintegrating policies, and thinking in routine way may fit the bureaucratic state, but it does not meet the requirements or the aims of change. A state may become technologically developed and may be economically strong, but at the same time be politically backwards if it does not respect law, democracy and freedoms. Policies, therefore, are the maker of the future, the indicator of change, and the factor of transformation.
Fifthly: Respecting human rights and the value of the individual are two matters that have a special significance in defining the concept of reform. Many regimes have benefited at the expense of human beings, their dignity and freedom. The Marxist communist system was the best example and a proof of this, when the ideology devastated spiritual and ethical values, imposing instead the model of dominance, an iron grip, and intellectual subjugation.
Six: Turning the reform process into day-to-day activities, on-the-spot decisions, and governmental changes is an evasion of the broad and clear meaning of reform, and its all-inclusive significance. Reform is based on a general theoretical grounding, with a clear-cut philosophy, and does not limit itself to procedures, decisions, or short-term changes.
Seven: political and constitutional reform is the way to change the approach to transformation. Since the Arab World has a confidence crisis with liberties, and suffers flabbiness in political thought, the cure lies in entering new realms that keep up with the spirit of the age, and are in harmony with the rhythm of change that satisfies the will of nations.
These are the major observations about the issue of reform, which has become a chewed slogan losing its sense and application. Many are the regimes adopting pointed slogans and ambitious policies but few go past that point. They mobilize their efforts only to ensure the safety of their existing political system, and perpetuate ongoing conditions. The result was always fossilization, backwardness, and a departure from the concerns of the contemporary world. If we were allowed to think out loud about reform, we should put forward the following points hoping they would stir an interest in the future of this country, which is still challenged more than any other one, and facing external pressure and intervention:
a) If the unit of change is the organization, its umbrella will be philosophical. Those who think that advancement is an imported contemporary industry and not based on national thought are misled, and do not realize it. Reform does not come from a vacuum and change does not happen by chance. There must be a farsighted and comprehensive vision. In the Arab World, the organization is weaker than the individual who manages it. Therefore, its prosperity depends on its manager, a fact which puts organizations at the mercy of a handful of individuals, and lets their circumstances dictate an organizations life and success.
b) Policies are the main criterion to understand change and judge the soundness of reform programs. Policies, by their nature, must be set up on a general and theoretical basis before they are translated into practical operational decisions. Yet, they should never be a package of abstract methods without a framework.
c) The reform process requires a fully politicized staff. Hence, the presence of political parties – serving as political schools – is a source of satisfaction, indicating that we are going in the right direction, and they are a proof that the process is ultimately political and nothing less.
d) The vitality of political systems is a necessary condition for the completion of the reform process. Moreover, the link between reform and external factors is considerable, because external influences seem to be effective in reform, and its bearing. No control can be set over the required steps without the presence of foreign pressure.
e) Reform will continue to be conditional on democracy. Those who want to evade this fact are wasting valuable time and losing available opportunities. Wide-scale political participation and liberty are the guarantees of effective change that will enable us to catch up with recent international developments.
f) If change is related to organizations and their policies, it should have an impact on leaderships. In the meantime, we believe that changing individuals is not enough to embark upon the reform process, which necessitates a basis of content, thought and a vision for the future.
This article aims to arrive at the essence of the reform process and its full content, because we have seen that some Arab regimes rely upon bureaucratic means under the pretext of making changes. They follow an approach of confusing the real concept of reform up with technocracy. The endeavors and experiences of nations show that policies are the leader. The political official is responsible for setting up the vision, while technicians apply it, each in his field of specialization. But to turn things upside down, and give leadership to technocrats will not serve the goals of change and real form.
Technology is necessary and technical advancement is one manifestation of reform, but political vision and national volition are the two principles for moving towards the future. Otherwise, we would be building castles in the sky. We should not imagine that this topic is far away from the current conditions of the Arab World. The management of conflicts was never successful when a comprehensive vision was absent. Victory is a mental decision, and defeat is psychological surrender. Pioneering in all aspects of life and alleviating poverty are fruits of the reform process based on a vision. The fruits and the spirit of change are based on the national consciousness, and the fruits of real democracy are that it respects the dignity of the Arab citizen.
When shall our leaders understand this? It is the political will, which can make us stronger.