Change in weather and political arithmetic [Archives:2005/857/Opinion]

July 7 2005

“It turns out that God Almighty must have had pity on us!” said Ma'atouq, as he was working out the strategy of how he will get from the minibus bus to his rented apartment in Hayel Street with the least amount of dampness on his clothes.

“What did you say Ma'atouq?” said the driver to one of his regular customers, as he was counting the change for some of the disembarking passengers waiting with their hands about 30 cm inside the front right window of the bus.

“Just when everything seems to be going on the downside or in reverse gear, as you guys would say, the Lord Almighty decided that He was going to pour some mercy on this poor downtrodden country of ours. In my lifetime, I haven't seen any rainfall like we are having this year. We hear our parents always talking about the bountiful rainfall they use to get, when there was so much 'innocence, piety, tolerance and goodwill' amongst the people. In their times and their parents' times, they said, Yemen was actually providing aid to the Gulf states by giving them some of the surplus cereals and grains.” Ma'atouq pointed out some of the history he learned from his parents.

A newly embarking passenger wanted to quickly get into the conversation: “I am glad it rained before the Government starts to tell us to pray for rain, because every time that happens, the rainfall we get is so scanty, it seems for sure that Someone up there is not keen on anything our government suggests to us about our dealings with the heavens! When it does rain, they then try to suggest that it was their call that brought on the rain. But this year with the government so busy with the celebration of the 15th Anniversary of unification, counting all the extra dough coming out of the high prices of oil, subduing the Houthis and anything and everything that has the faintest streak of Houthism, there is no time to pray for rain – By the way what is Houthism?”

“It is anyone who is too loud about his feelings about Israel and America – come to think of it we really do not know what it is,” answered the driver.

Ma'atouq wanted to get away from talk about the Houthis, but couldn't help remarking about the obvious consequences that seem far more worrisome: “Anyway, the government has taken care of them and now is starting to take care of the Non-Houthis in the rest of us! Now, anyone who has any inclination of enjoying democracy will submit only to the democratic principles laid out by the Government and anyone who deviates will be rendered as having Houthi tendencies. Thus, they should think twice about becoming too resilient in opposing the Government. In fact, the Houthi stigma is being used as an excuse to do away with any semblance of political and sectarian pluralism left in our marginal democracy, and to do away with what ever remains of civil society. If you have a genuine religious charity, even if licensed and ordained by the Government, the Government will close it down, on the pretext that it is propagating Houthism. Never mind that you have the religious institutions and charities of the so called strategic allies of the ruling party operating freely without any hindrance and they are the ones more suspect of harboring terrorism. On the contrary, the latter have been given the green light to take over all religious activity in the land and they can storm into any mosque and remove its normal preachers and put their extremist sermon preacher on the platform and their custodians to run and manage the mosques. I am really confused. How can we say we are fighting terrorism, when all of us know that these extremist institutions, that are now enjoying a free hand to impose their dogmatic beliefs on the nation, are the breeding grounds for terrorists and misguided extremists?”

“Are you defending the deviate Houthis?” said another passenger scraping his beard.

Ma'atouq wanted to speak his mind: “I am not defending any Houthi, but I was surprised last Friday, when a bunch of bearded armed extremists stormed into a mosque in our village and physically pushed our regular sermon speaker off the platform and placed a preacher they brought with them, who we have never seen before, in his place. When some people tried to leave in protest, the armed accompaniment blocked the doors not letting anyone leave until our 'new Imam', as the thugs introduced him to the congregation, completed his long speech about the evils of television. When many people went to the nearest police precinct to complain. No action was taken. Now the mosque is theirs and there isn't anything we can do about it. The people in my village never even heard of anything about the Houthis. Then, I decided to leave the village and cut my vacation short and come back to Sana'a shocked at the way this Houthi problem has actually become a silver platter for more extreme renditions of Islam to be imposed on the society with the blessings of the Government. I am worried about the kind of world our children will have to live in. Is Yemen going to be another Taliban state?”

The driver added another note to this sharp turn in the current social developments: “Even in Sana'a, now, some mosques are undergoing the same radical transformation”. These people are out to kill any moderate religious inclinations and the Government has shown no desire to interfere in this fearful trend.”

Ma'atouq got up pulling out a plastic bag to cover his head from the rain, leaving the bus, while still hanging on to one fervent hope: “Maybe after the Presidential Elections, we might see a different turn of events, just like the pleasant turn in the weather and government policy will no longer have to be dictated by political arithmetic.”