“Close your mouth and begin fasting.” [Archives:1998/27/Law & Diplomacy]

June 6 1998

By: Shaker Alashwal,
The Yemeni American League,
New York
Like many Yemenis outside of Yemen, I follow the news of Yemen with great concern. As an optimist, every event in Yemen that signaled positive change, no matter how insignificant it was, was a big deal to me. Though I was hopeful, I wasn’t at all oblivious to the corruption; and to the lots of selfish, self-serving individuals who are responsible for corrupting the system.
The unification of Yemen brought a new beginning, which we thought everyone would take advantage of. Most importantly, the unification brought freedom of the press, and freedom of expression. Yemenis became leaders in advancing the main principles of human rights. That made us proud, and ever more hopeful of changes that would be unparalleled in the Arab world.
Then came the civil war. The freedoms began to diminish, especially in light of the absence of a strong opposition. Yet many of us remained hopeful that we would ultimately regain which we had enjoyed in those early years after unification. Many of us (the hopeful crowd) stood on many different platforms defending the policies of the government and trying to explain the logic behind its actions.
Then came last weeks’ events. Some actions are unexplainable, however sympathetic one is. The events showed that the system and its decisions were undependable, and backward in their approach.
I must admit that my pride in the accomplishment of the system has abandoned me. If anything, those events showed that the government of Yemen during the past years was not working on institutionalizing democracy. How could we forget to grow? And how could we not maintain that of which we were most proud – our democracy.
To add insult to injury, it was unfortunate that the government did not know how to react to the situation. The violence that erupted is an indication that the people have not come to understand how they should practice their rights within the law. By committing acts of violence and looting, the demonstrators gave the government permission to forcibly stop such demonstrations. Many argue that those who initiate acts of violence and disruption are government operatives who work to give the government the right to forcefully stop people from demonstrating. That is a scary thought by itself, and my optimistic, trusting mind doesn’t want to believe it.
Could it be true?
The government is acting as if people would just have to accept the dramatic increase in the cost of their livelihood. The government’s approach was very unique and surprising from the very beginning. First the people were not prepared, and the decision to raise the prices caught the country by surprise. While no one will condone violence or the disruption of Yemen’s security, the acts of the few should not give the government the right to take away a basic right of expression such as demonstrations.
The government’s communique banning demonstrations is most disturbing; the communiqu carried by the official media stated that “as there was no law to regulate the people’s rights to demonstrate, and until such law is passed, all demonstrations, protests, etc. are illegal.”
An eight-year old democracy, still has not regulated the people’s right to demonstrate! What have we been doing for the past eight years then? Have we been improving the economy? Have we been attacking corruption? Have we been changing our governing system, to give the people more power, and control over their lives? Are our people enjoying more freedoms? Is our elected parliament as empowered as it should be by Yemen’s constitution? Is our judicial system as independent as granted by the constitution? I don’t think much of that has happened.
People are not blind to see that our situation has not improved, but has worsened economically. The government has failed to show people the tradeoff of their sacrifice, when the system is still as corrupt. Who is sacrificing in Yemen? Who is suffering in Yemen? The average person is, and the poor are getting poorer while the rich are getting richer. People are still taking advantage of the system, their fancy villas, and expensive Toyotas and fat bellies attest to that.
How does (Prime Minister) Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani expect to find it easy to convince the common man to accept all these burdens? Why should the government by surprised when the people are concerned about their livelihood? The government expects the common man in Yemen to tie a rope with a stone around his waist, while others can’t find a belt that fits around their bulging bellies. When people see that the government is genuine about the reforms, when people begin to see that they’re part of the change, that is when they will cooperate.
I am appealing to the government, to the parliament, to the President to take strong measures to eliminate corruption from the government. Only then would people realize that the government’s actions are sincere and unquestionable. The world is watching Yemen’s move toward the new century. Do not let our steps take us backward. Our country has made great strides, and we need to continue and improve our record. The government needs to institutionalize democracy, a process that undoubtedly takes time, but our people should be encouraged, and taught the right way to practice democracy. Most of all, our most valuable right is our freedom. No open, civilized government has the right to control or take away that right. ‘Close your mouth and begin fasting’ cannot be a welcome approach, or one that people would be expected to follow.
* The (YAL) Yemeni American League is an organization for college students, graduates and Yemeni professionals in the U.S. The contact address is:
198 Court St. #6, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Tel: + (718) 855-0420; E-mail: [email protected].
home page: http://members.aol.com/yalnet/yemenis.htm