Domestic forces must unite:Reform the only option [Archives:2004/801/Opinion]

December 23 2004

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Tarb
For the Yemen Times

There is a new movement towards reform undertaken by a host of intellectuals, encouraging the bashful opposition parties, which have been calling for democratic reform. The fact is that many people, whatever their thoughts are, react to every statement or call for reform. Yet, the unanswered question is when and how will this reform be achieved, and will it be during our lifetime?
After the president's speeches on the misconduct of corrupt people, one can see a great deal of candid talk in tackling issues which used to be prohibited, especially those relating to the government and public sector offices needing to reinforce the law to bring democracy, a decent life, and stable prices.
The harassment, trial and detention of journalists further complicate the dilemma of the country.
The hope to achieve reform has been fading since the 1990 Reunification. Reform represents a true approach to authority because it is managed without the participation of the opposition. Had reform been adopted, it would have saved the authority from the existing and impending predicaments. The authority and the people will pay the price as long as no action is taken towards reform.
Current conditions should be treated far from the political exaggerations of opposition parties. We should prepare ourselves for democratic unbiased elections competing with the ruling party and explaining our platforms.
Limiting unnecessary expenses such as purchasing and changing automobiles and furniture will save some money for stabilizing prices. The government should make use of increased oil prices to bring down foreign debt.
With lax controls, price rises, unemployment, and a lack of job opportunities for young graduates, the country looks fearfully at the future and many people believe that the democratic reforms have been futile.
The call for the president to resign his post as president of the ruling party, General People's Congress (GPC), and to be the president of the whole country and parties until the next elections is an indication of the desire to have free democratic elections based on the peaceful transfer of power, the separation between authorities, and ceasing transactions with the World Bank and World Monetary Fund, if they would bring sufferance, hunger and loss onto the people.
I don't claim that parties, and intellectuals will lead the democratic change movement. I am only sure that intellectuals have a significant role in such movement. Democratic forces in the form of parties or civil society organizations should expose shortcomings, violations, and corruption.
In my view, reform is an internal task to be undertaken by the citizens, and it cannot be a response to an external request, nor can it be the result of political, economic, or potentially military threats posed by the US under its Greater Middle East Initiative, the new formula of old colonialism. Domestic calls for reform can entice the ruling mind from oppression and tyranny, and can direct the state towards holding corrupt officials accountable and purge the civil, military, and security systems.
The problems with reform in the Arab world are twofold: the current tyrannical authorities or their theorists, claim that any abrupt change would plunge the country into state like the former USSR during Gorebatcheov's Perestroika. They conclude that they should remain in their positions to guarantee the security and development of the country and counteract any external attack. Reform movements are thus quashed under the pretext that they damage stability. These authorities actually want to negotiate with foreign forces to stay in power through giving some limited concessions instead of listening to the reform movement. Reformists do not want abrupt revolutionary change.
The second issue is that reform forces are not united or stable. They are unclear about their goals for reform and appropriate strategies. There are steps in the right direction, but there are also forces with unrealistic demands.
In this situation there are two possibilities for the region, either an internal revolution or an external intervention such as that seen in Iraq. This is why it is important that reform activists generate a real movement with different programs and ideas. If internal reform is quelled, it will be necessary for foreign, even military intervention. Does anybody heed this? Do people take lessons from what is happening?
Why do not parties and NGOs change their programs and leaders before asking governments to change?