Education in Yemen:  Steady Deterioration [Archives:2001/32/Law & Diplomacy]

August 6 2001

Mohammed M. Qahtan is both the head of the Political Division of the Islah Party and one of the founding members of the Party. We asked the manager of the Political Division for his opinion on the declaration of the Prime Minister of the role of political parties in Yemen. Mr. Qahtan replied that resolutions aimed at amending the law of election brought to the surface how those in power are impatient to achieve everything for their own ends. Our most recent experience of how democracy works in this country was the suppression and marginalization of the role of opposition political parties in participating in the process of elections. This has come at the same time as limitations placed on the freedom of expression and the tightening of the governments grip on the institutions of civil society, all just for the benefit of those in power, that is, the ruling party. Concerning the many discrepancies which have surfaced within the party itself, Mr Qahtan said that he didn’t have the same opinion, and that each party member had his own individual ideas. Those problems which were discussed could be considered a positive outcome. Adding that survival of the fittest is the only thing that can ensure a dynamic political system, he also said that there weren’t any specific issues that could not be resolved. This fairly ‘balanced’ opinion is the one that seems to prevail and has ultimately been adopted by several constitutional institutions. Mr Qahtan also said that It was natural for a variety of interpretations and solutions to a single problem to exist. It is also possible for a particular problem to be raised before being approached freely from different angles within institutions like the general secretariat, the high cooperation, the General conference, the Shura (Consultative) Assembly, as well as local assemblies in the country’s governorates . Each of these institutions safeguards the opinions of the others. Mr. Qahtan clarified the aim of the election law amendments. These, he believes, aim to miscarry the independence of the Supreme Election Committee (SEC) and to submit it to the executive authority. He also expects there to be a general trend towards using the IDs in the election process. Additionally, those in positions of responsibility are (according to Mr Qahtan) aiming to restrict the role of all possible civil liberties. With regard to the coming elections, Mr Qahtan said that it would be a difficult process and that there was only one way to embark on a peaceful struggle and only one choice for the people. He said that the main task was to summon those who are honest as well as the intelligentsia, all of whom understand the importance of the democratic choice of the Shura Assembly.
Regarding the current cooperation between the different opposition parties Mr. M. Qahtan declared that they were ready to coordinate with virtually anyone for the sake of consolidating and reinforcing the country’s experiment with democracy and preventing the mockery or disparaging of the system. On the integration of the scientific institutions and the Islah party attitude, Qahtan said that the former belonged to the government while the latter held views diametrically opposed to it. He believes that although this has in general been quite an instructing experience, the political process in matters of education was flawed, and that the situation of the education system was progressively deteriorating. ” I’d like to tell you that if you read the conference’s paper on this issue you will see that it discusses an educational vision which is opposed by 90% of the electorate. The conference’s paper has inspired all kinds of deceptive and unacceptable propaganda. I think the educational issue has to be tackled seriously and a national conference has to be held by specialist educationalists who are free of the ideological bulwark of the ruling party. If you come and see who constitutes the scientific institute, you will notice that around 50% of its cadre belongs to the PGC.”
In relation to the directives issued by the Ministry of Education on preventing a number of activities, Mr Qahtan said that the authorities have became very annoyed at activities like camping, demonstrations and the holding of festivals. He added that the Yemeni people have every right to establish summer camps, since these in no way violate the law. Preventing such activities is, however, a violation of the law. Mr. Qahtan clarified that there was a rumor that the US was involved in trying to have scientific institutes abolished, and also said that internal matters like these were frequently ascribed to either regional or international parties.
Mr Qahtan said that it was extremely difficult for him to talk in this way, since he is an official political representative, and besides which not enough concrete evidence exists to prove his accusation. However, he did seem able to claim that the US fears such accusations.
At length, Mr Qahtan hopes that Yemen’s relations with neighboring states like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in particular, and the USA and European nations in general, will eventually flourish. “I think improving such relations will in the future reflect positively on both the people and country as a whole. Cool relations with foreign states has a negative impact on us”. Regarding religious parties, and more specifically the establishment of a new Salafi-oriented party in the Yemeni political arena, he answered in the negative. Mr. Qahtan was asked about the diversity of political doctrines and how Yemen can learn from them. He also thinks that the problems facing the country are extremely complex, some being of more urgent importance than others. He touched on the issue of the rapid progress of technology and the many transitions the world was going through.
Mr Qahtan added that it was time to discuss the administration of schools in Japan and the administrative experience in the US. He also stressed the need to avoid international conflicts, since these always have the same inevitable consequences.
People in Yemen desperately need to make a decent living, the unemployed need job opportunities, both the national and individual incomes need to improve, and there is also a need to begin thinking about how to find new mechanisms for investing in and rehabilitating the Yemeni workforce. On the deterioration of educational, the economy, and the internal security situation, Mr. Qahtan approached the subject from two angles: the one being optimistic, the other pessimistic. From an optimistic standpoint, he emphasized the need to adhere to the path of democracy, both within the various social classes and the political forces of the country. In this way Yemen may to some extent emerge from its current crisis.
From the pessimistic point of view, he went on to claim that if the situation continued even greater complications would arise, adding insult to injury. In response to the hostility on the part of internal and external parties for belonging to Islamic movements, he said that what had been published by the PGC’s press was concerned over nothing. The Islah Party has its own perspective and has become known to all. At last he was asked about whether that party had held talks with foreign representatives as other parties had done, but answered in the negative. In conclusion, Mr. Mohammed M. Qahtan reiterated his appeal to all who support and believe in democracy in Yemen to work together hand in hand to achieve their goal.