Egypt & Yemen: Similarities & Differences [Archives:1999/07/Viewpoint]

February 15 1999

Last week, I paid yet another visit to Cairo. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. That gave me hope in the sense that Yemenis believe that Egyptian conditions and decisions are forerunners for their own. Therefore, if there is progress in Egypt, it is directly copied in Yemen, of course with a time lag. If there are complications in Egypt, again they are copied in Yemen. So, for me, it was heartening to see so much progress in Cairo.
Egypt and Yemen are probably most alike in political structure. Both countries have a civilianized military ruler. They profess a multi-party system in which the ruling part has a preponderant and overwhelming domination. In other words, the opposition parties are weak. Both countries have a relatively free press, provided it does not affect the power structure.
The two countries are basically pro-Western, and similarly are menaced by small but effectively disruptive religion-based extremist groups.
The two countries hold various forms of elections, which serve the purpose of legitimatizing the rulers rather than achieving a transfer of power.
There is a certain degree of tolerance, and a margin for various kinds of activities.
Corruption is a shared problem in its existence in both nations. But there is a difference in the way it is addressed. If a person is caught red-handed embezzling in Egypt, he/she is done for. The law applies in full. In Yemen, that is not the case. Newspapers and even government agencies such as the Central Organization for Control and Audit report various kinds of abuse, but no action is taken.
Egypt and Yemen are different in their economic prospects. Whereas Egypt’s economy is growing, Yemen’s is shrinking. While Egypt enjoys a substantial international investment (last year it was approaching US$ 10 billion), Yemen has seen little in the form of international investments, and a similar amount of local investments. As a result, the standard of living of the Egyptian people is rising.
Another difference between Yemen and Egypt is how they prepare for the future. While Egyptians are looking towards the future with hope, and prepare themselves for a vital role, Yemenis are content to muddle through. Thus, Egypt has such giant projects as the Tushka, Media City, the Peace Nile Tributary to Sinai, etc.

A third major difference is the level of respect for law and order. Whatever one says of the attitude of the Egyptian people, one cannot but see how they respect law and order possibly out of fear of the state. The state has an over-powering presence while the Yemeni government is brushed aside, even in casual conversation among ordinary citizens.
The number of tourists going to Egypt is fast approaching the 3 million mark. Given that 95% of the reservations to Yemen for the first quarter of 1999 have been cancelled, it is most likely that the total number of tourists visiting Yemen will be equal to those visiting Egypt over a few days.
Thus, if Yemen is to become like Egypt, even if it takes ten or twenty years, that is a hopeful development.