Hiding behind a golden cloak [Archives:2006/975/Opinion]

August 24 2006

By: Ali Al-Sarari
It is told that the famous Mongolian commander Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) retired to rest in a big tent erected for him after the end of a fierce and hard battle. Poles of the tent were decorated with gold and embedded with jewels. Lining the sides of the tent were piles of silver and precious stones and Timur Lenk sat amidst the grandeur of riches and prestige wearing most expensive and beautiful clothes. Lenk then ordered a poet to be brought before him to listen to his praise portraying the display of wealth and glory around the Mongolian leader.

Pointing to the riches piled inside the tent, Lenk asked the poet, “If I am offered for sale, how much would you pay for me?”

The poet looked deeply at the face of the Mongol conqueror and looked around the tent and slowly replied, “I will buy you for 16 dinars.” With surprise and anger Lenk said 16 dinars are not worth the price of his belt around his waist. The poet answered, yes, I meant the price of the belt but you are worth nothing.

Throughout ages rulers have protected themselves from the monitoring of their peoples. They spend money with boundless extravagance to appear strong and feared. With those appearances they measure the status and position of the countries they rule. Many contemporary rulers who have safeguarded themselves against accountability of their peoples are still expending their riches to gain loyalty, but not paying attention to the poverty and deprivation their behavior causes to their people.

In a way, democracy was a great human invention not only for the peaceful transfer of power, but also to radically reduce the expensive despotic rulers, whether they kings or presidents. The democratic ruler is very cheap; not because he is virtuous, but rather because he cannot unilaterally spend the national wealth of his country or to use it for his personal ends or self-serving goals to permanently stay in power.

Comparing the cost of an overt dictator and one pretending to uphold democracy, the latter's cost is higher. The first example spends a great portion of the national wealth on his personal things and his and his family security and its is the same thing done by the second type, but the remaining national wealth is used to buy loyalty and to play with democratic policy so they protect their legitimacy and appear to uphold democracy.

Yemen's bad luck in political development led it to be of the second type of leader, the despotic under a cloak of democracy. Here there are strong impediments practiced to prevent the progress of the emerging democracy. The mechanisms of despotism prevent democracy from becoming a tool to create change.

As Yemen is a poor country and with little resources, despotism hiding behind democracy has consumed all the national wealth and precluded its investment in serving development leaving total stagnancy. One must wonder about the destination of Yemen's wealth and there is a clear answer seen in the network of illegitimate interests and forces of corruption dominating this country. They are the basis for strengthening the seat of power. It means that the corruption existing in Yemen does not proceed from weakness in the moralistic formation for practicing corruption but rather depends on serving certain political interests making an inseparable relationship between the monopoly of power and the forces of corruption. This alliance between despotism and corruption has created what can be described as a black hole in the sky of Yemen, swallowing its wealth, absorbing potential from its people, frustrating their expectations and blocking the change and reform that appear before them every now and then.

The Yemenis have to realize that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's stay in power for 28 years has deprived them of development opportunities provided by successive discoveries of oil and natural gas along with scientific developments and regional and international changes. However all opportunities have been squandered. Thus Yemen moves backwards as the and human development deteriorates. As the world around develops, Yemen's problems have been increasingly. Some political circles have estimated the money allocated for financing the president's electoral campaign at YR1 trillion against a substantial increase from the YR25 million the parliament approved for each of the five recommended presidential candidates. In addition to this difference in financial support the commercial circles, under pressure from the ruling force, have colleted YR1 billion for the president's campaign with promise to double their contribution.

Regardless of the circulated figures other news coming from some areas speaks of money being carried in trucks to buy the loyalty of voters. The lavish use of money in the president's campaign can be seen with the General People's Congress approving the printing of 5 million Saleh photos and that mean one picture for every 25 people.

Meanwhile, we cannot overlook the cost of using the state apparatus in favor of the president's campaign, including the officials' external and internal political movements in service of their campaign.

Nevertheless, money alone has not convinced them that the power they are using is enough for a considerable campaign because they are still control and govern the election process and the power to adapt its results. This represents an additional political and moral cost.

You see how expensive the president is, but how much is the president worth?

Ali Al-Sarari is a Yemeni Journalist and a well-known politician. He is the head of the information department at the Yemeni Socialist Party.