Islamists and Democracy in Yemen [Archives:2000/44/Law & Diplomacy]

October 30 2000

By: Hassan Al-Zayedi
Yemen Times
Much attention is focused on the future of Islamic movement in the region as they are poised in many countries to overthrow the ruling regimes and take power instead. These movements have actually come under many painful blows forcing them to retreat and rearrange their strategies and approaches. The case in Yemen is not different, though not that tense. 
Despite the existence of enlightening Islamic parties, that has not prevented the presence of hard-liner groups. In general, the attitude of Islamic parties towards democracy is highly determined by the democratic atmosphere we are living in. These parties started revealing their identity and activities following the declaration of unity which was associated with political plurality and democracy. 
Under the democratic changes witnessed in Yemen, Islamic parities should play a positive role in democracy as it is a national project without which Yemen will be unable to develop and prosper. Besides, it is within the framework on democracy that Islamists can present their approaches and propagate for them without being monopolized or controlled by authorities.
I will try to shed some light on the stand of Islamic parties and movements towards democracy in Yemen. This was based on a study on Islamists and democracy in Yemen made by Mr. Abdullah Ali al-Sabri. This is a comparative study among Yemeni Islamic parties including Yemeni Peoples Forces Union, al-Haq Party, Yemeni Congregation for Reform party Islah. The writer tries to objectively illustrate their stand from democracy and shed light on democratic practice within these parties to see whether they practice what they preach or not. 
In pinpointing the relationship between democracy and Islam embodied by Islamic Thought movement in contemporary Yemen, he sees that it has taken three courses:
– The first that democracy is part of Islam. 
– The second rejects democracy and accepts Shoura instead. 
– The third does not reject the principle of democracy. However, it has lots of reservations.
These three approaches reflect two distinctive visions in the contemporary Islamic Thought Movement in Yemen The Reasonable Trend embraces democracy and looks at it as the ideal way at this stage to solve the problem of governance. The second trend is the Salafiah Trend which has adopted a negative attitude towards democracy and looks at it as a Western project that has the objective of destroying Islam. 
Moreover, this movement sees that there is no way to compare it to the Islamic Shoura. 
The writer opens that if the Salafiah trend has managed to attract to its thought some of the leaders of the Islamic parties, the Rational Trend has been able to present democracy as the Islamic solution for monopolizing power, a reality familiar in our Arab and Islamic societies for centuries. 
Scholars are at variance about the nature of Shoura and whether it is obligatory or not. But political activist Islamists agree that democracy and shoura are the same. Islamic parties have actually shown a perfect example of understanding of the institution of democracy and have been an example to follow suit. Programs of these parities embrace democracy based on freedom, participation, equity and plurality. 
It is true that some difficulties have come to surface causing certain crises to be suffered by the three parties: Islah, Union and al-Haq. However, the general perspective of these parties is good and promising. 
Among the ills that surfaced within these parties are doctrinal problem and double standard in dealing with democracy.
As for the democratic address, the Peoples Forces Union party is distinguished while the Islah party applies democracy as a means to assume power. On the other hand, al-Haq party is theoretically stressing the reference to scholars which makes the party less successful in supporting democracy. 
As we recognize the democratic transition in the country, the three parties have to play an important role in making democracy a success, specially as some sources charge these Islamic parties that they are not really committed to democracy and that they are only using it to capture power and then they turn to the Islamic rule. In order to face this challenge, Islamic parties under study have to intensify their democratic outlook in precept and practice. They also have to tolerate efforts for understanding Islamic Shoura so that it does not come out to be in contradiction with democracy. This will certainly change the commonly held thoughts. 
Political parties can also make democracy a success through strictly committing themselves to its values in their accepted framework, in solving their internal problems through comprehensive understanding of democracy. They should not restrict their abidance to democracy to take part in elections only. Hence, to ensure the future of democracy in Yemen, these parties have to determinedly face all the challenges to preserve democracy and keep it going on the right track. This certainly requires taking practical measures to put an end to doctoring elections, violating human rights and suppressing rights, specially freedom of the press. This is also a call to face the Salafiah stand which rejects the goals of democracy and modernization in Yemen. In short, that can only be achieved through applying and adhering to the sublime democratic values and techniques depending on a solid basis, dialogue, and accepting disparity in opinions.