Knowledge makes a difference [Archives:2005/818/Viewpoint]

February 21 2005

In an interesting survey, we tried to know the reactions of the Yemeni public to the recently held Iraqi elections and particularly the election results. In the survey, which is still continuing, we found a divide between two main opinions in the country.

One group is composed of the intellectuals and educated people living mainly in cities, who tend to think that elections have run in more or less a free environment. They justify that based on the results, which show that the US-supported group led by Allawi was only able to attain 13.6 per cent of the votes. They see this as a victory for the dominant opinion of the Shiite majority and view this as an election that was run to higher in standards than elections in other Arab countries.

On the other hand, there is a group who continues to be skeptical and suspicious of the whole electoral process, saying that everything had already been staged in advance, and that elections were a mistake from the very beginning because they were held during an occupation.

For me, it is both ironic and bizarre to note that the two countries under occupation, Iraq and Palestine, may have witnessed the most transparent and free elections in recent Arab history. This of course should not suggest that I favor occupation, but I would like to remind readers of the level of totalitarianism and lack of transparency that dominate politics in all other Arab countries.

Interestingly, some of the ones we talked to openly suggest that occupation could sometimes have a positive influence on nations. It is not 100 per cent bad as you can see. There are at least some good things brought by occupation, said one of the individuals surveyed.

This can be understandable if we look into the amount of suffering and desperation reached by some citizens who do not see any hope for improvements in the way Arab countries are run.

The other thing that was noticeable in the survey was the amazing shift of opinions from one side to the other. It demonstrates how Yemenis and perhaps Arabs in general- are sympathetic people who are affected very quickly with religious and fanatic slogans and ideas. At one time, they were ready to sacrifice their lives for Saddam, before the Iraq war. At another time, they see Saddam as a dictator. On other occasions they get confused when seeing Iraqis themselves hate Saddam, and think that they ought to love him.

Arab citizens have been raised in a culture of illiteracy, lack of information, and acceptance of what they have been told. They have been used to believing what is said and not providing a counter opinion. They are used to being passive and tamed by brutal and oppressive regimes that deprive them from attaining knowledge and education.

This was also an occasion to remember the UNDPs Arab Human Development Report, which clearly stated that Arab citizens needed to be liberated and informed. Information is the single most important element that could change the lives of Arab citizens to the better, and it is the same thing that Arab regimes do not want them to have.

But this has to change.

And, thankfully, that change is underway.