Most Yemenis May Never Know How Far We are Behind [Archives:2002/03/Viewpoint]

January 14 2002

On the plane back to Sanaa from a business visit to Dubai last week, I had the chance to listen to an interesting conversation. It was a conversation between two Yemenis, one who seemed to have never traveled abroad before, and the other who had some good experience in traveling.
I do not remember the whole conversation but I can still recall some of the important excerpts that reflected a very important conclusion: most Yemenis dont know how far Yemen is behind in this modernization era.
Here I present a summary of the main points of the conversation between X and Y, whom I didnt have the chance to know.
X: I have never seen such an airport in my life. Dubai International Airport must be the most spectacular in the world.
Y: You can call it a new and fancy airport, but it certainly is not the best. There are hundreds of airports worldwide that compare to this airport.
X: I cannot imagine Yemen having such an airport anytime soon. Why is our airport so humble and small? We certainly seem to be out of competition.
Y: Such airports need a basis and a lot of money to be built. Yemen is an improvised state where people are poor and government is weak. Besides, Yemen needs to first of all start enforcing the law.
X: I have not seen even one policeman or traffic officer in Dubai. Wait a minute. I did see one who seemed to have no weapons. How can they run a country without weapons?
Y: Some countries have a cultural understanding of the importance of abiding by the law. The state is well-run and provides all the needs to the community. Hence there is no need for weapons. People respect the law and tend not to violate it. This is why Dubai has become an attraction for all investors and businessmen, because it is safe.
X: But cant Yemen do without weapons. It is truly disturbing to see regular people carrying weapons in the cities and elsewhere. What is the solution?
Y: I truly dont know. You better ask the officials about how they could convert Yemen to a country without weapons, or at least with not so many weapons.
X: How does Yemen rank in the region?
Y: Being your first visit to a country other than Yemen, you seem to have very little idea of Yemens rank in the region. All I could tell you is that Yemen is the only country where weapons are carried freely in the cities. It is the only country where a narcotic (qat) is a daily meal. Yemen is the only country where tribesmen could be more powerful than government officials. In brief, Yemen is a country very far from becoming in any leading position among Arab countries.
X: I dont think so. You must be exaggerating.
Y: You are truly naive. Look at the Gulf, they may be rich, but they also have citizens respecting the law. Being poor is not always a reason to think we should be backward. There are other countries with little resources like Jordan and Syria that have become much more advanced than we are. It is the way our country is governed that is causing us to be so backward. Yemen is not taking the place it used to have in the past. There is a lot that has to be done before we can achieve a truly civilized and modern Yemen.
X: Do all our officials see how developed those countries are and how backward we are?
Y: I certainly think they do know that. But what could they possibly do alone??. There needs to be a whole movement to get Yemen out of its lagging position behind and that will certainly require a lot of effort.

The conversation above may be straight forward and clear. But it does show that most Yemenis do not know how far Yemen is behind in the region. The satellite TV channels may have helped, but there is nothing better to know the gap between Yemen and the rest of the world other than traveling. I have traveled a lot and know the difference.
Yemen is poor. There is no question in that. But there are many things that can be achieved in a poor country, and without doubt, achieving a state of law and order could be one of them.