Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Jifry to YT “The problem however, is that the government is seeing its sole image in its own mirror” [Archives:2000/09/Interview]

February 28 2000

Q: As the country faces collapse of security and spread of disorder, officials claim that this is the doing of what the government officially describe as ‘hostile forces’ and ‘secessionist elements’ acting from abroad. What is your opinion, what is your comment or response?
A: This situation proves to what a great extent the government is
paralyzed. They always look for a ‘scapegoat’. In the past, the ‘scapegoats’ were the Hamid Al-Din dynasty, colonialism, sultans and segmentation. And today they are the ‘secessionists’ and foreign powers. In point of fact, it is the government policies which are aggravating insecurity, disorder and chaos. The government holds power, wealth, media and decision making and yet there is incompetence, chaos and deterioration. We seek unanimous cooperation to achieve our collective ends and salvage the nation. It is common -even to the government- that the official allegations are unfounded, that we renounce violence and seek dialogue. We do not believe in violence as a means of resolving differences, in fact we think it is a menace to the country and its unity. Violence, in our opinion, is more of an ‘animal’ rather than a ‘human’ attribute. And the government is giving it a cause and justification. And it seems to me it rejoices at it, or even encourages it. I fear violence and more degeneration would follow if there is no genuine reform in the horizon. Violence, I believe, is the worst means to resolve social and political differences. Legally and patriotically speaking, violence is impermissible, unless the results of renouncing it surpasses its evils. So far, we have not reached that point.
Q: Recently, the parliament endorsed the Local Power Act, some deputies considered certain items of the act to be unconstitutional and anti-democratic and demanded amendments. What is your opinion and comment?
A: Regrettably, the government persisted on endorsing a local power act which envisages no local power at all. Actually, the act is unconstitutional and anti-democratic. Worse still, the government knows only too well that there is unanimity across the national spectrum outside it which recognizes the importance of an expanded, democratic local power system in line with the alternative project that we offered and was adopted by all political forces. The problem however, is that the government is seeing its sole image in its own mirror. This is extremely dangerous. It has led, and is leading to insulate the government into an remote ‘Island’ detached from the needs, aspirations and demands of the people. This scornful indifference may easily evolve into a mass popular rejection of the government and what this government brings. It may also force the opposition groups into tougher and more ruthless positions to avoid losing their constituencies. It is a bizarre situation as the government alleges that we have no positive alternative proposals, on the one hand, and neglects, on the other, all the proposals we put forward and gain popular approval and support. By insisting on such an unconstitutional act, the government is triggering a countdown for what have remained of ‘formal’ stability, and is throwing our nation in the eye of the wind.
The Local Power Act, whose spirit has been destroyed, breaches the letter and spirit of articles 4, 143, 144 of the constitution. As the unconstitutional article 33 of the Act was endorsed, the parliament was shocked and refrained from debating the other articles ( from article 34 to article 113) which went on the record without any discussions. The rest of the article ( 113 to 164) were barely debated.
In addition to other items, articles 124, 125 and 126 were vague and ambiguous. The act has clear definitions of the jurisdiction of local assemblies in terms of financial resources, budget and departmental allocations. These assemblies have no power to amend the budget of the units they represent. Together with the local executive organs, they have no power over appointment of officials who are installed by the central authority. Since most powers are preserved to the central government, it is necessary to lend the assemblies and councils of local government all the powers and jurisdiction to provide for public services, in terms of planning, implementation , administration and supervision, and for drawing projects of economic development, and other recreational schemes, such as athletic, entertainment and public safety programs.
Stunningly, the act gives the government, which is appointed, the power to dissolve local assemblies, which are elected, although what applies to the parliament should also apply to these assemblies. The constitution states clearly: ” The House of Representatives shall not be dissolved by the president, with the exception of cases of necessity, provided that a referendum is organized to seek the opinion of the people in the causes for the dissolution, and when the absolute majority of voters endorse it, the President may issue a decree to that effect.” Giving the central government the power to dissolve elected local assemblies breaches the spirit of the constitution and shakes the very premises of democracy, cripples these assemblies, and in fact eliminates the very ends for which the local power act was made in the first place. It actually abolishes the value of the few positive aspects this act contains, such as local elections. What is the significance of such vote when the assemblies have no real power, while the central authority can dissolve them at will. Parliamentary procedures were violated during the process of debate.
For these and other reasons we harbored the hope that our brother, the president, in his capacity as protector of the constitution, would refer the act back to the parliament to revise the unconstitutional articles and expand the right of the people to elect governors and mayors, because it is an irony to give the voters the power to elect the president but deny them the power to choose heads of local units. All articles which contradict the constitution or limit the powers of local authority, such as articles 124, 125, 126, 140, 141 and 142, should be revised in order to give local assemblies the control over budget review, allocations, economic planning and appointment of officials in accordance with the civil service statutes, provided that priority is given to the local inhabitants of each unit itself.
At this point, I should point out that in its structure, history, state building and the novelty of this process, Yemen is different from any other state in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, or North Africa ( with which Yemen was compared). Given these differences, Yemen requires a local system of government empowered to the greatest possible limits( including appointment of governors and mayors by vote) so as to a create a union enhanced by the broadest participation in the state and instill into the citizens the sense of achievement derived from this union to which they will be dedicated and whose integrity and defences they would build and protect. If, on the other hand, they see that the union is reducing them to nothing, or is marginalizing them and denying them their right to self-government and self-administration, then what sense would they harbor other than a kind of ‘disloyalty’, the strongest ingredient of disintegration, segmentation and deprivation.
There was a glimpse of hope that our brother, the president, would respond to the demands of the people to have a widely empowered, democratically elected local government with full jurisdiction. But his quick endorsement of this sophisticated and unconstitutional law, which runs counter to what our people aspired to and hoped for, caused great disappointment.
As for selecting heads of administrative units ( governors and mayors), I offered our brother, the president, in a statement to the press, a compromise according to which each elected local assembly would nominate three of its members for every post so that the president may select one and issue his decree to appoint him as governor or mayor in any local administrative unit. In my view this was a preliminary solution for the first session, while direct election of heads of local units would be applied thereafter.
I call on all patriotic forces, parties and figures, to meet together to pool our efforts and close our ranks, leave past chapters behind us and initiate a dialogue on ” The Vision of Pooling Efforts” which we raised since 1998, in order to arrive at a common view and a unifying platform of action which would solidify our ranks and merge our endeavors to build the Yemen of the future, the twenty first century Yemen, the Yemen of security, stability, development, harmony, amiability and peaceful struggle, the Yemen of cohesive system of governance anchored in equilibrium, widely empowered local authority, genuine and just judiciary and universal national reconciliation. Onto security, stability or development are attainable.
Q: Given the political indicators of the Yemeni official policy over the past decade, there are ruptures in relations between the official and non-official ruling system leading to calamities such as that of 1994 war and refusal of participation by all, do you expect a breakthrough in this difficult equation?
A: If the problematic structure and methods of the ruling system continue as they are now, they would undoubtedly lead to ruptures and calamities. We have already put forward our integrated conception for a cohesive system of government which would be conflict proof or conflict repellent; a system which would allow cohabitation and mutual recognition among its constituent parts on the basis of parity, expanded and inclusive decision making process; a system bereft of official and non-official duality. To achieve that , talks are required, and if the brothers in the ruling establishment responded positively, we can cooperate to make the breakthrough towards the resolution and settlement of this difficult equation. We all need to learn from the lessons of the past to save the country which is on the verge of the abyss.
Q: Do you think that May 22 unity has laid the foundation for the establishment of an integrated Yemeni identity? Had war destroyed the identity formed in the south? In your opinion, do you think there is a social or political or sectarian or geographical rejection to prevent advocates of the ‘identity’ from success?
A: On 22 May 1990 an integrative union was announced, but we cautioned that the method of building the union state- embedded as it were in ‘partisanship’ and partition- was bound to catastrophe. As for the war, it has wreaked havoc on all. The practices which followed have destroyed Yemeni identity and ego, and exterminated allegiance and affiliation. The hindrance stems from erroneous policies and discrimination across the national spectrum rather than along the previous divide. Discrimination now exists in the same city, the same village or the same tribe, and all military and civilian levels. Such wrong practices ignite antipathy and hatred among the sons of the common homeland, and the suffering is generalized. And when people feel they do not enjoy equal rights, the sense of common identity is weakened. This is dangerous, given the fact that the country has only recently been unified after decades, nay centuries, of political, social, regional and local, sometimes even communal, conflicts. This implies that we should give due regard to the novelty of our union which is still green, so to speak, and we also should realize its importance for our present and for the coming generations.
Hence, it is vital to have actual equality in political and economic interests, in as much as it is essential to establish widely empowered local governments, launch inevitable and necessary universal and deep reforms, and initiate all-encompassing national reconciliation, in order to safeguard our nation, land and people, prepare it for coping with the present epoch, protect our people’s interests, and exchange mutual benefits with other nations. This is exactly what we have recommended before and under the union, and this what we recommend today.
Q: Some would explain the League Party present propaganda as a kind of reply to the regime’s political double-dealing attitude towards the Socialist party in its attempt to make you fill the vacuum in stead, if that is true, the regime has then succeeded in penetrating the opposition both inside and abroad. Would you please give the League’s vision on the positive and negative relationship inside the opposition and between the opposition as a whole and the political authority?
A: First and foremost, O brother, we do not do ‘propaganda’, but practice politics and information based on knowledge, research and transparency. As a result, we do not let ourselves be dragged into ‘reactions’. We do not draw our policy or movement on the basis of what position the government takes against this or that. We draw our policy, movement, and our political and informational discourse on the basis of the visions and platforms we have constructed along a method deeply rooted in our thought and history. We called upon all opposition parties, without any exception, to pool efforts and close ranks, and introduced a comprehensive vision which defines the targets, mechanisms, instrument and tools.
As the most veteran party, we do not seek a ‘vacuum’ to fill in, because we have our own space and role which no other party can supply, in as much as the other parties have their own spaces. The ‘vacuum’ theory which is being circulated at variance with the keen political thought which has an insight into the realities of our country. Those whom you mentioned had not been in the opposition but were in the government, and they were added to the opposition, yet the arena is wide enough to accommodate all groups, consequently there is no ‘vacuum’. And this is not in the least surprising, because in democratic political thought there is no such a thing as a party permanently in the opposition and another party permanently in the government, or such a thing as a vacuum pertaining to a segment of a party shifting from the opposition to the government or vice versa. Such notions exist only in the totalitarian political thought. We do not seek to step in instead of any other party whatsoever!! We do not want it. Each party has its own line, vision and method of action, which do not match the role and methods of the others. True, when they were in the government, there was a balance in the system of governance anchored in military force and other factors of power: finances, security forces, official media, public office, clout and the rest. But any balance based on sheer force is prone to culminate in conflict. And that was what exactly happened between the south and the north before unification and continued after it, because both sides in the equation were vying and competing each other over power. 

The moment one side finds the scales have tilted favorably, it is prepared to attack the other and eliminate it. During that time, both were competing to win over opposition groups which aligned themselves in the end with this pole or the other, and that is how they developed a tradition of seeking government patronage. It has been testified that our party, RAY, distanced itself from such clientele webs, and maintained that this sort of patronage, no matter what protection it may overtly extend to those under its wing, creates neither a genuine opposition nor a stable and active state system. That is why I used to say that the opposition parties were on the outer fringes of opposition rather than within opposition. I used to say that the opposition parties should form a counter balance vis a vis the government parties, and that their differences will not help us continue as an opposition but will render us fragmented. Our party shunned away from being contained by any ruling party at that time.
What we seek today is a comprehensive reform, and a balance of ‘minds’, a balance of political, economic and social interests, a balance within the system of government, a balance between the opposition and the system of government, and a balance which leads to cohesion rather than bloody conflict or future hostilities.
As for the penetration of the opposition by the government, I may say that if penetrating ranks does exist, it is mutual. But the crux of the matter has nothing to do with penetrating the opposition groups by the government, because we, in RAY, are mature enough for that. We should realize and agree, however, that the democratic process we wish our country to embark on, would grant every single party the right to propagate its views, defend them, agree or disagree over these issues with other parties, be they in the government or otherwise. Opposition parties are not cloned copies, if they were so, they would have lost their raison de etre. Vacuum and vacuum filling are irrelevant. Success is a process relevant to visions, policies and their bearers, i.e if favorable visions and trends may succeed together with their representative, and unfavorable visions and trends may fail together with their representative; yet this process does mean the failed party is to be annulled, on the contrary, it would continue to exist, act, review, evaluate and revise its calculations and views and adjust itself and its visions and positions, as all lively political parties usually do. On our part, we shall continue to extend our hands, open our hearts and minds for all brothers in the opposition to unite our endeavors and close our ranks to uproot the residue of the past and realize that our common goal is to build the new Yemen. It would be new in its orientation and method, free from any subjective or partisan calculations. We should realize that the 1994 war, the catastrophe, has turned power relations upside down, and that a new balance has been established.

The problem of the opposition lies in misgivings, in suspicion, in the ‘inflated ego’ inherited from the realities of the past, and in the absence of a clear cut vision or systematic activity. It also lies in the passive attitude towards developments, and when these developments take place, there would be a rush to catch up with them with a series of spontaneous reactions, void of any systematic and scientific analyses. Politics is a matter of science, methodology and platforms for action, and without these no success is attainable. We try our best to observe these rules in our party, Ray, as we do within the National Opposition Front (MOWJ).

The problem of the government, by contrast, is that it assumes that it would grow stronger if it could weaken, split or clone opposition forces. The fact, however, is that this line of action weakens the government itself and destroys the embryonic democratic experience which exists in form only.
I repeat, a great future would await our country if those who hold the reigns of power recognized the importance our calls for dialogue, for a comprehensive reform and universal national conciliation. The inflexibility the government displays has gained these slogans wider popularity. And I fear that this rejection and arrogance on part of the government will breed and augment the elements of conflict, violence and discord among our people who are crushed by deadly hunger, fear of the present and concern over the prospects. The people have gone beyond the extreme limits of endurance and toleration. Time is too short and nobody will wait for us. And again, this brings home the necessity of comprehensive reform and reconciliation. This is vital for both Yemen and the world.