Of goats and wolves [Archives:2006/961/Opinion]

July 3 2006

Ali Al-Sarari
President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his decision last July not to run for president in this September's elections, many senior government officials who were in attendance shouted: “No… no.” In reply, Saleh said, “No need for exaggeration, I am fed up with people and people are fed up with me.”Saleh's decision aroused widespread interest in the region and many Arab writers went on encouraging the president to implement his decision until the end, while others were cautious, expecting that Saleh will behave like other Arab presidents: reversing his decision as a response to the will of the public, who say “we will accept no alternative to Saleh.” The president gave directives preventing government employees and ruling party members from staging demonstrations with the chant: “With soul, with blood, we protect you Ali.” But the directives failed to prevent ruling party leaders from issuing contradictory declarations, some of them gracing television screens and the pages of newspapers. They warned that the decision to run is not Saleh's, rather it is his party's and that members of the General People's Congress (GPC) will force him to stay in power. One of the official daily papers placed a prominent slogan on its front page reading, “For the first time, the public say 'No for President,'” meanwhile its editor has shown no fear of any consequence. Over the past 15 years, Yemeni authorities have shown interest in the political experiences of other countries, demonstrating tendencies toward democracy and vowing more political reforms. They have battled shrewdly to renew their legitimacy, a necessity unnecessary in other Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the authorities failed to persuade the international community that Yemen is an exception and is different from the Arab norm, characterized by authoritarian control and oppression. With the passage of time, the shrewd political maneuvers of authorities in Yemen have descended into meaningless tactics to remain in power without any concrete action on moving toward democratic transformation. The authorities, however, have not endeavored to cure their failures by taking practical steps to rescue the democratic experiment in Yemen from recession and stagnation. This failure can be attributed to the depletion of their political analysis skills. So, the situation led these authorities to borrow the Arab typology, which is based on renewing the legitimacy of the ruler through the use of propaganda instead of relying on public participation to generate the ruler's legitimacy. Ordering people to demonstrate and insisting on President Saleh to renege on his decision is a facile manner of negotiating politics in Yemen that is well-known in other Arab countries. Saleh's decision made last July has changed into another cause of embarrassment with the passage of time. To overcome the condition, the Yemeni authorities need exceptional cures, which are the rarest of the kind. Without any authentic evidence, Arab regimes usually claim that they enjoy support of the public; meanwhile, weak opposition parties cannot reduce the value of such alleged support. Opposition parties are capable of influencing voters to compete against the authorities which use allegation as a means of gaining profit. In Yemen, there are dozens of opposition parties that are hiding in secret venues at security apparatuses. Therefore, they were handed the task of pushing for Saleh to retract his decision. They lack, however, the necessary skill to play a convincing role. The ruling party leaders seem worried over disputes with the allocation of money from their party's financial department. A few days ago, some prominent GPC leaders felt disappointed with the use of pliant opposition parties, as the leaders of these parties quarreled with each other at the GPC's Permanent Committee over the money owed to them. The unique Yemeni style in demonstrating the support Saleh enjoys will not survive unless a real opposition plays a key role in the ploy, but GPC attempts to win opposition support went awry. These attempts succeeded only in co-opting the Baath Party, led by Qasem Sallam, a fact leading GPC media to promote Sallam's statements just days after he quit the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

As GPC attempts failed to attract the JMP to back Saleh in this ruse, a new ploy of attributing statements to many opposition leaders failed to convince the public that Saleh would be the national consensus candidate and that the opposition was the chief party insisting on Saleh to back out on his much-discussed decision. Amid this pile of failures, the ploy metastasized into the private sector. A committee of businessmen known to have good relations with the opposition parties announced its plan to convince Saleh to run for president and collect one billion Yemeni Riyals for his electoral campaign.

As these businessmen are not nouveau riche who have become prosperous thanks to their relations with authorities, which are exploited for influence and illegal benefits, the matter fails to arouse curiosity. Instead, it leads to doubts. Tell me, when were goats at the service of the wolf? When have goats felt safe with wolves?

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.