Outside the president’s shadow [Archives:2008/1133/Opinion]

February 28 2008

by: Rahma Hugaira
A few days ago Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, a veteran politician and Saleh adviser, told Reuters: “Unless there is an economic reprieve for Yemen during the next three years or so, the challenge is much bigger than the Houthis or so-called (southern) secessionists”.

Al-Iryani was talking about the population explosion Yemen is facing as a country with limited resources. And although I totally agree with this realistic concern; yet I call on him and others to take a closer look at the country's situation and to see that the real threat lies in the political instability.

The diagnosis of the problem is clear: a tribal society that had sought its way to an institutionalised state then retreated to a stage of chaos and disorder giving Houthis, secessionists, Al-Qaeda and rebels the opportunity to exist. We already have our work cut out for us in terms of development challenges such as scarce resources, population explosion tc. But what is more drastic is the social, security and political mess we are in. Signs of state control are fading quickly making space for corruption and vandalism to run the country on its behalf.

The desperation citizens are experiencing tells us that we do not have a clear champion we can trust in and who can lead us out of this disaster. In fact, it feels we are controlled and led by corrupt selfish people who are waiting on us to collapse like vultures on a sick animal.

Yemen is a country without vision. There are no clear policies to a better future, and the strategies in place seem to be created in a closed room full of politicians or donors regardless of the reality and priorities of the country beyond their closed door.

It is unnerving that the country's top officials are complaining and concerned about Yemen's future especially that they should be the ones to fix things for real and not just talk about a change in the horizon like AbdulKadir Hilal Minister of the local administration was trying to convey in a press conference recently.

The point here is that as citizens we have the right to participate in the making the future of our country through being part of the policies and the decisions.

The moment Yemenis realize and truly believe that Yemen is theirs too and not just that of the president, his family and friends, the opposition or the donors', there will be a safer Yemen.

We need to feel that we will get our fair opportunity in development and productivity in an environment that encourages equal opportunities for all citizens regardless of their political affiliations, origins or gender.

Yet what is happening today is that the country is run by a military regime consisting of people mostly tribal with military background, their only qualification is that they relate somehow to the president.

Such people represent only 3 percent or less of the total population yet they control over 22 million. Even if there are others in supposedly decision-making positions, history has taught us that eventually what the president and his group want goes.

In such an environment it is only natural that rebels, scattered groups working for their personal gains and secessionists surface and claim their piece of the cake.

I am not trying to enrage the president by this article – although old habits die hard – but I am trying to support his earlier decision to quit and give the chance for someone else to rise outside his shadow before the people's resentment grow worse with the deterioration of his project for the country's reform.

He can stick to the military and security fields that are related to his specialization and let other qualified Yemenis build the other equally important aspects of the country. There are many dedicated and worthy Yemenis who are able to carry the country on their shoulders even if they do not come from the same political party as him, or the same tribe.

The only hope for Yemen is good governance based on an inclusive vision seeing Yemen as a country for all Yemenis and not just for some.

On the bright side, there had been some changes recently as young faces appeared in the government's reshuffles. Young ministers who have good credentials and who are trying to do something for their country from their relevant positions in the government. They have some achievements that should and could not be ignored. Those people have managed to liberate their domain from the control of the president and his family's wide reach. And so, to end this on a positive note, we need more of those examples, to help save the country from its tired leadership and its poor citizens wrath.

Every decision maker and responsible citizen should move from words to deeds and do something to save this country from an eminent danger.

Rahma Hugaira is co-founder and chairwoman of the Yemeni Female Media Forum, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women's rights and gender equality in the media throughout the Middle East. She is one of Yemen's most respected journalists and a steadfast proponent of women's rights. She could be reached at [email protected]