Palestinian Journalist, Mahmoud Marouf of Al-Qods: “It is saddening to see Yemen’s economy declining, while it has huge potentials and rich resources” [Archives:1999/16/Interview]

April 19 1999

The Arab Homeland has become an almost obsolete term in today’s Arab culture. It is almost impossible to meet anyone who still retains the belief in this notion. Mr. Mahmoud Marouf, a Palestinian Journalist, is one of the few Arab intellectuals who, when you talk with him, leaves you with an impression that the idea of one Arab homeland is still alive, and no matter how bad the situation is, hope survives.
Mr. Marouf is a regular visitor to Yemen because he feels “strong attachment” to this country. Mohammed Abbas from the Yemen Times met with him and filed the following interview.
Q: Would you introduce yourself to our readers?
A: My name is Mahmoud Marouf, an Arab Palestinian. I was born in Lebanon and I have been a resident of Morocco since 1980. I chose Morocco of my own free will when I worked as a press correspondent for Al-Qods Press Services Agency. I also worked as a correspondent for a number of Arab magazines and newspapers until I transferred my entire activity to the management of the Arab Qods newspaper upon its foundation in 1989. I am still holding this post.
Q: Why Morocco?
A: For both professional and personal motives. On the professional level Morocco in 1980 was believed to be ” an unknown territory for the Eastern part of the Arab homeland,” at least from a journalistic point of view. So as a journalist I found it a good opportunity to provide the Eastern Arab countries with the necessary media services that cover the Western wing of the Arab homeland. On the personal level, I was attracted first to the area by the good things I heard about it. The many Moroccan friends I had then, besides the amiable environment of the region, were also strong reasons for my choice. It is very important to live in a place where one is not alienated or looked down upon. The mere feeling that you are different makes you feel that you don’t fit in. In Morocco I found none of this and that’s why I felt at home in Morocco.
Q: You are visiting Yemen, can you tell us about your visit?
A: I visit Yemen from time to time. I am proud to say that I feel a strong attachment to this country. Because of this inclination I carry out occasional visits to see my friends in Yemen and also to be closely aware of what’s going on in this country. Of course, I keep myself informed of the developments in Yemen through reading or watching the different media. But you know this is not enough. It’s not like actually being present in a place.
Q: You mentioned that you keep yourself informed of the developments taking place in Yemen. How do you read the current situation in this country?
A: I always observe what’s going on in Yemen not as a journalist but as a person who feels that he belongs to this place. The first thing I notice and would like to stress is the determination of the political leadership to proceed on the march to democracy through respect for the constitutional dates of maturity. However, we must also point out that this march is stumbling. This could be related to the character of the Yemeni political movement since the early days of the Revolution and Independence, plus what happened in Yemen back in 1994 which believe, was directed by outside powers that were anti-Yemen. In my opinion, this event left a negative impact on the march to democracy in Yemen. On the other hand, I noted that the progress of the Yemeni parties is less than it was a year and half ago. I really feel sad about that and perhaps this recession is due to the engagement of these parties in preparing for their regular conferences. Also, the absence of any major events which can provoke the parties to action is also responsible for this weakness.
Q: Do you mean that these parties are waiting to respond to someone else’s action, instead of taking the initiative?
A: Well, I think this is a general characteristic of Arab societies. It is not restricted to the Yemeni political parties or even to the Yemeni society alone. For decades, the Arab societies have been trying to find a path and meanwhile they remain unable to influence the course of events. Being part of their societies, it seems that these parties are lost on this path. That’s why we haven’t seen them capable of taking the initiative to deal with the public issues seriously. In my belief, a public issue is not the construction of a particular school or highway. Rather it is the entire system of education or the entire infrastructure that matters. Parties should not focus on the smaller parts and details. But I am sorry to say that this is the prevalent mentality.
On an economic level in Yemen I saw a considerable decline, It is saddening to see Yemen’s economy declining, while it has huge potentials and rich resources. These potentials and resources are certainly essential to build a stable and progressive country. But you have first and foremost to focus on building up men as the corner stones for development. In economics it is said that the poor are those who have potential but don’t know how to use it, while the rich knows how to invest his potential. So I think Yemen should invest its utmost capabilities in the building of the Yemeni individual. With all the resources and assets in Yemen I think it is capable of being an outstanding country on the level of economic stability.
The current economic crisis of course reflects itself in social life, and this is seen in the security problems taking place occasionally in Yemen. But the situation here can’t be more serious than it is in the rest of the Arab countries. These problems are especially highlighted because of the interest paid to Yemen by the rest of the world, as well as the transparent character of the Yemeni society. Because of this transparency, any problem or event easily shows up on the surface. Security problems do exist in many places but aren’t widely heard of, whereas in Yemen a single event might be heard of all over the world. Political transparency is an echo of the social transparency.
Q: How do you read the current situation in the Arab Homeland and in Palestine in particular in light of the world’s major changes?
A: In looking at the Arab scene we must look at two important phases:
1- The collapse of socialism which led to the disappearance of the old world order.
2- The second Gulf War.
The effects of the first phase were huge. One of these consequences was the spread of democracy and human rights. Unfortunately this hasn’t reached us in the Arab Homeland. So far, we are still stumbling over the issues of democracy and human rights, though we can’t deny that some progress has been made in a number of Arab countries, e.g. Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, UAE, and to some extent Syria. Of course, the progress is not identical in these countries. In some countries the progress was very satisfying, while in other countries it was insubstantial. It is painful to say that the Arabs are still lagging behind on these vital issues. It is also unnatural for the Arab world, which has a great stock of history and civilization, not to positively interact with the rest of the world in questions of values and principles. For the past ten years, the progress in the issue of human rights was purely to please the outside world. However, there was one silver lining in what happened during this phase: The Arabs stayed geographically intact. The many instances of states breaking up are unknown in this part of the world. On the contrary, Yemen was reunited during this stage.
As for the second stage , namely the second Gulf War, I think it did not end the collapse of the old Arab order. Rather it exposed the essence of this order. Hence the transparency not only in Arab-Arab relations but also in Arab-International relations. The war unveiled the hidden side of these relations, though it had also left deep scars on the Arabs. The huge economic effects of this war are felt in many parts of the Arab Homeland, especially in oil-producing countries.
Q: Do you suggest that the Arab man has become disillusioned with the Pan-Arab dream of unity which prevailed during the 60s?
A: No, that’s not what I meant. The dream of unity still exists, though this is one attempt to distort the Arab vision. Let me say that this dream has experienced a number of nightmares starting from the failure of Egypt-Syria merging in 1961, the 1967 catastrophe, the Palestinian’s troubles in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and the frightful quake in the Gulf War. But in the meantime the Arab unity was never an illusion for the Arab man who is aware that the existing Arab regimes are unable to fulfill this dream. The only difference between now and the 60s is that the dream of unity is now more down to earth. Back then we were calling for a Yemeni style unity, while now our demand is to establish a common Arab market, to cancel entry visas, and to open boarders for a profitable exchange. In other words let us achieve the unity of interests and economy and then move onward.
Q: What about Palestine?
A: No one can argue about the hard times we Palestinians are passing through. I believe we were led into this by the choice made by the Palestinian leadership in 1991 which was a huge mistake. The separation of the Palestine from the other Arab nations has given Israel a unique chance to serve its own interests. Anyway, I think the Palestinians should leave all this behind them for it is useless to cry over split milk. There are a number of responsibilities the Palestinian leadership should take care of:
1- It must ensure the people’s unity. The present peace track can only lead to political division and fragmentation.
2- It should halt negotiations with Israel till it can see the final Israeli peace position.
3- It should not allow itself to fail in its plan for development of the self-rule territories. The Palestinians are in dire need of this plan in order to raise their living standards, so their leadership must support this plan and move forward with the peace process.