Participants in Okaz & Yemen 21st Forum Roundtable: Civil Society Should Shape Prosperous  Future for Yemenis [Archives:2000/22/Law & Diplomacy]

May 29 2000

Yemen witnessed radical changes during the last decades of the 20th century, the most outstanding of which was the unification achieved on May 22, 2000. Now, the changes taking place all over the world pose lots of political, economic, social, challenges affecting all the developing countries including Yemen. Okaz newspaper represented by its correspondent Hafed Al-Bikari, in cooperation with Yemen 21st Forum in Sana’a organized a roundtable titled “The Unified Yemen in the 21st century”. A number of experts, intellectuals as well as academicians participated in the discussion which is presented below:
Okaz: Yemen witnessed major changes during the 20th century, the most critical of which is achieving the unity. Now what is the role the unity can play in the context of the changes that are taking place world wide?
Ahmad Al-Shara’abi, chairman of the General Center for Research, Studies and Publications: “Establishing the unity in itself was a dream that came true. Besides, adopting democracy and plurality also ushers in a new era for our society. Yemen is moving in the right path of democracy despite the setbacks and hurdles it faces.
Therefore, what we need is a strong determination to ensure that Yemen plays an effective role in shaping the future for Yemenis in consonance with the global changes that are currently taking place.
Okaz: Establishing a developed and modern society is determined by the institutions of the country. What is the role Yemeni constitutional institutions play in accomplishing this task?
Dr. Mohammed Abdul Majid Al-Kubati, adviser of the Parliament Presidium, said “There has been a trend in the past few years to establish new democratic institutions that go hand in hand with the democratic pluralism. However, during the first seven years of achieving the unity there were some barriers and short comings which played a negative role in promoting these institutions. Then, kidnapping incidents were on the rise. Consequently, maintaining law and order became the most difficult challenge facing the government.
On the other hand, there has been other difficulties accruing from the economic reforms, modernizing the civil service institution, involving the middle class in the economic developments, etc.”
Okaz: Can the Parliament in its present form perform its role in coping with the global variables?
Al-Kubati “Despite all the limitations, we should take into consideration the state of backwardness that prevailed in Yemen for long decades. This had its impact on the people’s living standards, conventions, ways of thinking, etc.
The parliament needs lots of reforms. This is what has been confirmed by the ruling party in a seminar held by the International Members of the Parliaments’ Union. The role of parliaments union in conducting discussions was also stressed.
Okaz: Society is the main factor behind patronizing institutions to bring about the changes needed. How do you rate the abilities of the current Yemeni society to interact with what is happening around?
Dr. Foad Abdul Jalil Al-Salahi, teacher of civil society in the sociology department, Sana’a university: “If unity and democracy constitute a turning point in the totalitarian regime which used to prevail in Yemen, the Yemeni society’s drive towards establishing active civil institutions will come to fruition in course of time. By civil institutions I mean the NGOs which include the individuals from the middle class willing to shoulder the responsibility of coping with the changes that are taking place around the world. ……”
Okaz: Do these civil institutions have any real existence?
Al-Salahi: These institutions are still in their infancy. A few such institutions have been established so far. However, their role has so far been very insignificant.
Okaz: How do you view the outcomes of unity and how can we benefit from them in a way to match the global scenario?
Abdul Rahim Mohsen, political analyst, Ex-manager of foreign media in the Republic Presidium: “We are talking about two independent regimes that were combined and forged into one. After all, this unified entity has not yet been able to achieve its goals. That is so because of the Authority which does not make the best use of the resources available to change the traditional society to a civilized and modern one. This has resulted in a distinct deterioration in educational and cultural consciousness. There is also an economic crisis and an increasing poverty rate.
The government has carried out two economic reforms; the first failed due to war of 1994, while the second was introduced in 1996 and it is still in effect. However, we have never felt the tangible benefits of these reforms. Another outcome of the unity is that there is a limited scope for plurality. However, I believe that there has been certain profound psychological changes in the way of people’s thinking.
Mr. Ahmad Al-Shara’abi commenting on Abdul Rahim: “Talking about the future and the challenges it poses should be on the basis of the resources we have, mainly because we are still constrained by the chains of backwardness. Another reason is that the civil institutions are still struggling with the Authority for their rights.
To say that resources alone are the means of establishing the civil society is not completely true, for there are some countries which have more resources than we have, yet we can not say that they are able to successfully face the challenges of the future. Therefore, what we need is a careful analysis of our present conditions before leaping in to the future. For the sake of example, the Authority find strength by the opposition. When the Authority talks about the inadequate awareness of democracy, it, in effect, talks about the opposition parties that do not hold their summits regularly and do not adopt democracy in their standing orders.
Mr. Walid Al-Saqqaf, Editor in chief of Yemen Times: “This is undeniably a very special occasion for all Yemenis. However, I apprehend that more difficulties will eventually crop up. Democracy in Yemen is still in the preliminary phases. After the unification, more developmental programs were adopted since there were two powerful parties in the authority. Even with this, the situation soon started to decay because opposition parties did not utilize democratic institutions appropriately. As a result, these parties gradually began to lose their potency and credibility. No many people now pin a lot of hope on the next parliamentary elections and this worsens the status of democracy in Yemen.
Okaz: According to what has so far been said, it appears we have to deal with more than just the old cases. The question is, shall we keep on bringing past our cases forward to the future, allowing them to accumulate?
Al-Salahi: There should be a distinctive vision relating to the state of the Yemeni society in future. Since 1962 Yemen has been trying to develop new modernization mechanisms. There are several factors that hinder Yemen learn from pertinent international issues. First, there are the cultural hindrances embodied in the increasing level of illiteracy and absence of high education.. Social aspects also play a significant role in modernization. Unfortunately, the tribal system is still prevalent among our middle class which is one of the main pillars of the civil society.
Okaz: Do you mean that establishing a simple modernization project is impossible?
Al-Qubati: I would like to emphasize that putting all the blame on the government is, by all means, unfair. We are talking about the civil society including parties and I do not think that opposition would just die away. Even in this case, there would be an alternative especially in view of the fact that the opposition have not presented any practical alternative projects. Take for example, the Local Authority project which no opposition party has taken seriously and respond to. On the other hand, parliamentary bodies inside the ruling PGC party stood against the government in this project.
Okaz: Based on what Mr. Abdul-Raheem, could you brief the reasons behind the failure of parties’ relating to civil liberties?
Mohsen: I think that we should apply logic here. When talking about responsibility, we must bear in mind that Yemen is a developing country that, according to modern standards, has not achieved real independence. I read recently that as much as $US 42 billions, belonging to Yemeni officials and traders, is deposited in foreign banks. Now, this could not be possible if there were powerful civil society institutions.
Al-Shara’abi: As it appears to me, we are obsessed with a belief that tends to throw all the blame on the government. Then, we grumble and complain that the government dominates civil society organizations. Each of us should bear our part of the responsibility and much concentration should be given to judiciary and education. There should be a peaceful transition between generations. Many of our leaderships are haunted by an outdated heritage which is not compatible with the concept of development and modernization.
Okaz: Dr. Al-Salahi, any comment in this regard.
Al-Salahi: The World Bank has set conditions for developing the democratic rule system for improving conditions of human rights, combating corruption, achieving transparency and freedom of expression as in several countries around the world. Still, there are several conditions which we should apply rigorously on the national front. First, we should prepare people intellectually to absorb the international transformations and technological, political and economic developments. Second, the education system needs modernization since the current system has several weaknesses. I can say that we do need to welcome initiatives of partnership from the civil society.
Okaz: Any last comment from Dr. Mohammed Al-Qubati.
Al-Qubati: I would like to reiterate that partnership is present in the current system. The elected members of the society are able to establish their own institutions. Moreover, the next local election will allow citizens to take responsibility in designing development plans for their respective districts as well as supervising them which is, in my opinion, embodies real partnership.