Realizing the democratic dream in Yemen [Archives:2006/973/Opinion]

August 17 2006

Ali Al-Sarari
The great majority of Arab journalists are adhering to a dear dream. Whenever these journalists think the day of realizing that dream is approaching, there come surprising events to tell them that the dream remains far-fetched. Many times, these dreamers repeat the question when they find an Arab president stepping down from the presidential seat peacefully and of his own will.

When Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced last year that he intended not to nominate himself for a new presidential tenure, such journalists' hopes recovered and they unleashed phrases of praise for Yemen and its president, becoming assured that the miracle at last would be realized. For his part, Saleh helped them by repeated statements and stances, thereby removing any hesitance from their feelings. Thus, they continued praising this step, which was unprecedented in any Arab nation.

Their dream seemingly began to become reality with the beginning of meetings of the ruling party, the General People's Congress, at the end of June and the president's insistence on his stance. However, Saleh backed off from his stance and announced his acceptance of being the candidate for the party, which he had accused of corruption just a few hours before his decision.

At that moment, the feeling of admiration for the Yemeni president turned to anger and journalists began to criticize him, returning him to the list of Arab leaders from whom no hope is expected. Nevertheless, such resentful feelings distinguished Saleh from his counterparts. He was able to play on them as well as deceive and embarrass the journalists before their readers, some of whom haven't forgiven themselves for becoming victims of an Arab leader's deceit.

The drama of demonstrations didn't convince the journalists that the Yemeni people's pressure was effective in forcing Saleh to rescind his decision. Such drama was unbelievable since it is not the first presidential lie in the history of the Arab world Previously, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein forced Iraqis to celebrate his victory in the “Mother of Battles” for 13 years, whereas Iraqis fully knew that their army left Kuwait defeated and such victory was a defeat placing Iraqis under blockade and humiliating international inspection.

It's surely Arab journalists who believed in good will while trying to convince their readership of the seriousness of Saleh's determination not to nominate himself. They now suffer sorrow and regret for that belief. Such journalists may stop covering Yemeni affairs. Such a stance would be disastrous for those afflicted by corruption and despotism and would be a second mistake committed by honorable individuals respecting their mission in life.

I think those Arab journalists should continue writing about Yemeni affairs and casting light upon the tragic facts imposed on its population. This would help deprive some mercenary journalists in the Arab press, who always draw falsely beautiful images of Yemen. Such mercenary journalists fill their pockets with money given to them by Yemeni authorities.

Being interested in Yemeni affairs is very important these days because there are now preparations to hold presidential and local elections in September. It's an exceptional opportunity for Arab journalists to become acquainted with the reality of Yemen's political experiment and the type of allowable democratic practices.

Nevertheless, Yemeni democracy isn't a complete void. A solid opposition has grown up and placed the struggle to change democracy from nominal to actual as a main part of its priorities. Such opposition has managed to disclose authorities' entire volume of violations against the law and the constitution, especially regarding managing and organizing the electoral process.

Opposition has been able to force authorities to sign an agreement of principles, the implementation of which would see holding free and honorable elections. These principles are commitments the government must carry out. Such developments have been met with good response by international organizations working in Yemen and donor country embassies in Sana'a. These parties will evaluate the upcoming Yemeni elections according to the extent of implementing the agreement of principles.

Here's where the Arab press can play its role in the effort toward victory for Yemeni democracy by monitoring the electoral process, thus helping to protect it against violations and interference. In this way, the Arab press could be a partner in building democracy in Yemen, not just simply encouraging it.

To those Arab journalists who've been disappointed, I say don't repent but rather open your eyes wide upon Yemen because it deserves it.

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.