Reform Initiatives in Yemen and Arab RegionDemand of Parliamentary System [Archives:2004/726/Reportage]

April 5 2004

Mohammed bin Sallam
The Yemen Center for Strategic Studies organized on Tuesday 30 March a discussion ring regarding “Reform Initiatives in the Arab Region”. Dr. Mohamed Abdul Malik Al-Motwakel, Assistant Secretary General of People Powers Unionist Party contributed a working paper discussing – in addition to the US Greater Middle East initiative – the initiative of Egyptian Islamic Groups (Al-Akhwah Al-Muslimeen), the Arab Initiative and a small reference to Canadian and Danish initiatives. Dr. Al-Motwakel laid down preliminary proposals for a local Yemeni initiative.
Regarding the Yemeni political and administrative reforms' initiative, the state system, says Dr. Al-Motwakel, must be a pluralistic parliamentary republican system, not a presidential one. The President of the Republic should be directly elected by the people every five years. The Prime Minister would be nominated by the Party with a majority of seats in Parliament, where the power of executive branch (civil, military and security) follows directly the cabinet. Members of the Al-Shoura Council should be elected by people in all governorates of the Republic. Dr. Al-Motwakel demanded for citizens the right to elect their local councils, governors and directors of provinces and the right to administer their local affairs according to regulating constitutional laws. He demanded a unified independent judiciary, including the Supreme Court, the amendment of the constitution and election laws and the existing election system based on individual constituencies, the adoption of percentage rates and setting a predefined ratio for woman represented in parties. He also demanded the abolition of the Ministries of Information and Civil Services to guarantee neutrality.
Concerning administrative reforms, Dr. Al-Motwakel demanded the review and revision of laws and regulations and the rebuilding of the structure of state corporations according to the constitution and in accordance with the state's general goals, which would prevent interference with authorities.
Dr. Al-Motwakel demanded a precise mechanism for filling in all available job positions at state corporations, which would predefine the duties and missions of departments and divisions and administrative units, determine precisely the scope of each job and required qualifications needed for the job as well as determining the financial rewards for each employee. Regarding the Central Organization for Control and Audit, it must be associated with Parliament and if necessary to submit copies of its reports to the President, Al-Shoura Council and Prime Minister.
The working paper of Dr. Al-Motwakel summarized the initiatives at hand as follows:

Arab Initiative:
The Arab initiative is based on releasing freedoms, guaranteeing human rights and his needs, confirming the freedoms of the press and expression, the modernization of the economy, the development of judiciary, building a renaissance in education and expanding the base of knowledge, increasing the involvement of youths and the empowerment of women to contribute to society's development.

Egyptian Islamic Group (Al-Akhwah Al-Muslimeen):
Demands a democratic constitutional parliamentary republican system in the scope of Islamic principles where the people are the source of authority and personal rights and the beliefs and practices of recognized heavenly religions are respected. The right to peaceful demonstrations, the independence of judiciary, economic liberalism, the rights of women to take part in parliamentary elections and the prohibition of any activity leading to instigating religious and ethnic discrimination are further requirements.

Canadian and Danish reform plan for Middle East region:
This plan hopes for the obligation of primary principles such as justice, equality, security, law and order and cooperation based on trust to establish strengthened economic and political relations. In accepting these principles, the Canadian and Danish Governments would encourage the development of partnership as catalyst to achieve these goals, not only on the level of the Middle East and North Africa, but also on the world level.

US Initiative:
The justifications for the US initiative are the three deficiencies (freedom, knowledge, empowerment of women), referred to in the 2002-2003 United Nations report, contribute to creating situations threatening the national interests of all G8 member countries. As long as the number of individuals deprived of all political and economic rights keeps increasing, so will extremism, terrorism, international organized crime and illegal immigration. Statistics describing the current situation in the Greater Middle East constitute a major concern for the international community, such as:
– The total local GNP of all Arab countries collectively is less than that of Spain.
– 40% of Arabs (65 Million) are illiterates of which two thirds are women.
– The urgent need to create at least 6 million new job opportunities to absorb the newcomers to the market place.
– The rate of unemployment in region will be 25 million by 2010.
– Two-thirds of the population of the region live on less 2 USD per day.
To improve the living situation requires at least the doubling of the economic growth to 6% from the currently standing at 3%. And the alternative to this deteriorating situation, according to the US project, are the political, social and economic reforms.

The G8 initiative:
1- Concerning democratic reforms:
The G8 could support democratic reforms in the region through their obligation to mutual visits, seminars, the foundation and enhancement of independent election monitoring commissions and evaluation reports.
2- Combating corruption:
The World Bank classifies corruption as the biggest hurdle standing against development. The G8 would support the adoption of transparency and anti-corruption principles, which are effective inside the G8 countries and would support an initiative of the Economic and Development Cooperation Organization and the United Nations Development Programs in Middle East and North Africa – discussed by Head of Governments, donor countries and NGOs – for national strategies to combat corruption and increase accountability.
3- Civil Society:
The initiative assumes that the momentum for reform must come from within. The best method to encourage reform is through representative organizations and in order to achieve that, the G8 would:
– Encourage regional governments to grant permission for civil society organizations, particularly those involved in human rights and media, to work freely without harassment and restrictions.
– Increase direct funding for regional NGOs interested in democracy, human rights, media and women etc.
– Fund an NGO which combines legal and media experts from the region to formulate annual reports on efforts exerted on judicial reforms and freedoms of media means.
4- Economic field:
The initiative calls urgently for unleashing the capabilities of the private sector, particularly in small and medium development projects, considering them the principal generators behind economic growth, creating new job opportunities and the strengthening of the effectiveness of the financial sector as an essential component to obtain higher growth rates and more job opportunities.
In this respect, the G8 launched its initiative to urge countries to:
– Grant loans to small project with the focus on projects seeking profit, especially projects carried out by women.
– Allocate 400-500 million USD to be paid through five annual installments to assist one and a half million economic activists, 750 thousand of which are women, to break out of poverty.
-Found a bank for development of the Greater Middle East after the pattern of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In addition to the G8, creditors from the Middle East region would assist the countries seeking reforms.

WTO Initiative:
The most important element of this initiative is that the WTO would assist countries towards accession to the WTO through limited technical assistance programs, the provision of consultants and elimination of customs barriers.
Dr. Al-Motwakel concluded his working paper with reference to the G8 initiative by saying that it did not elaborate on democracy and fighting corruption. Perhaps of the aim at this stage is to control the gradual development of election operations and to pressure the existing regimes. The initiative also aims at involving and finding a distinctive position for Israel in the region whilst neglecting any reference to establishing a Palestinian state or about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The best of the initiative is related to civil society corporations.
Thus, by the economic dominance, the economic segment, tied with the West, would eventually become the ruling authority in the future.