Reform needed before Yemen sees entry to the GCC [Archives:2006/959/Opinion]

June 29 2006

Ali Al-Sarari
For many years Yemeni officials have focused on interpreting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states' disinterest in admitting Yemen into its ranks as a result of political causes related to the GCC's reservations regarding Yemen's republican system of government and its democratic orientation. Yemen remains the only republican state in the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemeni government propaganda repeated ad nauseum that “they [the GCC states] hate us because we are republican and democratic; to be accepted by them we have to offer the head of the republic and democracy on one platter.” This kind of propaganda was for domestic consumption, whereas propaganda directed towards the Gulf praises the wisdom and justice of its regimes.

The Gulf states have not hinted at their desire for Yemen to rid itself of its republican regime and democratic tradition as a condition for admission into the GCC. On the other hand, Yemen has failed to provide an example of democracy for Gulf countries to follow. Similarly to the situation in other Arab republics, Yemen's republican system has been transformed into a hereditary republic with many of the systems particular to the republican form of government being jettisoned. The unambiguous distinction between republics and regimes governed by traditional, tribal roles has been lost. The only difference that remains is that traditional regimes do not pretend to be republican thereby entertaining stable political structures.

Democracy as a form of government in Yemen has failed to convince Yemenis of its benefits, let alone others. Praise and encouragement of the democratic experiment in Yemen have gradually disappeared from international reports, replaced by critical comments skeptical of reforms. Economic and administrative reform programs carried out by the Yemeni government since 1995 and funded by donor states have ended in failure. Such failure has led to greater deterioration in the domestic state of affairs at all levels. This outcome has increased the international community's concern about Yemen with some observers believing it is on the verge of collapse. Official propaganda mostly indicates that reservations towards the Yemeni democratic experiment originate with the Saudi authorities, but such a clam is unlikely to be true given that the Saudi authorities have not shown signs of antipathy concerning democratic practices in the two GCC states of Kuwait and Bahrain.

In a symposium organized in Sana'a last year by the American National Democratic Institute (NDI) for parliamentarians from Kuwait, Bahrain, and Yemen discussions revealed that Kuwait and Bahrain are surpassing Yemeni in democratic reform. In general, the Gulf states have adopted reforms leading to increased openness. Regardless of the sluggishness and limited nature of those measures, reforms in Kuwait and Bahrain were serious. In contrast, the reform process in Yemen has witnessed the retraction in reforms already made making many reforms into mere slogans.

The Yemeni government has not pursued a firm policy aimed at meeting the standards for admission into the GCC. The government has acted puzzled arousing suspicion about the truthfulness of its intentions. In other words, the Yemeni government has bet on the effectiveness of political propaganda to compel the GCC to offer unconditioned financial assistance by extortion. Yemen did not attempt to gain the trust of the Gulf states or convince them of the mutual benefits involved in assisting Yemen. The donations from the Gulf states are almost at an end. As many GCC states have developed institutions in their countries, it is no longer possible to trick Gulf leaders with the aim of extorting their money.

After the events of September 11, 2001 events, the Gulf states looked for investment opportunities in Asian and African countries instead of the Middle East. Capital originating in the Gulf abstained from investment in Yemen because the country could not provide an attractive investment environment to the extent that even Yemeni capital was forced to invest abroad. Yemen's appeal as a country similar to those in the Gulf is not enough to attract capital. Rather, attracting investors depends on Yemen's ability to create a secure and tempting environment.

Such considerations require that Yemen first meet the requirements to gain entry into the GCC, thereby making its accession to the GCC a natural process. The priorities to gain entry include: reforming and developing the judiciary; fighting corruption; imposing the rule of law; and controlling security. Furthermore, Yemen most eliminate the trade and smuggling of weapons and drugs, pursue a resolute policy for fighting extremism and terror, reform the education system, and carry out political reforms focusing on the building of a state of institutions. The government needs to adopt a serious policy to curb the consumption of qat. If these measures are implemented, the GCC doors would inevitably be open to Yemen.

Preliminarily, the Yemeni government must prove its seriousness with regard to entry into the GCC by curtailing its propaganda that has focused more on electoral gains than on meeting the requirements for admission.

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.