SILVER LININGAppreciate but do not criticize! [Archives:2007/1088/Opinion]

September 24 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Last week, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US agency, approved a $20.6 million grant to help Yemen fight corruption and improve the rule of law, political rights, fiscal policy and government effectiveness through institution building and improving administrative systems.u The state-run media made a big fuss about this decision. It also hailed a US report praising freedom of religion in Yemen. Of course, the state or opposition media usually pick what they like of these reports. However, when State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey criticized in a press statement September 7, the abduction of journalist Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, hell broke loose. The response of the Yemeni government was very apprehensive indeed. The unidentified official told the state media the US Spokesman was not accurate and “Yemen does not need anyone to advise it how to respect press freedom.” This is also similar to the annual human rights reports issued by the US government as well as other agencies. Here we see the double standard of the Yemeni government in responding to such kinds of reports or statements. Whenever there is appreciation, the state media begin to tease the opposition and to ingratiate the government. However, when others criticize, they are considered inaccurate.

The government should not expect the US or other Western countries to always praise and never give critical comments of mistakes here and there. Praising is psychotically effective as it encourages further good performance and improvement. However, criticism is also important as when mistakes and shortcomings are pinpointed. Several international reports have warned of the collapse of the system in Yemen if such wrong policies and corruption continue. Now we are facing a real impasse and if the government does not take serious steps to address those challenges, the whole system will fall down.

It seems, however, the political regime thought after Yemen's democratic drive has been valued, it could relax and that the international community would be satisfied with the elections and turn a blind eye to other wrongdoings. When the government does something good, though not sufficient, like passing the anti-corruption and bids and tenders codes, everybody was happy about it.

We, as journalists and democracy activists, have been pleased with the comment made by the US State Department in particular on the harassment of journalists. The mainstream opinion among democracy activists is that the US government's primary concern in Yemen is security and the fight against terror. However, the recent statement of Mr. Casey and the emphasis of the new US ambassador Stephen Seche on “the right of all citizens to be able to express freely their opinion of their government's performance and the right of journalists to be able to inform the public regarding the government's performance” demonstrate there are issues other than security where Yemen-US relationship can match.

This reminds me of a statement made by former US embassy deputy chief of mission Nabil Khoury who once said that “democracy and freedom of media would no longer be a secondary issue for the US policy in Yemen.” The role of the international community, primarily the US in boosting democratization is quite important as the Yemen government responds to their advice and pressure more than those of its people inside. It, therefore, should not act with double standard policy in responding to such reports or comments, considering them blackmailing when they criticize and a testimony when they praise.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected])u is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.