SILVER LININGCivil rights movement at stake [Archives:2007/1034/Opinion]

March 19 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The recent demonstrations and sit-ins taking place here and there show that there is a growing awareness among the people of their rights and the need for those rights to be observed and protected.

The people of al-Ja'ashin in Ibb, with the help of the National Organisation for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms known as HOOD, took the initiative and came to Sana'a to talk to the people in charge with resolving their dispute with the influential Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed Mansur. In this case, the man concerned was above the law and even the parliamentary committee established to investigate the problem was unable to accomplish anything. The people, who tented in the capital in the hope of an end to their oppression at the hands of the Sheikh and his cronies, got fed up and went back to their village. However, they continue to complain that the harassment they face is still ongoing.

Last week another protest was organised in front of the presidential palace demanding the arrest of the killers of Mansur al-Shuhari who was murdered by armed thugs when he tried to stop them from teasing female students. It has been reported that the President has ordered the arrest of the murderers while tribal authorities and representatives attempt to resolve the issue according to tribal norms.

I do not really understand the function of the Interior Ministry in such cases. Why must the people have to appeal directly to the Presidential Palace and the President to intervene to have murderers captured and put before a court of law? And why do we need executive orders from the first man in the country to get killers and law breakers arrested? On the other hand, when it concerns hapless journalists, we find the Interior Ministry and other intelligence agents moving very fast to capture ” troublemakers who destabilize the situation and damage the reputation of the country”.

I wanted to cite these two examples to underscore a very important conclusion. That is, in terms of the continued strengthening of the norms of Yemen's nascent civil society, it is a good sign that people peacefully take to the streets to get their voice heard by those in authority who are nominally the servants of the people in the first place. But, what is unfortunate and even dangerous is that those in authority do not pay any attention to protestors like the harassed citizens of al-Ja'ashin who returned home empty-handed and disillusioned. The people of their region will now start mocking their initiative and bravery in protesting against tyranny and injustice. Not only this, but the Sheikh has proved to his people that he is above the rule of law and that such protests are useless and will never shake his position.

Through ineffectual and clumsy responses government agencies merely impede the development of the civil rights movement and hinder the development of a civil rights culture, regardless of its small scale, like the right to protest. As a consequence the people will lose confidence in the worth of such values and the procedures associated with them such as consultation, change through electoral means, open debate etc., to voice their concerns and put an end to their plight. They will come to believe again that only force can make their voices heard.

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