SILVER LININGEmpty stomachs never care about taboos [Archives:2007/1076/Opinion]

August 13 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The authorities crushed down the protest of Aden, August 2. The government justified its crackdown by claiming the protestors did not have permission. It is ridiculous the government asks for permission from people whose appeals have been given deaf ears. We remember when their issue started shooting up, the minister of defense called them secessionists whose objective is to incite chaos. I was in Aden the protest day and I did not notice the protestors were plotting to carry out any illegal acts to justify the stiff security measures and the crackdown of the peaceful protest. The government is mistaken when it crushes down peaceful protests as it makes people lose heart in the ability of democratic instruments to sort out their problems and thus push them to other alternatives including violence simply like that in Sa'ada.

I do not think that the people of the north are more unionist and with the unification of the country than those of the south. We all remember the 22 of May in 1990 where all people across the country were thrilled with joy upon the announcement of the unification. The leaders of the south did not, as some claim, cherished unification as escape of the ramifications of the fall of the Soviet Union, which used to back up the south. They had several alternatives. However, unification was the dream of everybody. Unfortunately, the tension between the two partners (the PGC and socialist party) led to the political crisis and then the hateful war of 1994.

Of course, President Saleh did not take revenge on the political level, dissolving, for instance, the socialist party, as this could have incited more problems and maybe violence. However, what happened on the ground was worse. Civil and military workers were discharged and doors were opened for influential tribal Shiekhs and military people to loot big chunks of land in the southern governorates as a reward for their involvement in the fight to crack down the socialists.

As a matter of fact, people have no problem with the unification. Their problem is with the price hikes; they do not care about something called Thawabit Wataniha or “National Fixed Norms” protesting pensioners have been accused of violating; their problem is with the wrong policies and practices of the authorities, with the looting of their land; with the corrupt crooks and dishonest judiciary. These are the headaches of everybody either in the north or the south, but the people of the south are more affected by them because they used to depend on food ration offered regularly by the then socialist government. When their stomach is empty, people have to show indifference to unification or democracy or whatsoever which the regime envisages as fixed norms. Empty stomachs never care about taboos or divines.

Now, the government has acknowledged its mistakes and that over 8000 complaints have been received. I believe, however, the figure will be bigger. President Saleh also gave orders to sort out the problems of looted pieces of land. This demonstrates the protests were not meant to “incite chaos” but voice anger towards such policies and demand that must be addressed. If the government has done its best to sort out the problems of the people either in the south or in north, then such calls for separation would not be heard. However, the government seems to be unserious about sorting out these problems. What it is doing is just trying to pacify rather than cure the problem which is likely to escalate every now and then.

To drive the point home, I believe the protests of the military and civil pensioners are a real demonstration of the deteriorating conditions. They are simply an expression of suffering and economic hardships the people across the country are experiencing. They are voicing intolerable agony rather than disloyalty to unification.

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